• Tennis

Tributes pour in for Baltacha

ESPN staff
May 5, 2014
Elena Baltacha won 11 ITF titles in © Getty Images

Tributes have flooded in from around the tennis world after former British No.1 Elena Baltacha passed away on Sunday at the age of 30.

Baltacha died peacefully surrounded by family and friends, the WTA said on its website.

Born in Kiev, Baltacha, who represented Britain at the 2012 London Olympics, was diagnosed with liver cancer in January, two months after retiring from tennis and only weeks after she married her long-time coach Nino Severino.

"We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined Bally," Severino said in a statement. "She was an amazing person and she touched so many people with her inspirational spirit, her warmth and her kindness."

'She had a remarkable attitude'

  • I was very saddened when I saw the news this morning.
  • I didn't know her that well but have been with her at training camps and seen her around at tournaments. All I can say is that she was a fighter and always brought a tremendous work ethic to the court.
  • From a tennis-based point of view she maximised what she had and to come back from all the injuries and illnesses to achieve so much in the game showed remarkable attitude and spirit.
  • She was a very pleasant person and a popular player on the circuit - particularly among those, like Laura Robson and Heather Watson, who spent a lot of time with her. They always alluded to just how nice she is.
  • To lose someone so young at only 30 years old is such a shame. She only retired at the end of the November and then in January it was diagnosed, so it just goes to show how lucky most of us are and how we must live each day to the full.
  • Chris Wilkinson, ESPN tennis columnist

Former Wimbledon and US Open doubles quarter-finalist Ross Hutchins, who battled Hodgkin's lymphoma last year, told BBC Radio 5 Live: "Elena was a very special person and will always be remembered for so many positive things.

"She was hard-working, gentle, loving, a true professional and gave so much to the people and the sport of tennis.

"I cannot give enough praise to what a wonderful person she was."

Meanwhile, current British No.1 Laura Robson led a series of tributes on Twitter from the tennis world.

She wrote: "Impossibly sad. Forever a team-mate. Sweet dreams Bally."

Another former No.1 and Fed Cup team-mate Heather Watson added: "We've lost our lovely Bally too young. Rest in peace. My thought are with Nino and all of her family."

World No.1 Serena Williams also tweeted her respects. "My deepest prayers, thoughts, concern and love goes out to Elena Baltacha's family," she said. "I am deeply sorry for your loss."

Eighteen-time grand slam champion Chris Evert added: "Rest in Peace, beautiful Elena Baltacha... No words... Thoughts and prayers..."

Six-times Wimbledon singles champion Billie Jean King wrote: "Saddened to hear about Elena Baltacha's passing. My fondest memory with Bally was sharing a wonderful chat when we met the Queen at Wimbledon."

Martina Navratilova also used the social networking site to give her thoughts: "So sad to hear of Elena Baltacha's passing," she wrote. "My thoughts are with her family and loved ones, gone much much too soon."

Baltacha was born into a sporting family. Father Sergei played football for Dynamo Kiev and English club Ipswich, and won a bronze medal for the Soviet Union at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Mother Olga represented the Soviet Union in the pentathlon.

After being diagnosed with a chronic liver condition aged 19, Baltacha dealt with illness throughout her career, receiving medication and regular blood tests.

"Elena's journey was never an easy one and yet she consistently showed her strength, good humour and indomitable spirit," WTA chairman Stacey Allaster said.

Her best ranking was 49th in 2010, and she reached the third round at grand slam tournaments three times - at Wimbledon in 2002, and at the Australian Open in 2005 and 2010. Ankle problems eventually forced her to retire in November, and she had hoped to use her experience to develop the next generation of British players.

"We have lost a shining light from the heart of British tennis - a true role model, a great competitor and a wonderful friend," former Fed Cup coach Iain Bates said. "We have so many special memories to cherish, but this leaves a gaping hole for everybody in both British and women's tennis, and words simply cannot express how saddened we are by this news."

Baltacha had already planned a tennis charity event in June, "Rally for Bally", to raise money for a cancer hospital and her tennis academy. It will go ahead in her memory, with competitors including childhood friend Andy Murray, Martina Navratilova and Tim Henman.

"Bally was such a caring human being, always putting others before herself, and a warm, fun person," the WTA's Allaster said. "A shining example of her commitment to looking out for the welfare of others is the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, which she established so that children from disadvantaged backgrounds could learn to play the game she loved so dearly."

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