Ipswich: Nine-year-old tennis prodigy vows to win Wimbledon for her hero Elena Baltacha
- Credit: Lucy Taylor
An Ipswich tennis prodigy today spoke of her determination to become Wimbledon champion as she paid tribute to her “inspiring” tennis coach, Elena Baltacha.
Youngster Justice Hall may still be a few years away from her dream of stepping out on to Centre Court, but after being ranked as the third best player in the country for her age group, it is certainly within her grasp.
And the nine-year-old, of Ipswich, says her success would not have been possible without ‘Bally’, who died on Sunday morning from liver cancer.
Elena saw Justice’s talent for the sport during an event at Piper’s Vale about three years ago and from that moment, she took a keen interest in the youngster’s training.
“She was an inspiration to me,” said Justice, who trains at Ipswich Sports Club.
“She taught me never to give up – she told me to fight if I was losing.
“I’ll never forget the advice that she gave me and the love that she gave me. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be playing tennis.”
Justice travelled with Elena for tennis tournaments and events at home and abroad, including a trip to Scotland where she met Wimbledon champion Andy Murray’s mum, Judy.
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Reflecting on the last three years, it is clear Bally played a huge part in Justice’s life and she is now determined to repay the faith she showed in her.
“I want to work hard and play at Wimbledon and win,” she said.
In her 16-year tennis career, Elena won 11 singles titles and scaled the rankings to become one of the 50 best players in the world.
With husband and touring coach, Nino Severino, she established the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, in order to take the game to all aspiring young players, a decision from which Justice has benefitted.
In January, Baltacha was diagnosed with liver cancer – two months after retiring from tennis.
She announced her diagnosis in March but lost her battle with the illness on Sunday morning, aged 30, surrounded by her friends and family.
Justice’s dad, Leon, said that through her work with youngsters like Justice, her work will be seen in years to come.
He added: “With her (Justice’s) spirit and the foundations that Elena has helped to lay, there is nothing to stop her going all the way.”
Tributes have continued to flood in for Elena, with Judy Murray describing her as “one in a million” and “an absolute gem”.
She said in a statement: “I don’t have the words to say what an incredible person Bally was, how loved she was or what an inspiration she will continue to be to everyone who met her.
“This is an awful loss for tennis, for all of us who knew and loved her but most of all for Nino and her family. My thoughts are, of course, with them.
“She was one in a million. An absolute gem.”