Baltacha got the year off to a flying start in January. At the Australian Open, one of the four Grand Slam events, she produced the best performance of her career to defeat Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko, a player ranked in the top 32 in the world, on her way to the third round. There she was unlucky enough to run into an in-form Dinara Safina, the second seed, but the experience served as a springboard for things to come.
She followed up her impressive performances in Australia by reaching quarter finals in Memphis and Istanbul and winning ITF titles in Michigan and Nottingham, results that catapulted her singles world ranking to a career high of 52 in June. Last month she reached the quarter finals in Istanbul defeating the French Open Champion and top seed Francesca Schiavone of Italy en route.
Baltacha’s accomplishments have fittingly earned her the Clydesdale Bank Athlete of the Month Award and she receives £500 towards her training and competition costs. The scheme, being run by Commonwealth Games Scotland in conjunction with Clydesdale Bank as part of its programme of support to Team Scotland, is open to athletes in any of the 17 participating sports who are eligible to represent Scotland at this year’s Games.
“It is a real honour to be recognised with this award and makes you want to work even harder to perform well”, Elena said.” Like a number of other athletes, she plans to use the award to help fund her coach, Nino Severino, to travel to Delhi to support her in her quest for medal success. In fact she puts her new found form and fitness down to the influence of the new coaching and fitness regime he has introduced.
“The big difference has been my coach. His approach to my tennis has been totally different to anything I have experienced before. He has looked at my programme and brought in a range of different elements and a good team of people to work with me on strength and conditioning, physiotherapy and to hit with, which has all played a big part. He manages the structure of what I do on a daily basis up to a year in advance, so that I know what tournaments I am playing. As soon as I wake up I know what I am doing, when I am doing it and for how long. A lot of the focus has been on staying injury free, so I can turn out to tournaments week in week out without breaking down with something. I always used to be injured and now I am not worrying about this so much and the improved results have been a real confidence booster.”
Bally hails from an impressive sporting background. Her mother Olga was an Olympic standard pentathlete, while her father and brother (both named Sergie) are accomplished footballers, with the former having represented the USSR at both the World Cup and the European Championships. Asked what it would mean to add to the family’s collective sporting achievements at the Games, Baltacha said: “I know for a fact I will be seeded which is a great help. I am definitely going to Delhi for a medal, it will be difficult to achieve but that’s my aim.”
Baltacha has all ready had a taste of Commonwealth Games success when she played in the inaugural Commonwealth Youth Games in Edinburgh in 2000 where the girl’s team took silver. The Scots lost to England in the final after a marvellous semi final victory against an Australian team which included Jasyln Hewitt, sister of Australian tennis start Lleyton Hewitt. “We beat some really good teams and it was a great atmosphere. It was so gutting to lose in the final after all the hard work, particularly beating Australia . None of us really performed very well in the final, I think once we made it through we thought we were there. “I also remember the Opening Ceremony at the Tattoo, it was really emotional and I loved the whole experience. Competing in the Youth Games was incredible, so I know the full Games in Delhi this year will be even bigger and better.”
The challenge for the tennis players in being available for Delhi is the rigorous schedule of the professional tour and the fact that Commonwealth Games doesn’t carry any ranking points. But Baltacha has always been committed to taking part. “Yes, I will miss out on ranking tournaments but the way I look at it they will be there next year, this will be my last chance to represent Scotland at something like the Commonwealth Games and ever since I heard it might be a possibility I have been adamant that I would be doing it.”I may not live in Scotland any more but my family is still there and I love the idea of representing Scotland again.”
We look forward to seeing Elena and the rest of the team in action when the tennis competition gets underway at the R.K. Khanna Tennis Stadium on 4 October.