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'I've never experienced such strength in a human being'

It is just under six weeks since the tragic death of Elena Baltacha and yesterday, her grieving husband, Nino Severino said she had fought the disease with the same kind of determination and spirit that she exhibited throughout her tennis career.

Severino, who made the journey to Paris last week to pick up a special ITF award for Baltacha at the French Open, said the 30-year-old had never put her feelings before others and that she had battled to the end.

"When she got the diagnosis, she was obviously very shocked, very upset," Severino told BBC Radio 5 live yesterday, in his first interview. "I was beside myself. It was very, very difficult.

"I've never ever experienced such strength in a human being. Lots of humans go through horrible, horrible things but this woman was 30 years old, she had just retired and she had so many amazing things at her feet and then we were up against this fight."

"She never once, ever through the whole ordeal, ever complained. "She said 'please' and 'thank you' to everybody, treated everyone with respect. She always put my feelings first before hers, never wanted me to be upset.

Scottish-raised Baltacha retired from the sport in November last year after a career in which she made the world's top 50 and was a committed Fed Cup team member.

She married her long-time coach Severino in December but was diagnosed with liver cancer in January after going to the doctor complaining of a constant cough.

"I literally spent every second with Bal fighting all the way. It was horrendous cancer that she had, the worst you can get, in the liver. The fight was brutal. I loved her, more than anything and she felt the same. We were just utterly devoted to each other, utterly."

Thoughts of Elena have never been far from the players' minds here at the Aegon Championships this week, with Queen's Club due to play host tomorrow to one of several events in her honour.

The Rally for Bally will see many of the sport's leading names, including Andy Murray, Jamie Murray and Martina Navratilova, take part in a number of exhibitions at venues across the country.

The money raised will be shared between the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, the London hospital that specialises in the treatment of the disease.

After the early exit of Andy Murray on Thursday, the shocks continued yesterday as No.2 seed Tomas Berdych lost 6-4, 7-6 to Feliciano Lopez.

Top seed Stanislav Wawrinka avoided the upsets, beating Marinko Matosevic 7-5, 6-3 and will now play Grigor Dimitrov, who advanced when Alexander Dolgopolov withdrew before their match because of injury.

Radek Stepanek followed up his victory over Murray with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Kevin Anderson.

Jamie Murray and John Peers, who defeated Bob and Mike Bryan, reached the semi-finals with a 6-4, 7-6 win over Anderson and Jonathan Erlich, winning the tiebreak 16-14.

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