Nino Severino: Remembering the day Elena shocked the world at Indian Wells
PUBLISHED: 15:41 14 March 2018 | UPDATED: 15:41 14 March 2018
In his latest column, Nino Severino discusses the famous Indian Wells tennis tournament and the year that his wife Elena Baltacha sprung a huge upset against a legend of the sport.
If you’re a tennis fan, you will be very aware that the biggest WTA and ATP World tour tennis tournament is currently being held in Indian Wells, California.
Both Elena and I would attend this tournament – often called the fifth Grand Slam – as part of our touring schedule, and for me, it holds some of my most treasured memories of my time in world tennis.
I have many stories to tell of my time on the world tour, one of them is a bizarre experience from Indian Wells.
Elena and I had finished our day of preparation and we decided to spend the night out on the terrace of the hotel where we were staying.
We tried to find a spot where no one was sitting, but it was very busy, and we were forced to sit with a group of American tennis fans who were also staying at the hotel.
This can sometimes be a problem, as they will be aware who the players are, which can draw you into an evening of tennis talk – not always the best after a tough day of tournament preparation.
We sat down, and immediately one of the ladies in the group offered both Elena and I a drink, which was very nice of her.
We settled into the group, and the conversation developed to be very interesting, the lady who offered us a drink was one of the big players in the Nickelodeon television company, she was accompanied by friends, one of whom was a brain surgeon, and another a cosmetic surgeon.
They were very interested in Elena’s Foundation we were running back home in Ipswich, and asked so many questions.
Elena was absolutely fantastic, she told them about all the young players we were trying to help, and with such passion, and this had quite an amazing result.
Two hours into the evening, one of the group said to Elena: “I’m so impressed with what you are doing back in England for these children”, she then took out $500 from her purse and said please add this to the funds.
Both Elena and I looked at each other in amazement – I thought ‘only in America.’ But it did not end there, the cosmetic surgeon then wrote out a cheque for $500, that was $1000 for our foundation in one meeting with some very generous Americans.
Of course, we did the right thing and offered the whole group accreditation to the players’ lounge as a big thank you for their support – they were absolutely over the moon as they were massive tennis fans and the day finished off with another surprise as the brain surgeon wrote another cheque for $500!
Whenever we travelled to the Indian Wells tournament, I always knew that it would be very tough for Elena, as all the world’s best tennis players would fly in to compete.
There were 1,000 points on offer for each winner of the men’s and ladies draw, and a total of $14,000,000 prize money across the whole tournament.
I remember in our best ever year, Elena was on fire, and taking the scalps of some of the best players in the world, and in her first round she banked a great win, this was very exciting, as we knew the player in the next round could be a big name, and another chance for Elena to test her tennis skills.
We did not have to wait long to find out who we would be preparing for, it was the incredible and formidable world top 10 player, Li Na from China.
Li was the first player from an East Asian and Asian country to win a Grand Slam title, in fact, she went on to win two Grand Slams by the end of her career.
As you can imagine, this was one of the biggest matches of Elena’s career, and of course, on paper, she did not stand a chance of winning.
But one thing was for sure, on her day, Elena could beat any player in the world, and that’s exactly what happened.
I remember this year well, as we travelled to Istanbul, and as coincidence would have it, Elena drew Francesca Schiavone, the reigning French Open Champion, and of course, in typical Elena style, she shocked the tennis world and took another top 10 scalp. This is one of Elena’s great achievements, the fact, that in the same year, she beat both Li at Indian Wells and again at another WTA Premier event, and backed this up with a win against Francesca, a reigning Grand Slam champion, in the same year.
I could probably fill the whole of this day’s paper with my memories of this tournament, but one of the memories that stands out for me was how happy Elena was when the WTA governing body asked her to join the charity events with the children who were invited to the tournament.
During her time with the children she had the Elena smile, from one side of her face to the other.