For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
I didn’t know Baltacha well, but on hearing of her death I immediately thought back to watching her play at Eastbourne just last summer. On a tiny side court, it was impossible not to get a visceral sense of her intensity and presence as a competitor and an athlete—she fairly burst out of that tournament’s quiet, staid, seaside scene. Which only makes it more shocking, and awful, that all of that intensity, all of that life, is no longer with us. – Stephen Tignor / May 2014
Former British No. 1 Elena Baltacha was known as Bally to her friends—and she had lots of them. When liver cancer took her life at just 30 years old in 2014, players including Martina Navratilova, Andy Murray, Martina Hingis and Victoria Azarenka teamed up for what became known as the Rally for Bally. The exhibition was so successful that Baltacha’s husband and coach, Nino Severino, helped launch the Elena Baltacha Foundation to manage the proceeds collected in her memory.
Much of the money raised went toward the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, which Baltacha founded in her hometown of Ipswich in Suffolk, England, soon after retiring in 2013.
“It’s fantastic the way that the tennis family is coming together to remember Bally and celebrate her life, as well as all of us trying to raise money for two fantastic causes,” Anne Keothavong told the WTA website. “The academy was Bally’s passion and something she devoted a lot of time to.”
Today, the Elena Baltacha Foundation and Academy work hand in hand to give children the chance to pick up a racquet through coordinated school visits and tennis road shows. As a result of Baltacha’s vision, the foundation staff introduced the game to over 6,000 children in 2018 alone.
“What we are achieving is because Elena’s parents and much of her team, players and coaches are still utterly devoted to her and all she stood for,” says Severino, who serves as chairman of the Elena Baltacha Foundation. “This makes me feel very proud.”