Elena Baltacha. who died Sunday of liver cancer, has been remembered in a host of emotional and fond tributes from the tennis world as news of her death sinks in. The British tennis star, who was ranked in the top 50 at the height of her career, was paid tribute to as a role model who would be much missed by the tennis world.
Judy Murray, mother of Britain’s Andy Murray, coached Baltacha, nicknamed ‘Bally’, as a member of both a Scottish team she led and the British Fed-Cup team. Murray said Baltacha’s death was not just a loss to the tennis world but also to her family and her husband Nino Severino. Murray went on to say she had no words for “what an incredible person ‘Bally’ was, or what an inspiration she will continue to be to everyone who met her.”
Baltacha’s status as an inspiration was echoed by Ian Bates, head of women’s tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association. Bates said Baltacha was a “shining light” as well as a “true role model, a great competitor and a wonderful friend.” Baltacha was certainly an inspiring role model for British players. Ranked Britain’s top female player for three years, Baltacha reached the third round of the Australian Open twice and also the same stage at Wimbledon. Her achievements were all the more remarkable considering she was diagnosed with a chronic liver condition at 19. Jo Durie, a former British no.1 and semi-finalist at the Australian and French Opens paid tribute to how Baltacha never talked about her illness despite how draining it must have been. Instead, Durie said, Baltacha focused on her tennis, a sport she approached with the same fight as she did her illness.
Baltacha was also paid tribute to by one of the game’s greatest ever competitors- Serena Williams. The world no.1 expressed her sorrow for Baltacha’s passing and for her family. Other stars to send messages of condolences were Agnieszka Radwanska, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean-King and Ana Ivanovic.
British tennis stars also expressed their sadness at the loss of Baltacha such as Laura Robson and Heather Watson. Baltacha would have been a role model to both players as she made her runs to the last 32 of Slams. And she spent time with them at Fed Cup ties, her contribution paid tribute to in Robson’s words of “Forever a teammate.” Andy Murray was another British player, a fellow Scot, too, who paid tribute to Baltacha. Murray told the BBC the loss of Baltacha and the speed with which her illness spread was hard to comprehend.
Murray took part in a one minute’s silence in remembrance of Baltacha at yesterday’s Madrid Open. The scenes of the players lining up in the Magic Box as a video looking back at Baltacha’s career played on the big screen, some of them in tears, were a moving tribute to Baltacha’s reputation and the effect she had on her peers.
Another on-court tribute will take place. On June 15th, Murray will be joined by other tennis stars such as Martina Navratilova and Laura Robson in the Rally against Cancer-Rally for Bally. Money will be raised for charity at Mixed Doubles exhibition matches at AEGON tennis tournaments at Queen’s club, Eastbourne and Birmingham.
Commentary by Christian Deverille