Girls from the Elena Baltacha Foundation enjoy VIP treatment at grass court tournaments

Posted 01 Jul 2018

Girls from the Elite Squad at the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis enjoyed the opportunity of a lifetime when they enjoyed special VIP behind the scenes access at the prestigious grass court series tournaments in Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne.

The youngsters were guests of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) thanks to the special partnership between the governing body and the Elena Baltacha Foundation (EBF), which the WTA support.

The special access is a continuation of the tennis community’s love and affection for Bally and the arrangement the Foundation has with the WTA for these tournaments is a key element of the very fantastic relationship between the two organisations.

Elena Baltacha Foundation girls with Heather Watson at the Nature Valley Open in Nottingham

Amber Harding, Amara Young, Tawana Senah and Gig Gebhard attended finals day at the Nature Valley Open in Nottingham.

This was the first grass court visit in the trilogy series, and a very special one, as Bally competed in this tournament many times, and with coach, husband and Foundation chairman Nino Severino by her side, was champion on two occasions.

Her images with the winners trophy are proudly on display in the reception area, reminding everyone what a great champion she was as British No 1.

The youngsters were given VIP passes to see the players’ lounge, view the grounds at the Nottingham Tennis Centre and watch the matches on Centre Court.

The day started with a warm welcome from WTA and Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) representatives Donna Kelso and Rebecca James. The girls were then taken to the players’ lounge to receive their VIP accreditation and listen to talks from Donna and a tour around the lounge. It was great for the girls to see Dan Evans, Heather Watson and Foundation Ambassador and current British No 1 Jo Konta all relaxing in there.

 They then got to see Konta competing in the final as she was up against Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, with the latter winning a closely-contested match 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 to lift the Elena Baltacha Trophy.

The prize for the Nottingham tournament was renamed in memory of Elena in 2015, a year after she died. 

Jo Konta receiving the runners-up trophy at the Nature Valley Open in Nottingham.

They then saw Heather in action in the ladies’ doubles. Partnering Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu, she lost out 6-3, 7-6 (5) to Poland’s Alicja Rosolska and American Abigail Spears.

 Fellow EBAT players Natasha Mashonganiyika, Bo Woor and Elena Fairwether enjoyed the same opportunity at the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham, another important tournament in the build-up to Wimbledon. Again, no attention was spared from the WTA and the LTA who put forward Tony Cho, a senior WTA tournament director and Emma Balfour-Evans, Major Events and Competitions Co-ordinator, to meet and greet the girls.

Elena Baltacha Foundation girls at the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham.

The youngsters were amazed as they were escorted passed the hundreds of fans queuing up to get in, and like true VIPs, they simply walked into the players’ lounge and enjoyed a tour from Emma. They then had a very special visit to the museum before returning to the players’ lounge where they enjoyed lunch sitting next to Karolina Pliskova, Dominica Cibulkova and Petra Kvitova.

Elena Baltacha Foundation girls at the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham.

Elena Baltacha Foundation girls at the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham.

Foundation patron Judy Murray conducted a book signing during the Birmingham tournament and very generously donated proceeds from that to the Foundation.

The final visit was for Jessica Terry and Anya Taylor who had the same privileges as the other girls at the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne, the biggest pre-Wimbledon tournament. This proved to be a magical, money-can’t-buy experience for the girls.

The day started with an introduction to Great Britain’s world-beating Davis Cup captain Leon Smith, who took time to have a very long chat with the girls. This was followed by the girls proudly displaying their VIP accreditation as they glided into the players’ lounge with WTA and LTA representatives, Pam Whytcross, a very experienced WTA tournament director, and Thadea Lock, event co-ordinator.

Elena Baltacha Foundation girls with Great Britain Davis Cup captain Leon Smith at the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne.

Elena Baltacha Foundation girls with Kristina Mladenovic at the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne.

The girls were simply blown away, as their first encounter was with Caroline Wozniacki, former world No 1 and Grand Slam champion, who took time out for a lovely chat with both of them. Little did the girls know that the WTA were organising for them both to walk out with Caroline and her opponent Camilla Giorgi. They both waited excitedly with the players in the tunnel, and were greeted by a roar from the crowd as they walked out on to the court. This was an incredible experience and one that will stay with them forever.

Elena Baltacha Foundation girls at the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne with Caroline Wozniacki.

Elena Baltacha Foundation girls at the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne with Caroline Wozniacki and Camila Giorgi.

The final part of the visit was a meeting with our very own Great Britain Fed Cup captain, and Foundation Ambassador Anne Keothavong, who took out time from her commentating duties to have a very long chat with the girls.

Elena Baltacha Foundation girls at the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne with Foundation Ambassador Anne Keothavong.

The day was a superb way to round off the Foundation girls’ amazing experiences at the grass court tournaments.

But there is far more to come in the weeks and months ahead. The incredible support the WTA gives the Foundation, including privileged access for a Foundation girl to attend the annual pre-Wimbledon players’ party, will continue throughout the year. It culminates in the Foundation’s annual end of year awards night in December, which is held in association with the WTA.

by Wendy Henderson