Tennis - Former British No.1 Baltacha dies of cancer

Former British women's number one Elena Baltacha has died at the age of 30 from liver cancer, the Lawn Tennis Association announced on Sunday.

Tennis - Former British No.1 Baltacha dies of cancer

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Elena Baltacha

"The news of the death of Elena Baltacha, one of the shining lights of British women's tennis of recent generations, is devastating to everyone who has ever had the privilege to know her, play against her, or call her a friend or team mate," a statement on the LTA website said.

"It leaves a huge hole within our sport. Bally gave new meaning to the word 'fighter.' She fought tirelessly during her career against opposition on court, and never gave in to the struggles she endured off it."

Baltacha, who was born in Kiev but moved to Britain where her father Sergei was a professional footballer for Ipswich Town, turned professional in 1997 and reached a career-high ranking of 49 in 2010.

She competed at the 2012 London Olympics but retired at the end of the following year because of persistent knee injuries. She married her coach Nino Severino in December 2013 before being diagnosed with cancer in January this year.

"We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined Bally," said her husband.

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

Even before quitting the Tour, Balatcha had set up an academy for young players in Ipswich.

"Words simply cannot express how saddened we are by this news. All our thoughts are with Nino and the rest of Elena's family. We will miss you Bal," LTA Head of women's tennis Iain Bates said.

The 30-year-old grew up in Scotland when her father, a footballer who represented the USSR, signed for Perth-based club St Johnstone. Her mother was also a successful athlete, representing the USSR in the heptathlon at the Olympics.

At the age of just 19, she was diagnosed with a liver condition called Primary sclerosing cholangitis, which is known to lead to complications including cancer later in life.

Few doubt that she would have gone much further in the game were it not for the numerous injuries which constantly dogged her progress. Yet she refused to let that dampen her passion for the game.

Baltacha won 11 ITF titles in her career and made the third rounds of both Wimbledon and the Australian Open, with career highlights including 2011 and 2013 Nottingham victories, and 2010 victories over Chinese star Li Na and then-reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone.

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