Former British number one tennis player Elena Baltacha has reportedly died of liver cancer at the age of 30.
The athlete retired from tennis last year and was diagnosed with cancer back in January, just weeks after getting married. Her husband and longtime coach Nino Severino released a statement announcing that his wife had died.
“We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined Bally,” said Severino in the statement, according to BBC News. “She was an amazing person and she touched so many people with her inspirational spirit, her warmth and her kindness.”
At 19 years old, Serverino was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic liver disease that compromises the immune system, but despite her illness, the Ukrainian-born athlete went on to reach 49th in world ranking.
Iain Bates, head of the women’s division for the Lawn Tennis Association, expressed sadness over the lost of the star player.
“Today we have lost a shining light from the heart of British tennis – a true role model, a great competitor and a wonderful friend,” said Bates. “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.”
The Lawn Tennis Association went on to release their own official statement, praising Baltacha for her years in the sport despite her continuous health struggles.
“Today British Tennis mourns the loss of one of our own,” said the LTA in a statement. “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 team-mate. 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. Forever remembered for her relentless determination, unbelievable drive and a will-power that never ceased to amaze us, it was a pleasure to watch Bally develop into a world-class player and become an outstanding role model for everyone in the game. With her enthusiasm, spirit and passion for life, she was a pure joy to be around and, having recently got married to her husband Nino Severino, she was embarking on a new chapter in her life. The health issues she battled since her teenage years made what she achieved during her career all the more impressive.”
Prior to her death, Baltacha, along with her husband Nino Serverino, were in the midst of putting together the “Rally For Bally,” a charity tennis event to raise money for cancer research. The event, which will still go on in Baltacha’s honor, will feature stars like Andy Murray, Ross Hutchins, Martina Navratilova, and Tim Henman.