May 5, 2014 (ISN) – Elena Baltacha, the former British number one tennis player and London 2012 Olympian, has died from liver cancer at the age of 30.
Born in Kiev before growing up in Scotland due to her father’s football career, Baltacha was at many times the lone beacon of women’s tennis in Britain over the last decade despite battling the deliberating affects of sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic liver condition which compromises the immune system, since she was 19.
Despite this she reached the third round of the Australian Open in 2005 and 2010, the same year she gained a career-high world ranking of 49.
Baltacha won 11 singles titles, made the third round of Wimbledon in 2002, was part of Great Britain’s Federation Cup team for 11 years, and in latter years played a key role in nurturing the next generation of British players Laura Robson and Heather Watson.
She also reached the second round of the singles at London 2012 after achieving a longstanding ambition to compete at an Olympics after her father Sergei won an football bronze for the Soviet Union at Moscow 1980.
Baltacha revealed she had the illness in March of this year after only learning about it in January, two months after retiring from professional tennis and only a few weeks after getting married.
“We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined Bally,” said husband Nino Severino, who was also her coach.
“She was an amazing person and she touched so many people with her inspirational spirit, her warmth and her kindness.”
Among fellow players to react to her death was current British number one Robson,
who tweeted that is was “impossibly sad”, as well as the 18 time Grand Slam singles champion Martina Navratalova who described her as a “great fighter on the tennis court”.
“We as tennis players always worry about our bodies, trying to keep injuries at bay,” Navratalova added
“But cancer, you can’t prevent that and you can’t rehab it either, and no matter how much of a fighter you are, sometimes cancer wins.
“Elena was taken from the world much too soon, fighting to the end and we will miss her.”
Navratilova, along with a host of British tennis stars of the past and present including reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski and Baltacha’s former teammates Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson, have agreed to take part in a fundraising event, “The Rally Against Cancer – Rally For Bally”, due to be held on June 15.
Among other sports stars to have died from the illness was the Mexico City 1968 400 metres champion Lillian Board, who died from colorectal cancer just two years after her Olympic success in 1970, at the age of 22.
Another prominent British tennis player, Ross Hutchins, is currently recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer, and he has described Baltacha since her death as a “special person who will be remembered for positive things”.
As the tournament director of the Aegon Championships at Queens, Hutchins confirmed that mixed doubles exhibition matches at the event from June 9 until 15 will raise money for the Royal Marsden national cancer charity and the Elena Baltacha Foundation.