Judy Murray will never forget her first meeting with Elena Baltacha.
The acclaimed coach is among the family, friends and fans paying tribute in a TV documentary to the Scots tennis star five years after she died aged just 30.
“She bowled up – ginger hair, cap on, big glasses, shorts,” said Judy about her first meeting with nine-year-old Elena at a tournament in Dunblane.
“She asked, ‘When am I playing?’ and I went, ‘you need to tell me who you are first’. ‘I’m Elena Baltacha’. She kind of hassled me all day. She was desperate to get on. She won the tournament, her thumping serve meaning she lodged balls in the hedge, upsetting her opponents in the process.
“It was an indicator of her natural strength. You know, little girls aged nine just do not serve like that.”
Elena continued to develop that ferocity in her game as she grew older as Judy, an acclaimed coach and Sunday Post columnist, went on to work with her in Britain’s Fed Cup team, by which point they had known each other for more than a decade.
“She was really generous of spirit and yet if you watched her playing tennis, you would see a competitor who looked as tough as nails,” explained Judy, speaking on the documentary.
“It’s almost like this split personality. On the court, the competitor and warrior, off the court, just an absolute gem.” In 2012, Elena realised a lifelong dream to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become an Olympian. It was Judy who broke the news to her.
“I couldn’t wait to tell her,” she smiled. “I knew she would just go nuts.
“I was sitting beside Nino (Elena’s husband and coach) and she was just…aww, you would think you’d given her the world!”
Judy added: “If you want somebody to be a great role model as a British No 1, both on and off the court, you would pick her every time.”
Elena retired from the sport in 2013, and was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the liver in January 2014. She died just four months later.
The documentary, Elena Baltacha, is the latest from the award-winning purpleTV, also behind programmes on Rose Reilly, Tommy Burns and Jock Stein.
Her father and former St Johnstone footballer Sergei, her brother, Sergei Jr, and her husband and coach Nino Severino contribute to the documentary.
It tells how Elena overcame diagnosis of primary sclerosing cholangitis, a disease of the liver and gallbladder, when she was 19 to break into the world’s top 50, win 11 singles titles and represent Britain at the London Olympics.
Elena Baltacha is on BBC Alba next Sunday night and then iPlayer
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