Ipswich: ‘Her legacy can be immense’ - Tennis world hails Elena Baltacha’s gift to game
In a short career, Elena Baltacha rose to the pinnacle of her sport, winning 11 singles titles and scaling the rankings to become one of the 50 best tennis players in the world.
But it is her legacy that will perhaps be remembered as her greatest accomplishment, inspiring a generation of young players to pick up a racquet and enjoy the game, regardless of means or upbringing.
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 and continue as a role model after her own playing career was curtailed by injury.
She has been hailed for her strength on and off the court - her death prompting admirers to pay their respects to a “kind, warm-hearted and giving” professional, known to many as ‘Bally’.
Peter Mornard spent 28 years as LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) National Council representative and has given more than 40 years of service to tennis in Suffolk. The EADT and Ipswich Star tennis writer said: “She was a tremendous example of a tennis player who got a lot out of the game and gave a lot back. I don’t think any of us thought her death would be so sudden.”
Ben Smith trained with her before becoming academy tennis coach at David Lloyd, in Ipswich. The 26-year-old, who took strength and conditioning coaching from Nino Severino as a teenager, and attended the couple’s wedding in December, said: “She was a great player. She was really good for UK tennis. She was always kind, warm and extremely humble. It was very encouraging to a young player.
“There are a lot of players on the Mini Tennis circuit who are there solely because of Elena’s training programme. It’s exactly what she set out to achieve.”
Matt Hough, also a coach at David Lloyd, was Baltacha’s hitting partner in 2010. He travelled with her to the US Open and Wimbledon and worked as a coach at her tennis academy.
Mr Hough said: “It was a great pleasure to be given the opportunity to work with Elena. She was always there to listen and help as a friend and colleague.
“The children at the academy were almost in awe of her. Their faces would light up every time she visited.”
Baltacha was also patron of Tennis in the Park Ipswich, organised by the borough council and Ipswich Sports Club at courts in Christchurch Park. Tennis in the Park coach Trevor Howard said: “The loss will be keenly felt here, but her legacy can be immense. It’s very sad that it should be a legacy in death.
“Ipswich tennis is on a real high. We are producing more nationally ranked players than any other town in the East of England.
“I always found her warm-hearted and giving. She is the sort of person who would give her time and advice freely to young players. If she saw someone mistiming a backhand, she would offer what she thought was the remedy to the problem. It’s something that might not cross the mind of other sportspeople.”
For further reaction and tributes, read tomorrow’s paper.