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Tennis world says farewell to 'Bally' at private funeral

THE world of tennis has gathered to pay its respects to Elena Baltacha after her death at the age of 30.

GRIEVING: Judy Murray, right, and Nino Severino, husband of Elena Baltacha, go into church for the tennis star's funeral.
GRIEVING: Judy Murray, right, and Nino Severino, husband of Elena Baltacha, go into church for the tennis star's funeral.

The former British number one, who was born in Ukraine but raised in Scotland, was laid to rest at a private service attended by family and friends, with her husband and former coach, Nino Severino, supported into St John's Church in Ipswich by Judy Murray, her long-time mentor.

Baltacha died on May 4 from liver cancer at the age of 30, less than six months after marrying Severino and weeks after retiring from tennis.

In a statement, friends and family thanked everyone for the support received since the player, affectionately known as Bally, passed away and said they hoped she had left a lasting legacy.

"The tributes and love for Bally from around the world in the last two weeks and the way that everyone has got behind the Rally For Bally have made us so proud of her and how she touched people's lives," the statement read. "We would like to thank everyone for their support. We know that her memory and her spirit will live on."

Players past and present - among them Laura Robson, Anne Keothavong, Annabel Croft, Tim Henman, Jeremy Bates and Jo Durie - attended the service alongside coaches and Lawn Tennis Association officials, including chief executive Michael Downey.

Andy Murray and his brother Jamie were not present.

The funeral was carried out according to Baltacha's wishes, with mourners wearing bright colours and a piper playing the attendees into the service.

Eleanor Preston, Baltacha's manager and trustee of the charity attached to the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, said: "She was an incredibly inspiring person. She was inspiring for people who might just have watched her play, watched her fighting spirit. All of us who were lucky enough to have her in our lives feel very fortunate."

The family asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Rally For Bally on June 15, with all funds split equally between Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and the charity attached to the Elena Baltacha Academy of tennis, which was set up by Baltacha to help disadvantaged children learn to play.

"It's a really important project," Ms Preston added. "It's something which is going to change lives and enrich lives through sport.

"That was always her dream: to bring tennis to people who weren't going to find tennis any other way.

"It's great we're able to honour her life by putting all our energies into helping to continue the work she started with the academy."

Baltacha had retired from professional tennis after a career which had seen her ranked as the British number one for 132 weeks, from December 2009 to June 2012. Her highest singles ranking was 49, which she reached in September 2010.

Despite having to deal with the liver condition, primary sclerosing cholangitis, that she was diagnosed with at the age of 19, she went on to reach the third round of Wimbledon and the Australian Open. She also represented Great Britain for 11 years in the Fed Cup.

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