Elena Baltacha, who until two years ago was Britain’s leading woman tennis player, has been diagnosed with liver cancer.
The 30-year-old from Ipswich, who retired last year after lengthy battles with illness and injury, vowed to fight the disease with all her strength.
She said in a statement: “I have recently been diagnosed with cancer of the liver. I’m currently undergoing treatment and fighting this illness with everything I have.”
The former world No 49 has had to cope with liver problems through most of her adult life. She was diagnosed at the age of 19 with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic condition which affects the bile ducts and for which she had to take 10 pills a day.
Although the condition affected how hard Baltacha was able to train, it did not stop her enjoying a successful career. She won 15 titles on the International Tennis Federation circuit and reached the last 32 at three Grand Slam tournaments, twice at the Australian Open and once at Wimbledon. She was a mainstay of the British Fed Cup team, playing 39 ties for her country, and competed at the 2012 Olympic Games. Baltacha was born in Ukraine but came to Britain when her father, Sergei, a former Dynamo Kiev footballer who played for the Soviet Union, signed for Ipswich Town. Her mother, Olga, is a former Russian pentathlete. The family settled in Scotland after Sergei moved from Ipswich to the Perth club St Johnstone.
Having taken up tennis at the age of 10, Baltacha quickly emerged as an exciting prospect. She played in the qualifying tournament for Wimbledon at the age of 17 and went on to play in the main draw at the All England Club 12 times, despite her liver condition and serious back problems.
Although not the most naturally gifted of players, Baltacha made the best of her ability through her dedication and determination. She reached her career-high world ranking of No 49 in 2010 and was the British No 1 for 132 weeks between 2009 and 2012.
Nino Severino was her coach during her most successful years and the couple married three months ago. In her statement tonight they thanked everyone for their support.
Since retiring Baltacha has devoted herself to helping young tennis players in Ipswich. The Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis provides opportunities for local girls of primary school age from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Liver cancer is relatively rare in the UK. Almost 4,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, with most of those affected aged 65 or over.
Judy Murray, Britain’s Fed Cup captain, said: “Obviously this is a tough time for Bally, Nino and her family, but she is such a determined, upbeat person and everyone around her is staying positive as well. I know she’ll be really grateful for all the support.”
Anne Keothavong, who regularly vied with Baltacha for the British No 1 position, said: “She’s one of the people I most admire for her courage and determination. You’ll fight through this.”
Baltacha might derive inspiration from a fellow Briton who returned to competition this year after being diagnosed with cancer 15 months ago. Ross Hutchins, aged 29, who was treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was off the tennis circuit for a year but is now back playing again.