Elena Baltacha dies of liver cancer at the age of 30

The former British No 1 lost her battle with the illness at the age of 30

Elena Baltacha, the former British women’s tennis number one, has died aged 30.

Ms Baltacha, who was diagnosed with liver cancer in January, lost her battle against the disease early Sunday morning, her family said in a statement.

Her husband Nino Severino, whom she had married just months before her death, said he was “heartbroken beyond words”.

The Lawn Tennis Association said “a gaping hole” has been left in British tennis following the loss of Ms Baltacha, who had retired from the sport just two months before she fell ill.

Head of women's tennis Iain Bates said in a statement: “Today we have lost a shining light from the heart of British tennis - a true role model, a great competitor and a wonderful friend.

"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.”

In a statement released by her family, Mr Severino said: “We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined Bally.

"She was an amazing person and she touched so many people with her inspirational spirit, her warmth and her kindness."

The Ukrainian-born Ms Baltacha announced her diagnosis in March, vowing to fight the cancer “with everything I have”. She had been diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic liver condition which affects the immune system, at just 19 but had managed the condition throughout her career with medication and regular blood tests.

The daughter of former Ipswich, St Mirren and Inverness footballer Sergei, she turned professional in 1997 and went on to win 11 singles titles; she reached the third round of Wimbledon in 2002 and the same stage of the Australian Open in 2005 and 2010.

Also in 2010, Ms Baltacha reached a career-high world ranking of 2010 and was British number one for 132 weeks between 2009 and 2012.

But injury and illness during her career, as well as ankle problems, eventually forced her to retire in November 2013.

She married her long term coach and boyfriend Mr Severino in December of that year, but was diagnosed with liver cancer the following month.

Her legacy is set to continue through the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, which she set up in 2010 to help children from all backgrounds to learn and play tennis.

All those involved in running the Academy have pledged to carry on the work that she started, the family statement said.

The previously announced "Rally for Bally" - a fundraiser due to be played in June - will now go ahead in her memory.

Childhood friend and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray had committed to play in the event alongside the likes of Martina Navratilova, and Tim Henman, and the money raised will go to the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Her agent and friend Eleanor Preston said the fundraiser next month will be an opportunity to celebrate everything the tennis star achieved.

She told Sky News: ”"t was part of Bally's emotional make-up to be very stoic, she never once asked why me or why is this happening. She was incredibly strong and determined and that was who she was.

“She achieved an awful lot and in the context of having a serious liver condition that she struggled with since the age of 19. This is why she should be held up as a role model.

"She went through it all without the slightest bit of self pity or ego."

Stacey Allaster, chairman and chief executive of the Women's Tennis Association, said in a statement: “We are deeply grieved to lose our friend Elena Baltacha in her battle with cancer. Elena's journey was never an easy one and yet she consistently showed her strength, good humour and indomitable spirit.

“The WTA was blessed to have such a champion compete and represent women's tennis; Elena passionately represented Great Britain on the world stage and her personal commitment to excellence inspired us all throughout her career to strive for more, to be more, to give more. The loss of this special person will have a significant impact on her fellow competitors who not only respected her, but more importantly, loved her.

“'Bally' was such a caring human being, always putting others before herself, and a warm, fun person. A shining example of her commitment to looking out for the welfare of others is the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, which she established so that children from disadvantaged backgrounds could learn to play the game she loved so dearly.

“I am honored that I had the opportunity to know Elena, to call her 'Bally' as her friends do. She was a gift that was taken from us too soon; she will be deeply missed. On behalf of the WTA family of players and tournaments, our hearts and prayers go out to her loving and supportive husband Nino, her parents, brother and friends on this terribly sad day.”

Additional reporting by agencies

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine