Gallery: Hundreds turn out to pay respects to tennis star Elena Baltacha
PUBLISHED: 15:06 19 May 2014 | UPDATED: 17:30 19 May 2014
Hundreds of mourners including Tim Henman, Laura Robson and Judy Murray gathered to pay their respects to former British number one Elena Baltacha at her funeral.
She was diagnosed with liver cancer in January, just two months after retiring from tennis and weeks after marrying her long-time coach Nino Severino. She passed away on May 4, aged 30.
A piper played as hundreds of friends and family packed in to St John’s Church in Cauldwell Hall Road, Ipswich, to say goodbye to Bally.
Stars including former British number ones Tim Henman and Jo Durie, former Fed Cup team members Anne Keothavong and Laura Robson, Great Britain Davis Cup captain Leon Smith and tennis broadcaster Annabel Croft filed into the church for the service.
Following Elena’s wishes, mourners wore their brightest colours as she “did not want everyone in black”.
The hearse was filled with floral tributes spelling “EBAT x” in honour of the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, which she set up to help disadvantaged children take up sport, and “BALLY x”.
A floral arrangement of yellow roses with a Ukrainian flag laid on top of the coffin as six pallbearers carried it in to the church.
It was followed by Elena’s family, including husband Nino who was supported by Elena’s long-term mentor and Great Britain Fed Cup captain Judy Murray.
Other mourners included LTA head of women’s tennis Iain Bates, Ipswich swimmer Karen Pickering, Ipswich mayor Hamil Clarke, former Ipswich Town chairman David Sheepshanks and future stars from Elena’s tennis academy, including Justice Hall who is determined to win Wimbledon in Bally’s memory.
In a statement, friends and family said: “The tributes and love for Bally from around the world in the last two weeks and the way that everyone has got behind the Rally For Bally have made us so proud of her and how she touched people’s lives.
“We would like to thank everyone for their support. We know that her memory and her spirit will live on.”
Elena, the daughter of former Ipswich Town footballer Sergei Baltacha, had retired from professional tennis after a career which had seen her ranked as the British number one for 132 weeks, from December 2009 to June 2012. Her highest singles ranking was 49.
She had dealt with a liver condition, primary sclerosing cholangitis, since the age of 19 with medication and regular blood tests.
Defying her illness, she went on to win 11 singles titles, reached the third round of Wimbledon in 2002 and represented Great Britain in the Fed Cup for 11 years.
Her family have asked that donations be made to Rally For Bally, with all funds split equally between the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and the charity attached to the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis. To date, nearly £30,000 has been raised.
Visit www.justgiving.com/rallyforbally or text “EBAL60 £5” to 70070 to make, for example, a £5 donation.
A Rally Against Cancer – Rally For Bally – will now be held in her memory on June 15 to raise funds jointly for Royal Marsden national cancer charity and Elena Baltacha Foundation, the charity attached to the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis.
Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, Ross Hutchins, Martina Navratilova, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski, Jamie Murray, Jonny Marray, Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson are some of the names who will play in mixed doubles exhibition matches at the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club, the Aegon Classic in Birmingham and the Aegon International in Eastbourne.