Elena Baltacha funeral: tennis world’s goodbye

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Elena Baltacha’s family and friends hope the former British No 1 has left a lasting legacy for young players following her funeral today.

The Scottish tennis star died on 4 May from liver cancer at the age of 30, less than six months after marrying her former coach Nino Severino and weeks after retiring from tennis.

Judy Murray with Nino Severino  follows the coffin of former tennis player Elena Baltacha. Picture: PA

Judy Murray with Nino Severino follows the coffin of former tennis player Elena Baltacha. Picture: PA

In a statement, friends and family said thank you for the support they have received since the player – affectionately known as “Bally” – died two weeks ago.

It read: “The tributes and love for Bally from around the world in the last two weeks and the way that everyone has got behind the Rally For Bally have made us so proud of her and how she touched people’s lives.

“We would like to thank everyone for their support. We know that her memory and her spirit will live on.”

Mr Severino was accompanied into St John’s Church in Ipswich by Judy Murray, Miss Baltacha’s long-time mentor, as British tennis gathered to pay respects.

Born in Kiev and raised in Perth, Miss Baltacha made the British No 1 slot her own for 132 weeks, won 11 singles titles, and reached the third round of Wimbledon in 2002 and the third round of the Australian Open in 2005 and 2010.

British players past and present – among them Laura Robson, Anne Keothavong, Annabel Croft, Tim Henman, Jeremy Bates and Jo Durie – attended the private service along with coaches and Lawn Tennis Association officials.Miss Baltacha’s close friends, Andy Murray and his brother Jamie, were not present. Current Wimbledon men’s singles champion Andy has said it was “tough” to understand such a “tragic” loss.

Miss Baltacha had banned black from her funeral and mourners attended in their brightest colours, while a piper played them into the service.

Eleanor Preston, Miss Baltacha’s manager and trustee of the charity attached to the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, said: “She was an incredibly inspiring person. She was inspiring for people who might just have watched her play, watched her fighting spirit.

“All of us who were lucky enough to have her in our lives feel very fortunate.”

The family asked that, instead of flowers, donations be made to the Rally For Bally on 15 June, with all funds split equally between the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and the charity attached to the Elena Baltacha Academy of tennis, which she set up to help disadvantaged children learn to play.

Ms Preston added: “It’s a really important project. It’s something which is going to change lives and enrich lives through sport. That was always her dream: to bring tennis to people who weren’t going to find tennis any other way.”

Throughout her career, Miss Baltacha had dealt with a liver condition – primary sclerosing cholangitis, which was diagnosed at the age of 19 – with medication and regular blood tests.

However, after struggling with injury and illness, ankle problems eventually forced her to retire.

She then turned her attention to coaching junior players at her Ipswich-based academy prior to her final illness.