• Saturday, December 20, 2014

Freedom in the air

British tennis player Baltacha dies of liver cancer

BBC Online
Elena Baltacha. Photo: BBC
Elena Baltacha. Photo: BBC

Former British number one tennis player Elena Baltacha has died of liver cancer, aged 30.

Born in Ukraine and raised in Scotland, Baltacha revealed she had the illness in March.

Baltacha, who was British number one for nearly three years, retired from the sport in 2013.

"We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined Bally," said husband Nino Severino.

Baltacha learned she had liver cancer in mid-January 2014, two months after retiring from professional tennis and only a few weeks after marrying.

"She was an amazing person and she touched so many people with her inspirational spirit, her warmth and her kindness," added Severino, her long-time coach.

Baltacha was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic liver condition which compromises the immune system, aged 19.

Despite her illness and multiple injury problems, Baltacha went on to reach the Australian Open third round in 2005 and 2010 and reached a career-high world ranking of 49.

She won 11 singles titles, made the third round of Wimbledon in 2002 and was part of Great Britain's Fed Cup team for 11 years.

The current women's British number one Laura Robson took to Twitter to pay tribute to her "teammate".

She tweeted: "Impossibly sad. Forever a teammate. Sweet dreams Bally."

Lawn Tennis Association head of women's tennis Iain Bates said: "Today we have lost a shining light from the heart of British tennis - a true role model, a great competitor and a wonderful friend.

"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.

"All our thoughts are with Nino and the rest of Elena's family. We will miss you Bal."

Her agent and friend Eleanor Preston told Sky News: "It was part of Bally's emotional make-up to be very stoic, she never once asked why me or why is this happening. She was incredibly strong and determined and that was who she was.

"She achieved an awful lot and in the context of having a serious liver condition that she struggled with since the age of 19. This is why she should be held up as a role model.

"She went through it all without the slightest bit of self pity or ego."

A host of stars, including Andy Murray, Ross Hutchins, Martina Navratilova, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski, Jamie Murray, Jonny Marray, Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson have agreed to take part in a fundraising event, The Rally Against Cancer - Rally For Bally, which will now be held in her memory on 15 June.

The mixed doubles exhibition matches at the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club, the Aegon Classic in Birmingham and the Aegon International in Eastbourne will raise money for Royal Marsden national cancer charity and Elena Baltacha Foundation.

Published: 10:23 am Monday, May 05, 2014

Last modified: 9:52 pm Monday, May 05, 2014

TAGS: Cancer Tennis player Elena Baltacha

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