NEW DELHI: Badminton is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Bulgaria. However, a pair of sisters are chipping away at that, one shot at a time.
The last time, the Stoeva sisters — Gabriela and Stefani — were ranked below 20 was in May 2014 when they were 33rd. Ever since, the graph hasn’t come down and the pair are now 12th. The pair won silver this year in the European championships and Swiss Open. And now the sisters are tearing it up in India — Stefani as part of Ahmedabad Smash Masters and Gabriela wearing Mumbai Rockets colours.
Just 22, Stefani reveals she was initially scared to come to India for almost three weeks. “When I got to know I will be going to India to play for Ahmedabad, I was nervous. I don’t know anyone out there. But I had met (HS) Prannoy in one of the events before and that was a relief. I was really anxious initially. But my teammates helped.”
Away from India, it is her sister Gabriela that Stefani turns to for support. She had started off playing both singles and doubles and had initially achieved success in the former, winning gold at U-17 European Championship, Slovenia International, Turkey International and Eurasia Bulgaria Open a few years ago. But now she has shifted focus entirely to doubles. With her sister around, she is more confident. Stefani credits Gabriela for her growth and says that it’s an added advantage to play with her sibling.
“I stopped playing singles three year ago because of the workload and injury concerns. Now my concentration is only on doubles. I like playing with my sister. We understand each other. It’s comforting since we know our shortcomings.”
The duo’s story is that of a lethargic and carefree younger sister being guided by the elder one. “She is more dominant, whereas I prefer to play at the back. When we take breaks between games, she makes sure I am calm. Now since we are playing for different teams in PBL, I feel a little lonely and I miss her. Though we do text, it’s not the same when you travel. This is also the first time when we are celebrating Christmas and New Year away from home.”
Like most shuttlers, Stefani’s ultimate goal is an Olympic medal — she even has the Olympic rings tattooed on her hand. “We also want to win in the European Championship and Worlds.”
Smash Masters win HS Prannoy breezed past Sai Praneeth of Hyderabad Hunters. Ahmedabad Smash Masters won 4-1 on Friday.