ELENA Baltacha battled cancer with the same fighting spirit that helped her reach the world’s top 50 in women’s tennis.
According to her widower and former coach Nino Severino, who will feature along with Andy Murray and a host of other stars for today’s Rally for Bally at three events across England.
Wimbledon champion Murray will be on hand for the Queen’s Club leg of the charity event after the Aegon Championships final, with funds raised going to the Royal Marsden national cancer charity.
Severino said he spent “every second” with Baltacha during her “brutal” fight against liver cancer. Baltacha retired last November, married Severino and was diagnosed with cancer in January, before passing away in May aged just 30.
“In all the time I spent with Bally, this is what really showed what a person she was,” Severino told the BBC, of his Ukraine-born but Scottish-raised wife. “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. I literally spent every second with Bal fighting all the way. It was horrendous cancer that she had, the worst you can get, in the liver. The fight was brutal.”
Martina Navratilova and Marion Bartolli will also be involved in today’s Rally for Bally, with Eastbourne and Birmingham the other two venues.
Funds raised will also support the Elena Baltacha Foundation, the charity attached to the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis.
Asked how he coped with his wife’s illness, Severino said: “Because I loved her more than anything and she felt the same. We were just utterly devoted to each other, utterly.
“Bally was ill for quite a long time. The medical people couldn’t seem to understand why.
“The symptoms she was showing didn’t seem to indicate anything with the liver. She had loads of tests that all came back clear. But she had this really, really bad cough and then it was in January she got a pain in her side and that’s when we found out.
“When she got the diagnosis, she was obviously very shocked, very upset. I was beside myself. It was very, very difficult.
“Lots of humans go through horrible, horrible things but this woman was 30 years old, she had just retired and she had so many amazing things at her feet and then we were up against this fight.”
The Rally for Bally at Queen’s is scheduled for after the final of the Aegon event which will be contested by Grigor Dimitrov and Feliciano Lopez. Dimitrov is chasing his first grass court title and the Bulgarian reached the final by dispatching top seed Stanislas Wawrinka in a one-sided semi 6-2, 6-4, to close in on his third tour crown of 2014.
The 23-year-old world No.13 has already scooped silverware in Acapulco and Bucharest this year.
Both players showed impressive enterprise on the grass, but it was Dimitrov’s superior net-court craft that guided him home in straight sets. Dimitrov has had girlfriend and French Open champion Maria Sharapova in London watching on in support, and the Russian world No.5 has proved a good luck charm.
Wawrinka proved Dimitrov’s first real test of any calibre at Queen’s, after eighth-seed Alexandr Dolgopolov withdrew from Friday’s quarter-final with thigh trouble – and he emerged with plenty of credit.
Lopez outgunned wily Czech Radek Stepanek to book his place in the final alongside Dimitrov.
The 32-year-old Spaniard saw off evergreen Stepanek 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 to progress to Sunday’s showpiece. The world No.29 claimed grass-court victory at Eastbourne last summer, and will look to follow that in Kensington.
Lopez had seen off four-time Queen’s winner Lleyton Hewitt, Kenny De Schepper and No.2 seed Tomas Berdych to line up against 35-year-old Stepanek in the semi-finals.
Now the Toledo-born left-hander will fight out the £74,654 top prize with Dimitrov.