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Father of Elena Baltacha pays moving tribute to the tragic former number one

THE heartbroken father of former tennis star Elena Baltacha has paid a moving tribute to his tragic daughter who died of cancer last month at the age of 30.

Speaking for the first time since her death, devastated Sergei Baltacha, 56, a former footballer with St Johnstone and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, said the warm tributes made across the sporting world about the star had provided some comfort to him and Elena's mother Olga, 55.

He revealed the pain of their loss was still so raw neither he nor Olga could bear attending this year's Wimbledon or even watch the competition on television.

"Everything there, from the scoreboards to the ground staff we've come to know over the years, would remind us too much that she is no longer here," said Mr Baltacha.

He added: "We miss her positive approach to life and her sunny smile. I can't even cope with watching the matches on television, even though I love Andy Murray and want him to win again."

Mr Baltacha, along with other close family members, was at his daughter's side in the final hours before she died peacefully at her home on May 4.

He said: "We were all with her. Me, Olga, her brother Sergei and his wife Rosie were all at her bedside before she passed away. It was a very special time for us to say our goodbyes.

"Up until the very end there was still strength and a willingness to fight shining in her eyes.

"She was a tough competitor during her days in sport and that spirit continued right up to the very last seconds of her life." The former British women's number one, who was born in the Ukraine and grew up in Perth, was diagnosed with liver cancer in January, two months after retiring from tennis and only weeks after she married her long-term coach Nino Severino.

She was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic liver condition which affects the immune system, when she was 19, but overcame the illness to go on to win 11 singles titles.

She reached the third round of Wimbledon in 2002 and go to the same stage of the Australian Open in 2005 and 2010 before retiring in November last year.

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