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Remembering Elena Baltacha

by Gordon Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To celebrate and learn from the life of tennis player Elena Baltacha.

Preparation and materials



  1. Introduce the theme of the assembly – remembering the life of British tennis player Elena Baltacha who has died from liver cancer at the age of 30.

  2. Show the film and/or run through the details of her tennis career as follows:

    – She was born in Kiev to Ukrainian parents.
    – Her father was a professional footballer who moved the family to Scotland when he played for St Johnstone and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Later, he played for Ipswich.
    – Elena made her debut on International Tennis Federation circuit in 1997.
    – She won her first two ITF tournaments in Felixstowe and Pamplona in 2002. 
    – She was in the world's top 100 in 2009 and top 50 in 2010. 
    – Her best Grand Slam achievements were reaching the third rounds of Wimbledon (2002) and the Australian Open (2005, 2010).
    – She won 11 singles titles during her career.

  3. Explain that these sporting achievements, impressive though they are, do not tell the whole story because, from the age of 19, Elena was suffering from a serious liver condition. She kept playing and improving her game despite having greater challenges to overcome than her fellow players.

  4. Elena retired from professional tennis in November 2013 and in December she married her coach Nino Severino. Just a few weeks later, she learned that she had liver cancer, which progressed rapidly. She died in May 2014.

  5. Her legacy includes considerable sporting success, a positive friendly personality, and The Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis that she and her husband set up to provide young people of all backgrounds in her home town of Ipswich and beyond with the opportunity to develop skills in the game. They say:

    ‘At EBAT our mission is to ensure that we visit and promote tennis in all schools, those situated in the deprived areas of Ipswich as well as the more affluent areas. We also are working hard to ensure that the many barriers that stop young children playing tennis are removed.’

  6. Many people have paid tribute to Elena Baltacha including tennis stars Andy Murray, Ross Hutchins, Martina Navratilova, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski, Jamie Murray and Jonny Marray.

    Her friend and agent Eleanor Preston told Sky News: ‘She achieved an awful lot and in the context of having a serious liver condition that she struggled with since the age of 19. This is why she should be held up as a role model. She went through it all without the slightest bit of self-pity or ego.’

Time for reflection

These words can also be used as a prayer:

We join with people all over the world in remembering and celebrating the life of Elena Baltacha.
May we learn from her commitment to a full life for herself and others, her determination to overcome the hardest challenges and her joy in her chosen profession.
We think of her husband, family, friends and colleagues who will all miss her so much. 
We think of the work of The Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis. May it continue to offer opportunities in the spirit of Elena herself – a successful player and a remarkable person.

Publication date: May 2014   (Vol.16 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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