sport

Tennis mourns death of Baltacha

Billie Jean King led the tributes for former British No 1 Elena Baltacha, who lost her battle with liver cancer on Sunday at the age of 30.

Baltacha was diagnosed with the illness in January, just two months after retiring from tennis and only weeks after she married her long-time coach Nino Severino.

A statement released by her family said Baltacha died peacefully at home.

Former tennis great, 70-year-old King, who won 39 grand slam titles, was moved to hear of Baltacha's death and said on her Twitter account: "Saddened to hear about Elena Baltacha's passing.

"My fondest memory w/Bally was sharing a wonderful chat when we met the Queen at @Wimbledon."

Andy Murray posted the news on his official website www.andymurray.com including the statement from her husband Severino, which read: "We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined Bally.

"She was an amazing person and she touched so many people with her inspirational spirit, her warmth and her kindness."

Baltacha had retired from professional tennis last November after a career which had seen her ranked as the British No. 1 for 132 weeks, from December 2009 to June 2012.

Her highest singles rank was 49, which she reached in September 2010.

Great Britain Fed Cup team-mate Laura Robson tweeted: "Impossibly sad. Forever a teammate. Sweet dreams Bally."

Other fellow professionals also paid tribute to the 30-year-old, who had dealt with a liver condition - primary sclerosing cholangitis - diagnosed at the age of 19, throughout her career with medication and regular blood tests.

Despite the disruption it caused, she went on to win 11 singles titles, reached the third round of Wimbledon in 2002 and the same stage of the Australian Open in 2005 and 2010.

Serbia's Ana Ivanovic tweeted: "So sad to hear about Elena. Tragic. My thoughts and prayers are with family... £RIPBally."

Kirsten Flipkens told her Twitter account: "Such a sad news to wake up with :-( R.I.P Elena Baltacha.. My thoughts and condolence go out to her family.. £notfair."

World number four Victoria Azarenka tweeted: "RIP Elena Baltacha...My thoughts and condolences to her family! what a tough loss for tennis world."

Kim Clijsters said on her account: "So sad to wake up to the terrible news of Elena passing away! RIP Bally! Thinking about her loved ones ..."

Wimbledon 2012 champion Petra Kvitova told her account: "Just woke up in Madrid. So sad to hear the news about Elena Baltacha :( RIP."

Another former world number one, Chris Evert, who won 18 grand slam singles championships and three doubles titles in the 1970s and 80s, wrote on Twitter: "Rest in Peace, beautiful Elena Baltacha...No words...Thoughts and prayers..."

Current world number 49 Svetlana Kuznetsova tweeted: "I have nothing to say, so empty.. RIP Elena... Not fair ...my thoughts goes to her family .. She was such a beautiful person .."

The daughter of former Ipswich, St Mirren and Inverness footballer Sergei, she represented Great Britain for 11 years in the Fed Cup and also played in the London Olympics in 2012.

However, she struggled with injury and illness during her career and ankle problems eventually forced her to retire.

After deciding to quit the professional game, she had been coaching junior tennis players at her Ipswich-based academy prior to her illness.

Martina Navratilova, an 18-time grand slam singles champion who announced in 2010 that she had made a full recovery after being diagnosed with breast cancer, paid her own tribute to Baltacha.

She said in a statement: "Elena Baltacha was a great fighter on the tennis court. We as tennis players always worry about our bodies, trying to keep injuries at bay.

"But cancer - you can't prevent that and you can't rehab it either and no matter how much of a fighter you are, sometimes cancer wins. Elena was taken from the world much too soon - fighting to the end, and we will miss her.''

Baltacha's former coach Jo Durie, a two-time grand slam champion in mixed doubles, hailed the Scot as a "fighter''.

"She fought on the tennis court and she had problems she had to fight for the rest of her life,'' Durie said on Sky News.

"She didn't find out about the condition until she was about 19, she had to fight through that as well but she always took such a positive view of everything.

"She was just a fighter, I think that's what everyone would say about Bally.''

Durie added: "It's just awful, I think we're all just so shocked that it happened so quickly, she'd just set everything up. Things were looking great and it just happened so quickly, we're all so shocked.''

British number three Heather Watson left a tribute to Baltacha on Twitter,

which read: "We've lost our lovely Bally, too young. Rest in peace. My thought are with Nino and all of her family xx.''

While Denmark's world number 14, Caroline Wozniacki tweeted: "So sad to hear about Elena Baltacha! RIP! Thoughts go out to her family and loved ones!''

Last year's Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli admitted on her Twitter account: "I have no worlds to describe my sadness. RIP @ElenaBaltacha.''