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Tennis star Baltacha: Ipswich made her

PUBLISHED: 19:31 28 June 2002 | UPDATED: 12:10 03 March 2010

WIMBLEDON battler Elena Baltacha is keeping the flame alive for British women's tennis - and those who remember her as a youngster living in Ipswich are in little doubt that she will one day lift the coveted trophy.

WIMBLEDON battler Elena Baltacha is keeping the flame alive for British women's tennis - and those who remember her as a youngster living in Ipswich are in little doubt that she will one day lift the coveted trophy.

To them she is a player with the skill, passion, determination and heart to keep on playing until she has laid to rest the ghost of British failure at the championships.

They are thrilled to see the 18-year-old doing so well at the moment as she beat number 32 seed Amanda Coetzer in yesterday's second round.

And they are full of pride that the girl, who couldn't speak English when she arrived in Suffolk after her dad, Sergei, signed to Ipswich Town in 1989, has won the heart of the nation.

Sheila Wilkinson taught Elena when she attended Handford Hall Primary School, in Gatacre Road, Ipswich.

"When she came to us she spoke no English," Mrs Wilkinson said. "Her mum would come in and sit with her in lessons. She was very quiet and being at the school was obviously very strange for her."

"I think it's fantastic she's at Wimbledon," she continued. "I was thrilled when I saw she was doing well. She has certainly done us proud. She has a determined character and that will serve her well."

Family friend and former neighbour Bob Shelley has followed Elena's career since she was six-years-old and was at Wimbledon last year, to see her first appearance in the competition on Centre Court.

He recalled: "I remember back to when she was six years old playing in my back garden. She would keep coming in every minute of the day saying 'Bob, play tennis'.

"She wore me out, she wore my wife out, she wore her brother out, she wore her dad out and she wore her mother out - and she would still want to carry on playing.

"She always promised me that she would go to Wimbledon and when she did I would be go and watch her play. Last year she got a wild card and I went with my wife to see her play. She was supposed to be on Court 5 but Rafter's game on Centre Court had finished quickly and they wanted another game on the court so they banged Elena's game on there. It was her first ever game at Wimbledon and it was on Centre Court.

"It was a fantastic day and what an experience for her. She burst into tears when she knew she was going to play on that court."

Mr Shelley is positive that Elena, who was born in Kiev, in the Ukraine, has the ability to reach the top in women's tennis – and backed her to become the first British woman to win Wimbledon since Virginia Wade in 1977.

"She is one hell of a player and it doesn't surprise me to see her doing well," he said. "She has that natural aptitude that very few people have. She is hungry to learn and she has dogged determination to win. She's just got that edge on most people."

"She will not stop in the future until she has won Wimbledon. She has a heart the size of England."

Elena beat Coetzer in three sets yesterday to make it through to the third round of the competition. She now faces Elena Likhovtseva, who defeated number five seed Kim Clijsters.

Weblink: www.wimbledon.com

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