It is more than five weeks since Elena Baltacha died, but Marion Bartoli feels that "in a way she is almost still with us". The Wimbledon champion, who will take part in Sunday's Rally for Bally charity event, was a good friend of Baltacha and recalled a conversation that put her on the path to victory at the All England Club last summer.
The 29-year-old Frenchwoman, who retired less than two months after winning Wimbledon, said: "I will always remember the chat we had together before Wimbledon started. It was in Eastbourne and Bally really gave me this extra boost to just enjoy it more on the court. I was really not feeling good mentally in Eastbourne and I will never forget that chat we had in the locker room. She even gave me some advice on my hair colour!
"She helped me to put tennis more in perspective – to put happiness first, instead of tennis. Everyone said my attitude even on the court changed. I was so much more relaxed during Wimbledon. Of course we spoke about girls' stuff, hair colour and whatever. But that was who she was: trying to help me just to be happy."
Bartoli and Baltacha had known each other for 15 years. "The first time I saw her we were playing down in Hatfield at the European Championship under-16s," Bartoli said. "Now it's hard to imagine that I will not see her again."
Baltacha was diagnosed with liver cancer early this year and died last month aged 30. Rally for Bally consists of mixed-doubles matches at Queen's, Edgbaston and Eastbourne to raise funds for a tennis academy for under-privileged youngsters which the British No 1 founded in Ipswich, and for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
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