The sad news was pronounced this morning that the women’s number one British tennis player, Elena Baltacha, had died on Sunday, at the tragic age of 30 years old. Having been diagnosed with liver cancer earlier this year, after a lifetime of dealing with chronic liver problems, the steely blonde had fought bravely against the disease, but it was with shock and dismay that tennis fans greeted the news of her passing today. Baltacha has been lauded as a fighter with admirable competitive spirit and resilience, a fact which is further underscored by her long-running health issues. She was diagnosed with a chronic liver illness called primary sclerosing cholangitis, which affects the body’s immune system. Despite this, and various other injuries and health problems, Baltacha was not a complainer, and continued to manage all of her conditions while pursuing her love of tennis. In a testament to her memory and standing in British tennis, here is a run down of the best moments of her career.
Baltacha was British number one for almost three years running – quite an impressive feat for one person.
In a nice piece of symmetry she won an impressive 11 singles titles, as well as being part of the British Fed Cup team for 11 years. During her time on the Fed team, she lost only 16 matches for her country, while winning 33.
She also got to represent Britain in the London Olympics – an achievement which she was incredibly proud of and described as an “unbelievable experience”.
One of Baltacha’s more memorable, best moments was during a match against the well-known Russian, Maria Sharapova. The Ukrainian born player started to shout “come on!” in Russian and it took her opponent off guard as Sharapova had been previously unaware of her ability to speak the language. When talking about it afterwards, the British number one stated that she had done it in response to “mind games” Sharapova had been playing to try to intimidate her lower ranked opponent. Baltacha claimed she never let anyone push her around, and despite the fact she lost the match, she was proud of the fact she did not just roll over and let Sharapova get to her.
Her best career ranking was world number 49, which she achieved in 2010 – the same year she also managed to get to the third round of the Australian Open for the second time. 2010 was her best year in many respects as she also gained significant victories over top ten seeded players such as Li Na and Francesca Schiavone.
Upon announcing her retirement from professional tennis in 2012, she declared she would focus on the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis (EBAT) she had set up with her coach (who was also her husband as she married him just weeks before her death), Nino Severino, in 2010. Her aim was to become, in her words, “the best coach” she could be, while helping to train the next generation of British tennis players.
Elena Baltacha, or “Bally” as she was known to those in the tennis world, will be a sorely missed presence in the game, both on and off court. Her achievements were many and her spirit was indefatigable. Tributes have poured in over social media and in the press, as so many mourn her early passing and try to come to terms with the fact that this was one fight she was just not able to battle through. World number one Serena Williams tweeted her condolences, while Andy Murray said it was difficult to process the tragedy when it had progressed so quickly and the current British number one, Laura Robson also claimed it was “impossibly sad” and that “Bally” would be “forever a team-mate”. Many of these tennis stars and others have agreed to take part in a fundraising event for cancer in honor of Baltacha on the 15th of June, it will be called “Rally for Bally” – possibly the best tribute for a player who never stopped fighting right up to her last moment.
Commentary by Rhona Scullion