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Baltacha Academy visits Wimbledon

Elena Baltacha and juniors from her academy visit Centre Court.
by Alexandra Willis
Saturday 10 December 2011

It may seem very obvious, but tennis players don't tend to visit tournament sites more than once a year. Because, of course, they only tend to go to a place to play in the actual tournament, which takes place once a year. You can understand why.

Wimbledon, though, is a little bit different. The All England Club has a pull that all tennis players talk about, but no one can quite understand. From watching it on TV, visiting, or simply hearing about it, many, many players will tell you that they grew up dreaming about winning Wimbledon.

It was with this in mind that British No.1 Elena Baltacha and her coach Nino Severino journeyed from Ipswish to SW19 with the members of the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, fondly known as the EBAT girls.

"Wimbledon is what we’re all driving for," explained Severino, who has masterminded back-to-back years in the top 50 for Britain's No.1. "EBAT is about finding a professional tennis player, not all of them are going to be elite tennis players, it’s about them getting involved in tennis as well, but it’s great for them to see Wimbledon and have a dream."

Chaperoned around the Grounds by WJTI head coach Dan Bloxham, Baltacha and the girls took in the Aorangi practice courts, No.2 Court, No.1 Court, and of course, Centre Court.

"It was just amazing," Baltacha said. "I didn’t expect him to do what he did, he spent three to four hours taking us round, all the kids just loved it. We also went in and had a look at the trophies. All their eyes just lit up, it was such an amazing trip for the girls."

"I’ve never actually gone to Wimbledon when The Championships haven’t been on, so it was really strange, all these memories came back, all the 10 years that I’ve played there. I got a bit emotional to be honest, which I didn’t think I would! Obviously it doesn’t look the same as it does while the tournament’s on, but even still you think 'wow’."

Before their visit to Wimbledon, Baltacha, Severino and their bright young things also paid a visit to the National Tennis Centre, just down the road in Roehampton.

"From my point of view it was as much an educational experience for the parents in terms of what they saw at the NTC, and what we are trying to do at Ipswich," explained Severino. "We try and replicate a high-end training venue, so it’s good for them to understand that and get an awareness of the governing body and the whole machine behind it."

There are 14 girls in the EBAT at present, including nationally ranked Sofiya Khalyaeva, all of whom are training in Ipswich at varying levels appropriate to their standard.

"Obviously Nino and I travel so much that to see how much we’ve developed the academy, I can’t say how proud I am of that," Baltacha said. "All that hard work that everyone’s putting in, it’s going somewhere. That’s what I want to do when I retire, and we’ve got something really solid to go into. It's so much a part of my life now when we come home, and I really miss them and miss the whole set-up when we’re away."

Baltacha, who this year became the first British woman since Jo Durie to spend back-to-back years inside the world's top 50, will begin her 2012 campaign at the WTA event in Auckland, followed by a trip to Hobart, and then on to Melbourne for the Australian Open.

"Last year I went in going in a little unsure what’s going to happen, can I continue with good form, have another good year," Baltacha admitted. "But this year I’m not. I still haven’t peaked - there are still things I can get better at, physically I’m in much better shape, I’ve worked really hard, mentally I feel I’m the strongest I’ve ever been, I feel very solid in my private life now, so I feel much more relaxed going into next year.

"I know that you need to have a little bit of luck with the draws, you need things to happen for you, and you need to be fit and ready to go, so I’m just trying to do everything I can to give myself the best chance and see what happens from there. But I feel very confident going into next year, and I feel I’ve put myself in a good position to go beyond that 50 mark."

Find out more about the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis

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