Late Tennis Great Elena Baltacha Honored With Day Of UK Play

When Elena Baltacha died on May 4 at 30 after a long battle with liver cancer, the tennis world expanded to include many others merely touched by her strength. That world expanded even more on Sunday as tennis stars united with up-and-coming players across the United Kingdom to put on exhibition matches for charities that Britain’s former No. 1 star favored.

“The loss of Elena was very sad and it touched everyone inside and outside of tennis,” star Martina Hingis told STV, “but it’s great that everyone in her sport is pulling together like this. It’s the perfect way to remember her and also to raise money for causes that mattered to her.”

Hingis, Martina Navratilova, Ross Hutchins, Marion Bartoli, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski, Anne Keothavong, Heather Watson and Andy Murray were among those playing in three mixed-doubles exhibition matches for the British Tennis Rally for Bally charity event. (Bally was Baltacha’s nickname.) Proceeds of the matches, taking place in Eastbourne, London and Birmingham, will benefit the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Since her death, many stars have publicized special moments they’d shared with Baltacha. Though Marion Bartoli, one of Baltacha’s closest friends, just retired last summer after finally winning a Wimbledon title, she just credited a conversation with Baltacha a year ago for giving her the needed confidence to even enter the tournament, according to the Telegraph.

“It was in Eastbourne and she really gave me this extra boost to just enjoy it more on the court,” Bartoli said. “… She helped me to put tennis more in perspective. To put happiness first, instead of tennis first. I was really not feeling good mentally in Eastbourne. But everyone said my attitude on the court changed. I was so much more relaxed during Wimbledon. Of course we also spoke about girls’ stuff, hair color and whatever. But that was who she was: trying to help me to just be happy.”

On Friday, Baltacha‘s coach and husband, Nino Severino, spoke publicly for the first time since his wife’s passing, according to the BBC. More than a month later, he was still marveling about her humanity and fortitude:

“I’ve never experienced strength like that in a human being,” he said. “Lots of humans go through horrible, horrible things. This woman was 30 years old. She had just retired. She had so many amazing things at her feet…. She never once through the whole ordeal ever complained. She said: ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ to everybody, treated everyone with respect. She always put my feelings first, before hers, never wanted me to be upset.”

Clearly, a worthy star.

To make a donation, visit JustGiving. Those who donate 10 pounds ($16 USD) or more will get a Rally for Bally wristband.

[Image courtesy of Bing]

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