From The Queen's Club London, to Edgbaston Priory Club, to Devonshire Park, Eastbourne, even to the All England Club, Wimbledon, the tennis world paid tribute to Elena Baltacha in the Rally for Bally.
While the Wimbledon Junior Tennis Initiative turned their Sunday training session into a mini 'Rally for Bally,' over at The Queen's Club, Andy Murray, Martina Hingis, Victoria Azarenka and Heather Watson joined forces with Laura Robson and Ross Hutchins, and in Eastbourne, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Greg Rusedski and Colin Fleming played together at Devonshire Park.
"I hope everyone enjoyed watching today and I hope we've gone some way to showing how much Bally meant to us and how much she was appreciated for everything she did for her family and for tennis in general," said Jamie Murray.
"Having one event at three venues in her honour is a big thing," said Judy Murray. "Everyone remembers her spirit, how humble and kind and generous and funny she was. But as a competitor everybody respected her incredible fighting spirit."
Over at the Edgbaston leg, former British No.1s Tim Henman and Anne Keothavong were joined by tennis legend Martina Navratilova and Londonder James Ward.
Ward was an instant hit alongside Navratilova and producing a fine lob in the first game that left Keothavong completely stranded. “That’s how it’s going to be, is it?” asked Henman, and immediately ramped up his serve (to a respectable club-standard thump). Smiles all round, giggles in the crowd, and more shouts of ‘yours’ on a doubles court than any coach worth their salt could bear to hear
Both Henman and Navratilova left the court with fewer rackets than when they started, auctioning them off between games. Navratilova, a 59-time Grand Slam champion, defused a bidding war in order to resume play by digging a second racket from her bag, each sold to members of the crowd for £2000. The money will be split equally between the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and the Elena Baltacha Foundation, which supports the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis.
Back on court, Henman said farewell to his trusty Slazenger by entering a smashing contest with Ward and Navratilova. Keothavong simply walked off court and left Henman to it. Wrong move – presented with a short ball and ordered to kill it by his partner, the four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist buried the ball in the bottom of the net.
Keothavong and Henman spent the pro set on the back foot after an early break and never recovered, but the result was the last thing on everybody’s mind. The day ended with the players’ tributes to Baltacha, who as Keothavong noted had been playing at the Aegon Classic just a year ago.
“We used to play together as kids. We were good friends, and also doubles partners, and it breaks my heart to think that she’s not here today,” Keothavong said. “She was too young. She had too much to give, and I hope that what we’ve done here and everything else we do in the future will help us to remember her and build a legacy.
“We’ve got some kids from her academy in Ipswich with us today, and I know how much it meant to her and how much she wanted to introduce tennis to so many kids of different backgrounds and how she wanted to devote her life with her husband to helping these kids.
“She might not be with us here today, but myself and many other people want to see that dream of her continue.
“Bally was a fighter, on and off the court. She couldn’t beat the one battle that was her hardest, but there were plenty of people there for her. I have so many happy memories of her, good times and I would love everyone to remember her. If you ever got the opportunity to see her on court, remember her fighting spirit, and how generous she was.”
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