Tennis stars ‘Rally for Bally’ as Elena Baltacha is honoured
Last Updated: 15/06/14 8:17pm
Tennis stars past and present came together to remember Elena Baltacha on Sunday in the ‘Rally for Bally’.
And one, the great Martina Navratilova, says the players want to make it an annual event.
Charity doubles matches were held at Eastbourne, Queen's Club and Birmingham in honour of the former British number one, who died from liver cancer in May at the age of 30.
The money raised will be split between the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis.
Baltacha, known to all within the sport as ‘Bally’, set up an academy in Ipswich in 2010 to give girls from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to play tennis.
Last year Queen's hosted the Rally Against Cancer to raise money for the Royal Marsden, which treated another British player, Ross Hutchins, in his successful battle against Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Hutchins and Andy Murray played against each other in the Queen's exhibition alongside Victoria Azarenka, Heather Watson, Martina Hingis and Jamie Murray.
At Eastbourne, Greg Rusedski, Colin Fleming, Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova took part.
And in Birmingham, Navratilova teamed up with James Ward, Tim Henman and Anne Keothavong.
Navratilova, who went through her own battle against breast cancer in 2010, said: "This match is a bitter-sweet experience. We love this sport so much, which is why we came together, but life really stinks sometimes.
"It stinks that this is why we're getting together to play but the legacy will live on and that's the main thing. There'll be plenty of kids that will benefit from this much premature death of Elena.
"Out of tragedy comes something good and we'll make sure this isn't a one-off. I'd like to make this into an annual event and keep it going because she deserves that and the kids deserve it."
Girls from Baltacha's academy were present at both Birmingham and Queen's, and four of them even took to the court to take Andy Murray's place during the deciding tie-break.
Keothavong's career ran parallel with Baltacha's and the pair were rivals and team-mates from their junior days.
"We grew up together, we trained together as teenagers, we went on tours together," said Keothavong.
"There were times when our friendship wasn't always perfect but one of the special moments we both shared together was representing Britain in the Olympics.
"We got to play doubles together there and it was incredibly special to us to be part of that in London. It's one of many things I'll never forget."
Judy Murray, Baltacha's Fed Cup captain and long-time friend, was on hand in Birmingham to offer some on-court coaching to Keothavong and Henman.
"It's a very special day," she said. "Having one event at three venues in her honour is a big thing.
"The calibre and number of players who've come to support it is quite remarkable and I think that's just a sign of how highly she was regarded across the tennis world.
"Everybody remembers her spirit, maybe not everybody knew her quite so well as a person, how humble and kind and generous and funny she was. But as a competitor everybody respected her incredible fighting spirit.
"Everybody knows about the academy now and how much she wanted to give back to the game and how much she wanted to try to grow the game and create opportunities for kids who wouldn't otherwise have had the chance to play tennis.
"Those funds will be very well used to support the academy for many years, to make sure it goes from strength to strength and that we all remember her."