London: Former British No. 1 Elena Baltacha has died at the age of 30 from liver cancer, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) announced on Sunday.
“The news of the death of Elena Baltacha, one of the shining lights of British women’s tennis of recent generations, is devastating to everyone who has ever had the privilege to know her, play against her, or call her a friend or teammate,” a statement on the LTA website said.
“It leaves a huge hole within our sport. Bally gave new meaning to the word ‘fighter’. She fought tirelessly during her career against opposition on court, and never gave in to the struggles she endured off it.”
Baltacha, who was born in Kiev but moved to Britain where her father Sergei was a professional soccer player for Ipswich Town, turned professional in 1997 and reached a career-high ranking of 49 in 2010.
She competed at the 2012 London Olympics, but retired at the end of the following year because of persistent knee injuries. She married her coach Nino Severino in December 2013 before being diagnosed with cancer in January this year.
“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.”
Even before quitting the Tour, Balatcha had set up an academy for young players in Ipswich.
“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,” LTA Head of women’s tennis Iain Bates said.
Tributes poured in once the news became public.
Billie Jean King led the tributes that have been pouring in for Baltacha.
Former tennis great, 70-year-old King, who won 39 Grand Slam titles, was moved to hear of Baltacha’s death and said on her Twitter account: “Saddened to hear about Elena Baltacha's passing.
“My fondest memory w/Bally was sharing a wonderful chat when we met the Queen at @Wimbledon.”
Andy Murray posted the news on his website including the statement from her husband Severino.
A fundraiser called Rally for Bally was already scheduled to take place in June and will now go ahead in her memory. Murray, Tim Henman and Martina Navratilova are all set to play in the event, with the money raised going to the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.