Elena Baltacha: A plucky personality that will always be remembered
In the never-ending cycle of birth and death, it’s the latter that strikes a lot harder, leaving behind a poignancy that alters one’s perception of life and living, forever.
The unexpected passing of Elena Baltacha earlier this month came as a blow to the gut. Diagnosed with liver cancer at the start of the year, Baltacha’s words – infused with her brand of assertive optimism – promised her fans and well-wishers that she would come fighting through in the end. That’s one of the reasons why our eyes and ears took some time to assimilate the news of her passing once it trickled in.
During her lifetime, Baltacha’s professional life was quite under-the-radar; she was probably one of the most understated players in the sport. But while she remained obscured from the public eye at the international level, she remained an integral and vital part of British tennis – especially the British Fed Cup team.
Incidentally, right about the time that Bally – as she was called by her close ones – made her debut for the British Fed Cup team, she was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), a liver condition that restricted her playing horizons severely. Her career was littered with lows – none of which were of her own doing – even before she could reach the highs. However, it was such adverse circumstances that showed Baltacha for the fighter that she was.
Not once did she give any excuses; citing health issues for her performances was just not her thing. She always gave her best, never shying away from any kind of hard work. Nor did she think about the future and its myriad uncertainties. In spite of knowing that PSC was almost invariably a precursor to liver cancer and cirrhosis, Baltacha didn’t stop to think and worry about the possible scenarios, but forged right ahead.
Her enduring commitment towards the sport – and towards her country – did reap rewards, enabling her to win 11 ITF titles, alongside ensuring a hold over the British No. 1 ranking and a solid Fed Cup record of 33 wins to just 16 losses.
Yet even as Baltacha strived to fulfil her responsibilities to her profession, illnesses and injuries kept interspersing and intruding themselves, forcing her to take long breaks away from the game to recuperate. Her tenacity was symbolic of a kind of rebellion by her strong-willed mind over her troubled body, setting a singular example to everyone to take a lesson from; even to those who didn’t know as much about her as her fans did.
As much as they take on a toll on our physical self, illnesses also have a way of affecting our spirit and mind. Many times it also happens that the sufferer’s talk of battling it out and remaining cheerful is just a front, a mask of bravado, that seeks to hide the crippling effects of the illness. Baltacha, however, seemed genuinely optimistic till the very end, giving no indication at any time about the seriousness of her condition.
Given that liver cancer is known as one of the most deadly forms of the affliction, presenting no early symptoms to warn anyone, Baltacha’s stoicism that accompanied her announcement seemed to be the assurance that her fans – even her fellow peers, who had arranged a ‘Rally for Bally’ event in June – needed to keep up their hopes about her chances of survival.
It wasn’t so long ago, at the end of the 2013 season, that she had bid adieu to the sport following another injury-related problem, making it quite clear that while she was moving away from the sport professionally, her passion and commitment towards it remained as intact as ever. This time though her passion would be directed in a different direction, focused entirely on the development of her tennis academy in her native Ipswich, which would serve as a training ground for all youngsters interested in taking up and learning the sport.
That she will not be able to oversee these ambitions will remain an everlasting reminder for Bally’s fans of the fleeting nature of life. On the other hand though, they still have something to cheer about, considering that Baltacha and her indefatigable fervour will never fade away.
Elena Baltacha’s unique far-sightedness gives yet another fitting memoir about her plucky personality, a memoir that will always be remembered by anyone who ever knew anything about her.