Elena Baltacha’s first coach has paid his own tribute to the former tennis player, remembering her days winning trophies in the Highlands.
Jimmy Mackechnie spoke fondly of his former pupil yesterday recalling two particularly special days – her Wimbledon debut with a match on Centre Court, the other when the Ukraine-born star proved her true Scottish credentials by convincingly reciting Burns’ poetry.
Mackechnie took her under his wing when she was just nine, coaching the big-hitting youngster in Perth and then the Highlands when her footballer father Sergei’s career took her family north.
Mackechnie, who is now the head coach at Nairn Sports Centre where Elena proudly won three early trophies, coached her for seven years.
He said: “I remember looking at the nine-year-old Elena. She had big, round-rimmed glasses, baseball cap and she hit the ball harder than I’d ever experienced from someone of that age. She trained with me every day for seven years, I saw her develop from a young girl into a young lady. I saw her win her first Scottish championship under-12, then the ladies’ title at 15.
“The influence she had on the game in Scotland is huge. She was fearless.
“Her wild card at Wimbledon at 18 was the culmination of a journey. She was scheduled to play on Court 4. The match on Centre Court had finished early and Elena’s match was switched to Centre Court for her first experience of Wimbledon. She was very nervous and she got quite emotional before she went on court. But it was something she had trained for and she took to it like a duck to water.
“Elena was competitive, fearless, powerful and a role model for every young child who wants to play tennis. She’ll be remembered for somebody who gave 100% and, in life, if you do that no-one can ask any more of you.
“My fondest memories of Elena will be seeing her walking out onto the Centre Court. Away from tennis, when she was 12 or 13, she recited to me one of Burns’ poems. By that time she had developed quite a Scottish accent.”