MX23RW : Saturday, June 12 11:35:46| >> :600:66621227:66621227:

Anne Keothavong toasts Elena Baltacha amid Fed Cup success

Anne Keothavong toasts Elena Baltacha amid Fed Cup success
© Reuters
Saturday marks five years since Baltacha's death from liver cancer at the age of only 30.

Amid the joyful celebrations of Great Britain's Fed Cup success last month, captain Anne Keothavong was acutely aware there was one person missing.

Had life been less cruel, Keothavong would surely have been celebrating guiding Britain to the competition's World Group after 26 years with her long-time team-mate, rival and friend, Elena Baltacha.

Instead, Saturday will mark five years since Baltacha's tragically early death from liver cancer at the age of 30.

Elena Baltacha was a long-time British number one
Elena Baltacha was a long-time British number one (Gareth Fuller/PA)

"I can't believe it's five years," says Keothavong, who remains deeply affected by the loss and never misses an opportunity to tell her players that there are more important things than victories and defeats.

"It's something I talk about with the players at every Fed Cup," she tells Press Association Sport.

"Win or lose, I always make sure we toast Bally. Back in the team room (after beating Kazakhstan), there were celebrations, everyone was having a drink, but there's always time for all of us to remember Bally and raise our glasses to her.

"I like to remind the players that they're all in a fortunate position. They have their health and it's good to keep things in perspective."

Anne Keothavong, second right, celebrates Fed Cup promotion with the Great Britain team
Anne Keothavong, second right, celebrates Fed Cup promotion with the Great Britain team (Adam Davy/PA)

Baltacha and Keothavong were born only a month apart and their careers were intertwined from their junior days. They both peaked just inside the top 50 before retiring in 2013.

Their rivalry, stoked, Keothavong says, by people around them, led to them falling out, and for several years they barely spoke. But then Fed Cup captain Judy Murray helped reunite them in 2012 and their relationship became very close.

They played doubles together at the Olympics in London and Keothavong was one of the guests at Baltacha's wedding to her coach Nino Severino in December 2013. It is the most heartbreaking part of her story that her cancer diagnosis came just a month later.

Keothavong knows that, as Fed Cup captain and the mother to two small children, she is living the future that Baltacha had taken away from her.

"We spoke about what we were going to do post-retirement a lot," she says. "I know she had lots of ideas and plans that she wanted to do with her academy.

"I was there at her wedding to Nino and it was such a great day. To think just a few weeks later she was diagnosed with cancer and then I never had the opportunity to see her again. I couldn't believe how quickly she deteriorated.

"I still remember when she passed away, messages from Nino saying she didn't have much longer left but, in my head, not really knowing anyone close to me who'd been through cancer, that was still months and I didn't realise there was a matter of days then she wasn't with us. It was just a huge shock.

"I'm grateful for the relationship I now have with Nino. I'm here if he needs any extra support. But equally, I think it's also difficult for him to be around me too much because I'm kind of doing what I hope she would be doing, whether it's career or family. She didn't get the health that I have and it's just sad."

Keothavong is an ambassador of the Elena Baltacha Foundation, through which the academy in her name that Baltacha set up with Severino in Ipswich enables girls and boys from disadvantaged backgrounds to play tennis.

Severino and a group of girls from the academy were at the Copper Box to see Britain defeat Kazakhstan, and both Keothavong and Murray, a patron of the foundation, help out whenever they can.

Players from the academy have made regional and national squads, and it is very possible that a future Fed Cup player could emerge from within the ranks.

Murray says: "It was all about creating opportunities but I always say there's talent everywhere but not all talent has an opportunity. I know if someone did come through from her academy she would be looking down and be so excited about that."

Baltacha was one of a group of talented young Scottish players who Murray guided as the national coach when her sons were children, and the pair remained close.

Judy Murray hugs Elena Baltacha at the London Olympics in 2012
Judy Murray hugs Elena Baltacha at the London Olympics in 2012 (Rebecca Naden/PA)

"She was such a huge part of British tennis for such a long time and she was a great example," says Murray.

"When you watch Fed Cup, very much she comes to my thoughts because she was the number one player when I became captain, and you couldn't have asked for a better person to lead the country.

"Bally would have been incredibly proud of Annie. To see her captaining the team and getting such fighting performances out of the players and getting them into the World Group, she would have been absolutely thrilled.

"She was just a great person to know. We all miss her and we'll never forget her."

ga('create', 'UA-72310761-1', 'auto', {'name': 'pacontentapi'});
ga('pacontentapi.set', 'referrer', location.origin);
ga('pacontentapi.set', 'dimension1', 'By Eleanor Crooks, Press Association Sport Tennis Correspondent');
ga('pacontentapi.set', 'dimension2', '2b29831c-6333-4f54-80f7-cb793b60b3e7');
ga('pacontentapi.set', 'dimension3', 'paservice:sport,paservice:sport:uk');
ga('pacontentapi.set', 'dimension6', 'story');
ga('pacontentapi.set', 'dimension7', 'composite');
ga('pacontentapi.set', 'dimension8', null);
ga('pacontentapi.set', 'dimension9', 'sport:tennis');
ga('pacontentapi.send', 'pageview', { 'location': location.href, 'page': (location.pathname + + location.hash), 'title': 'Keothavong takes time to remember Baltacha amid Fed Cup success'});

ID:358085: cacheID:358085:1false2false3false:QQ:: from db desktop :LenBod:restore:12574:
Restore Data
Share this article now:
Did you know...?

rhs 2.0
Euro 2020 fixtures
Saturday, June 12, 2021
Sunday, June 13, 2021
Monday, June 14, 2021
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Todays Game Header Right

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Transfer Talk Daily
Match previews - twice weekly
Morning Briefing (7am UTC)
Ultra close-up image of Kevin De Bruyne [NOT FOR USE IN ARTICLES]Get the latest transfer news, match previews and news direct to your inbox!