Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Elena Comes in from the Cold to Warm British Hopes

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Elena Comes in from the Cold to Warm British Hopes

Article excerpt


THE great new hope of British women's tennis lives in Enfield, has a Scottish accent, glasses like saucers, and a Soviet soccer star for a father.

Elena Baltacha came from the Soviet Union as a small child, but now the 18-year-old wildcard is being cheered on by the home crowd at Wimbledon, where yesterday she beat the number 32 seed Amanda Coezter 5-7 6-4 6-2 to become the only British woman in the third round.

Her victory means that Elena has come a long way since she arrived as a child in the arms of her father, footballer Sergei Baltacha, who was the first Soviet to play for an English league team.

Sergei, a star central defender for Dynamo Kiev, was bought by Ipswich Town and arrived with his young family in 1989.

Elena was five and pictures of her with her father, mother Olga and seven-year-old brother, also named Sergei, arriving at Heathrow airport, now seem a world away. Her father was quoted as saying how warm London seemed compared with Moscow.

Other photographs show Elena wearing outsized glasses and with her arms wrapped around her father outside Ipswich's Portman Road ground.

Sergei, a stalwart of the Soviet national squad who was capped 48 times, had agreed a contract to earn around pound sterling10,000 a month, a huge increase on his pound sterling6,000 annual income in Kiev. The family, who prefer to be known as Ukranians, each received regular tuition in English.

Just over a year later Sergei signed for Scottish club St Johnstone and then became coach of St Mirren and manager of Inverness Caledonian. As she grew up in Scotland, it was clear that Elena and Sergei junior would follow their father and mother, who was a former Soviet pentathlete, into the sporting world.

Sergei junior was obviously going to join his father on the football field while Elena showed great promise in tennis. …

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