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

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