Sport in mourning for Baltacha

Elena Baltacha
Elena Baltacha
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Tributes have been paid to the former British No.1 Elena Baltacha, who died of liver cancer at the age of 30 early on Sunday morning.

Baltacha was diagnosed with the illness in January, just two months after retiring from tennis and only weeks after she married her long-time coach Nino Severino.

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

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

The statement said Baltacha died peacefully at home.

Baltacha had retired from professional tennis last November after a career which had seen her ranked as the British No. 1 for 132 weeks, from December 2009 to June 2012.

Her highest singles rank was 49, which she reached in September 2010.

The Lawn Tennis Association’s 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.”

Baltacha had dealt with a liver condition – primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) – diagnosed at the age of 19, throughout her career with medication and regular blood tests.

Despite this, she went on to win 11 singles titles, reached the third round of Wimbledon in 2002 and the same stage of the Australian Open in 2005 and 2010.

The daughter of former Ipswich footballer Sergei, she represented Great Britain for 11 years in the Fed Cup and also played in the London Olympics in 2012.

Martine Walmsley, 43, from Preston, of the group PSC Support, paid tribute to Baltacha.

“She was a true inspiration to people with PSC. She just didn’t let anything stop her,” she said.

“People admired her so much. It is devastating for patients to see someone like Elena pass away.”