ELENA BALTACHA, a former top-50 professional tennis player who had been fighting liver cancer since retiring from the game, died yesterday. She was 30.
The former British No. 1 died peacefully surrounded by family and friends, the Women's Tennis Association said on its website. The Kiev-born Baltacha, who represented Britain at the 2012 London Olympics, was diagnosed with the illness in January, 2 months after retiring from tennis and only weeks after she married her longtime, coach Nino Severino.
"We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined 'Bally,' " Severino said in a statement. "She was an amazing person and she touched so many people with her inspirational spirit, her warmth and her kindness."
After being diagnosed with a chronic liver condition at 19, Baltacha dealt with illness throughout her career, receiving medication and regular blood tests.
Her best ranking was 49th in 2010, and she reached the third round at Grand Slam tournaments three times - at Wimbledon in 2002, and at the Australian Open in 2005 and 2010. Ankle problems eventually forced her to retire in November, and she had hoped to use her experience to develop the next generation of British players.
In a tournament:
* Serena Williams brushed aside Belinda Bencic, 6-2, 6-1, to open her defense of the Madrid Open title, while Maria Sharapova beat Klara Koukalova, 6-1, 6-2, in the first round. In the men's tournament, Novak Djokovic withdrew before the start of the event because of a right wrist injury.
* New Jersey's bid to legalize sports gambling has endured defeat after defeat in the courts, but one big winner has emerged, at taxpayer expense - the law firm hired to help Gov. Chris Christie defend a lawsuit filed by the four major pro sports leagues and the NCAA. The firm - Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher - is the same one Christie hired, also with public money, to investigate the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal that is plaguing his administration. According to figures obtained by the Associated Press through a public-records request, Gibson Dunn billed the state for $2.8 million in fees between August 2012, when the leagues sued to stop Christie from going ahead with his plan for sports gambling licenses, and the end of 2013.
* Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston has been reinstated to Florida State's baseball team after being suspended following a shoplifting incident, the school confirmed.
La Salle freshman Chris Sanders won the 800 meters and anchored the 4x800 relay team that won its fifth consecutive Atlantic 10 Conference title at the championship meet in Amherst, Mass. Sanders was joined on the relay team by Zach Sullivan, Chris Trimble and Nick Ross. Afredo Santana won a silver medal in the 5,000 meters and Ross was second in the 1,500 meters. La Salle finished seventh as a team.