Stars turnout for Baltacha charity tribute

Andy Murray has a laugh during the rally for Bally exhibition match. Picture: PA
Andy Murray has a laugh during the rally for Bally exhibition match. Picture: PA
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STARS of the tennis world came together in a trio of matches to remember Scottish player Elena Baltacha, who died of liver ­cancer in May.

Charity doubles matches were yesterday held at Eastbourne, Queen’s Club in London and Birmingham in honour of the former British number one, in an event called “Rally for Bally”.

Funds raised will be split between the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis in Ipswich.

Baltacha, universally known within the sport as Bally, set up the academy in 2010 to give girls from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to play ­tennis.

Last year, Queen’s held the Rally Against Cancer to raise money for the Royal Marsden, which treated tennis player Ross Hutchins in his successful battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

This year, Hutchins and Andy Murray played against each other in the Queen’s exhibition, alongside Victoria Azarenka, Heather Watson, Martina Hingis and Jamie Murray.

At Eastbourne, Greg Rusedski, Colin Fleming, Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova took part, while Birmingham saw a light-hearted match between Martina Navratilova, James Ward, Tim Henman and Anne Keothavong.

Judy Murray, Baltacha’s long-time friend, who was watching the tennis in Birmingham, paid tribute to the tennis ace.

She said: “It’s a very special day. Having one event at three venues in her honour is a big thing.

“The calibre and number of players who’ve come to support it is quite remarkable and I think that’s just a sign of how highly she was regarded across the tennis world.

“Everybody remembers her spirit, maybe not everybody knew her quite so well as a person, how humble and kind and generous and funny she was. But as a competitor everybody ­respected her incredible fighting spirit.”

She added: “Everybody knows about the academy now and how much she wanted to give back to the game and how much she wanted to try to grow the game and create opportunities for kids who wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to play tennis. Those funds will be very well used to support the academy for many years, to make sure it goes from strength to strength and that we all remember her.”

Navratilova, who went through her own battle against breast cancer in 2010, added her support to charity matches, saying they should become an ­annual event.

She added: “This match is a bitter-sweet experience. We love this sport so much, which is why we came together, but life really stinks sometimes.

“It stinks that this is why we’re getting together to play but the legacy will live on and that’s the main thing. There’ll be plenty of kids that will benefit from this much too premature death of Elena. Out of tragedy comes something good and we’ll make sure this isn’t a one-off. I’d like to make this into an annual event and keep it going because she deserves that and the kids ­deserve it.”

Players from Baltacha’s academy were present at both Birmingham and Queen’s, and four of them took to the court to take Andy Murray’s place during the deciding tie-break.

Keothavong’s career ran parallel with Baltacha’s and the pair were rivals and team-mates from their junior days.

She said: “We got to play doubles together there and it was incredibly special to us to be part of that in London. It’s one of many things I’ll never forget.”