Tennis legend Navratilova becomes patron of Elena Baltacha Foundation

Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova - Credit: AP

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova has become the latest high-profile patron of the Elena Baltacha Foundation on what is the first day of Wimbledon.

Elena Baltacha

Elena Baltacha - Credit: PA

Ipswich’s Baltacha set up the charity – the aim of which is to provide children from deprived areas and disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to play the sport through free and subsidised coaching – before her sudden death from liver cancer in May 2014.

The Foundation, along with the tennis academy which bears her name at Ipswich Sports Club, has gone from strength to strength since her sad passing and hundreds of youngsters from the town have benefitted.

Judy Murray, former GB Fed Cup captain and mother of Andy, was the original patron and now Navratilova, the 18-times Czech grand slam winner, has become one too.

“Martina always had a soft spot for Bally,” explained her widower and long-term coach, Nino Severino. “On tour, they would always have a chat.

“Martina went on the TV show ‘Mr & Mrs’ last year and chose Elena’s Foundation as her chosen charity for the prize money and then discussions about her becoming a patron started from there. Having a legend like her being associated will have such a huge effect.”

Tawana Senna, a 12-year-old who is a product of the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, was invited to attend the pre-Wimbledon players’ party last week after some impressive progress on the court. Justice Hall, another of Baltacha’s protégés, has recently been called up by Great Britain.

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“These are kids who would never have found tennis if it wasn’t for the Foundation,” said Severino.

“A lot of tennis clubs are so focussed on profit making, but we have stayed true to our original ethos of introducing the sport to children that wouldn’t normally have been able to access it.

“At first parents and their children aren’t always sure because they have a particular view of tennis, but before long the sport becomes a huge part of their lives and has a really, really positive impact.

“It gives me goosepimples to think we may be able to produce a future star.

“That is what Bally and I always wanted and it feels great to be achieving what she set out to do.”

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