Elena Baltacha lost her battle with liver cancer Sunday. She was 30.
Baltacha "passed away peacefully," the Women's Tennis Association said. The tennis player, who represented Britain at the London Olympics, was surrounded by family and friends when she died.
The athlete was diagnosed with the disease in January, two months after she retired from the sport and just weeks after she married her long-time coach, Nino Severino. "We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined Bally," Severino said. "She was an amazing person and she touched so many people with her inspirational spirit, her warmth and her kindness."
Baltacha was diagnosed with a chronic liver condition at age 19. In spite of such obstacles, she managed to win 11 singles titles and reached a career-high World No. 49 in the WTA rankings.
"Elena's journey was never an easy one and yet she consistently showed her strength, good humor and indomitable spirit," WTA chairman Stacey Allaster said. "The WTA was blessed to have such a champion compete and represent women's tennis; Elena passionately represented Great Britain on the world stage and her personal commitment to excellence inspired us all throughout her career to strive for more, to be more, to give more. The loss of this special person will have a significant impact on her fellow competitors who not only respected her, but more importantly, loved her."
"Bally was such a caring human being, always putting others before herself, and a warm, fun person. A shining example of her commitment to looking out for the welfare of others is the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, which she established so that children from disadvantaged backgrounds could learn to play the game she loved so dearly," Allaster said Baltacha, a former British No. 1. "I am honored that I had the opportunity to know Elena, to call her Bally as her friends do. She was a gift that was taken from us too soon; she will be deeply missed."
Baltacha was born into an athletic family. Her father, Sergei, played soccer for Dynamo Kiev and English club Ipswich, and he won a bronze medal for the Soviet Union at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Her mother, Olga, represented the Soviet Union in the pentathlon. "On behalf of the WTA family of players and tournaments," Allaster said in a statement Sunday, "our hearts and prayers go out to her loving and supportive husband Nino, her parents, brother and friends on this terribly sad day."
Prior to her death, Baltacha had organized a "Rally for Bally" charity event for June 15. She hoped to raise money for a cancer hospital and her namesake tennis academy. Several professional tennis players—including Tim Henman, Andy Murray and Martina Navratilova—are slated to participate.
After news of Baltacha's passing spread, many athletes paid their respects via Twitter:
What sad news to wake up to today. My thoughts and prayers are with Elena's family on their tragic loss.? Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) May 5, 2014
So sad to hear of Elena Baltacha's passing- my thoughts are with her family and loved ones, gone much much too soon...— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) May 5, 2014
My deepest prayers, thoughts, concern and love goes out to Elena Baltacha's family. I am deeply sorry for your loss. Revelation 21:4? Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) May 5, 2014
This has been a very sad day. I am sending my condolences to Elena's family? Jelena Jankovic (@jelena_jankovic) May 5, 2014
Very sad to hear that Elena Baltacha passed away. RIP.— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) May 5, 2014
I have no words. I can't believe it. One of the nicest players on tour. Only 30 y.o... RIP Elena http://t.co/HuNTJEsOMI? Arina Rodionova (@arinarodionova) May 5, 2014