Stoeva Sisters Bag a First for Bulgaria

Group B in women’s doubles served up a spicy treat at the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2021 today with Gabriela Stoeva/Stefani Stoeva striking form to pull off a straight games win over Ashwini Ponnappa/Reddy N. Sikki.

The 21-19 22-20 victory sees the siblings claim a first-ever semifinal spot for themselves and their nation Bulgaria at a year-ender. Prior to this edition, the Stoevas in 2018 and women’s singles player Petya Nedelcheva in 2010 were the only Bulgarians to qualify for a season finale group stage.

The pressure of carrying that responsibility almost undid Stefani.

“We went on to the court with a bit of pressure, especially me, as I knew it was an important match and we wanted to secure a semifinal spot,” said the 26-year-old.

“The whole game was very tricky. I couldn’t relax but I’m happy my sister was next to me, supporting me. She was talking to me so I could play better, relax and release the pressure.”

The Stoeva sisters have one match left in Group B.

Sister Gabriela concurred: “We were supporting each other for every point. It’s our first semifinal at this big event.”

The Indian pair stepped on the gas to level the second game 18-18, almost taking the match to a decider.

“I was thinking: ‘I don’t want a third game because my dress was already wet,” said Stefani tongue-in-cheek.

The Stoeva sisters, who have two wins in two, face Indonesia Open 2021 champions Nami Matsuyama/Chiharu Shida tomorrow to decide the group winners.

Staying Alive

The dream is still alive for Malaysian duo Pearly Tan/Thinaah Muralitharan as they claimed a significant 23-21 21-14 result over top seeds Jongkolphan Kititharakul/Rawinda Prajongjai.

The 59-minute win did not only offer the world No.17 pair a chance to stay on in Bali but also to rebuild their confidence after a spate of disappointing results.

“For me that was a very emotional game. In the past few tournaments, I couldn’t give my best because I wasn’t confident. So it took me some time and I’m still building my confidence,” admitted Muralitharan.

Tan/Muralitharan scooped a big one over the top seeds from Thailand.

“I thank my partner for always having my back and reminding me at every point and every game to stay focused.”

Tan added: “We didn’t think we would be able to win so it’s a surprise. It was more about helping Thinaah with her confidence.”

The Malaysians have the opportunity to test their confidence as they face Olympic champions Greysia Polii/Apriyani Rahayu tomorrow in a winners-take-all battle.

Thai men’s singles shuttler Kunlavut Vitidsarn also revived his last four hopes with an impressive 21-18 21-7 win over Kidambi Srikanth. A straight games triumph over Toma Junior Popov tomorrow could help him progress.

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