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Elena Baltacha holding the Nottingham singles trophy
International

Elena Baltacha: 10 years since the passing of Britain’s inspirational tennis star & Nottingham’s greatest champion

• 3 MINUTE READ

2024 marks the 10-year anniversary of the passing of British tennis star and a three-time Nottingham champion, Elena Baltacha.

On 4 May 2014, the former British No.1 lost her battle with liver cancer at the age of 30 – just months following her retirement from professional tennis.

Elena – or Bally as she was called by friends and family – was a true inspiration to all both on and off the court and was one of the most love characters within the British game.

Born into a sporting family with a former athlete for a mother, and a father who played professional football both in England and Scotland, Bally grew up playing tennis from a young age in St Johnstone in Perth.

This began a live-long passion for the sport and the young Brit eventually made the decision to move down to London to work with the late-great coach Alan Jones as she embarked on her journey to make it to the top of the game.

Despite being diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis at just 19-years-old, Bally went on to enjoy an excellent career that saw her reach a career-high ranking of world No.49, win 11 ITF singles and four doubles titles and represent Great Britian in both the Billie Jean King Cup (formerly known as the Fed Cup) and at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

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She reached the third rounds of both Wimbledon (2002) and the Australian Open (2005 & 2010) and racked up an impressive 33 victories across 39 ties for Great Britain at the Fed Cup.

However, there was one tournament specifically that proved a favourite above all others for the British star – the Nottingham Open.

Bally is one of only three players to have won multiple women’s singles titles in Nottingham, alongside tennis greats Billie Jean King and Ashleigh Barty.

She won her first of three titles at the Nottingham Tennis Centre in 2010, capitalising on her No.1 seed status to go on and defeat American Carly Gullickson 6-2, 6-2 in the final.

A year later she clinched what would be the biggest title of her career at the Nottingham Challenge with a straight sets win over Petra Cetkovska, before completing her hat-trick in 2013.

After her victory against Tadeja Majeric for what would be the final trophy of her career, Bally said: “There is something about Nottingham, this is the third time I've won a title here and I've never lost a final. It is a very, very special place - it is magic for me to be honest.”

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In tribute to her incredible success at the tournament over the years, in 2015, the LTA officially named the women’s singles Nottingham Open trophy the ‘Elena Baltacha Trophy’.

Her appearances at the Fed Cup and Olympics make Bally an LTA Colour Holder. Historically, in the same way a player might receive a ‘cap’ in football or rugby, when a player represented Great Britain in tennis, they received a Colour. In 2021 the LTA revived the Colour Holders programme – marking 125 years since tennis players first stepped onto court to represent Great Britain at the 1896 Olympics - to celebrate the achievements of a very select group of players for Team GB.

Given number No.246 Bally debuted for her country in a then Fed Cup tie against Malta in 2002. To mark her achievements Elena’s commemorative Colour Holders frame was presented to her husband Nino Severino in front of a packed crowd, fittingly on Centre Court in Nottingham on Friday.

Away from her own career, Bally was incredibly passionate about giving back to the game and in particularly, helping more young people to pick up a racket and play tennis. She set up the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis in Ipswich to support disadvantaged children in the local area and engage them in tennis.

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Since her passing in 2014, The Elena Baltacha Foundation has since been continuing in this work – creating an everlasting legacy for one of British tennis’s most inspirational heroes.

Chaired by Bally’s husband and tennis coach Nino, The Foundation promotes free tennis sessions, creates unique opportunities for kids in the sport, supports players seeking scholarships both in the UK and abroad, and offer free advice for tennis parents.

“Elena would be really proud of the work of the foundation," Nino said. "Back when she started it, some people said to her not to bother. She saw that as a challenge - something that she always loved. She wanted to work with underserved communities and she wanted to make a difference.

“She saw some of the girls as children who had to fight – financial and socially. She recognised that – she was a fighter. There was a connection there, I think. We haven’t given up on that. The people working in the foundation haven’t given up on her work.’’

“We have worked in schools in Ipswich and Suffolk and now we are moving into six schools across London reaching 3 to 4,000 children and getting them into the sport. We want to have a broader reach and start expanding the work of the foundation.’’

Find out more about their work

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