European Championship winners Stefani, Gabriela Stoeva talk about badminton in Bulgaria, love for Indian culture and PBL

One year can make a lot of difference. Last year in Kolding, Stefani and Gabriela Stoeva missed out on winning the first-ever gold medal for Bulgaria after losing the final to top seeds Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Christinna Pedersen of Denmark. However this year, the sisters stood on the top of the podium to win their first gold medal at the European Badminton Championships in Huelva. Since 1968, the women's doubles discipline at the European Badminton Championships has been dominated by Denmark and England. The duo defeated France's Emilie Lefel and Anne Tran in straight games to end Denmark's ten-year-long reign. The Stoeva sisters won their first BWF Grand Prix title at the 2014 Scottish Open and claimed the Russian and Dutch Open a year later. But the dynamic duo's first major medal came at the 2015 European Games, where they clinched gold in Baku, Azerbaijan. The World No 12 pair claimed the Orleans Masters title a few months ago. The Stoeva sisters were a part of the Premier Badminton League (PBL) in January. During the conversation, Stefani (Ahmedabad Smash Masters and Gabriela (Mumbai Rockets) spoke about badminton in Bulgaria, their love for the Indian culture and playing in Paris. Excerpts from an interview with Firstpost: How was your experience in India? Stefani: It was really nice. I didn't expect it to be so much fun. I knew the players as we see each other at tournaments but we never spent so much time together. So, I was a little bit nervous because I didn't know what to expect from everybody but the players were so friendly, so I enjoyed every day. Gabriela: For me, it was exciting to be invited here to play the Premier Badminton League for the first time. It is very nice to be here and be a part of the team with so many good players and spend more time with them because during tournaments, you don't have a chance to do that. It's exciting and a great experience. Bulgaria's Gabriela and Stefani Stoeva pose after winning their first-ever gold medal at European Championships in Huelva. Image courtesy: Facebook: Stefani Stoeva Where did it all begin? What made you choose badminton? Stefani: We started when we were eight years old. Actually, I started first. My friend introduced me to the sport. It started as a hobby as I didn't think I'll become a professional badminton player. After a few months, I took my sister to the badminton hall and then we started to play the sport. Gabriela: Since the time I was a kid, I wanted to become a dancer. That was my dream. The dresses and everything. One day, I visited the badminton hall and the coach asked me to play badminton. In my words, I remember I said 'for sure, I'm not coming back to play the sport.' But as time passed by, I started to go more often. That's when we started to play doubles and soon we won the U-10 and since then we are always together. The culture of badminton in Bulgaria... Stefani: In our country, our sport is not so famous. It is more about football, gymnastics and volleyball. Gabriela: I think when we won our first medal at the European Games in Baku, then our sport became more popular. Until that time, they only knew about Petya Nedelcheva but after that, they started to know us and then the sport started getting more attention. We will try to make it popular, if possible, popular like they have done it in India. To have more kids and see the sport develop and hope to see more and more doubles players come in. How does PBL look like in Europe? Stefani: I think we are the first Bulgarians who are participating at the PBL. So, I think it is good for us and our country. Gabriela: To see that we can be in one team and play against one of the best players. We cannot play doubles here but we can improve our game in the mixed doubles. It is also helping us a lot to play doubles and also helping us to play well against so many good players in one team. We can only take good experience from them and this is helping us a lot. How many times have you been to India? Gabriela: This is our third time (in India). We played the Superseries last year in Delhi and we also played the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold in Lucknow. What do you like about the Indian culture? Stefani: The most would be the dresses. Gabriela: Yeah, we both love the dresses. We just want to try traditional dresses in every city. She couldn't come with me but I was going (to shopping). I just love it. If I can, I would come more often only for the dresses. In India, for every city, you have a different culture, different style. So, for us, it is interesting to see every part of India. In Bulgaria, not every city has a (rich) history of India. For us, it's exciting to try different things. Stefani: The only problem is that she doesn't eat spicy food. She just cannot eat Indian food. I eat everything. For me, it's not a problem. How long have you been travelling for tournaments? Gabriela: We couldn't go home for seven months. So now we need to see the family to spend some time and then the season starts again. Where do you train in Bulgaria? Stefani: We are living in Paris, France. For the past one year, we have been training there. Gabriela: Our coach stays there. He is from Bulgaria too but he is based in Paris. We play for a club there and it's much better to train there because in Bulgaria we don't have good facilities. Stefani: Also, our coach is not with us so we decided to move to Paris. Gabriela: Because of that, we are away from home for the most part and whenever we get free time, we go home to meet the family. Are there any rules you follow when you are on the court? Gabriela: I think the only rule for us is not to fight against each other. We try to give our all best on the court and training to be successful in tournaments. We try to be focused on everything that we do. Stefani: This is the most important thing. When we are off-court we fight, but when we are on the court we try not to fight. Gabriela: Our coach tries to cool down both of us. But who starts the fight? Stefani: It depends on who makes the most number of mistakes. If she is making more mistakes, then I tell her and then we start fighting. Gabriela: If she does it, then I fight. But we try to keep it inside and not let it come out during matches. Gabriela Stoeva and Stefani Stoeva of Bulgaria during the women's doubles final match against Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Christinna Pedersen at the badminton European Championships in Kolding, Denmark. Reuters Talk about your respective teams... Gabriela: For me, it was a big experience to be in one team. I had never been a part of a team with Koreans, Indians, Malaysians and Americans. During tournaments, you cannot go with the Koreans or Indians. So here they give you a chance to play with so many players from different countries in one place. It's a big experience. Especially to practice and to play mixed doubles with Lee Yong Dae. This would be a big dream for her but for me, it's just exciting to be a part of this team. I hope we come here next season again and hopefully we are on the same team. Stefani: But we are now used to be separated. It's actually good to change a little bit because we are together all the time and now we are just separated. We are in one hotel but different rooms. It was difficult for us... Gabriela: In the first few days because we never separate. So, it was a little bit strange at the beginning with different teams, different travelling and different rooms. Stefani: But it was really good for us to try. To see whether we can survive without each other. Who has been your idol? Stefani: Mine is definitely Lee Yong Dae. Gabriela: For that, I tell you if she gets the chance to change teams with me. When the Mumbai team picked her, I knew Lee Yong Dae was there, she was so happy because she knows I like him. I was so upset but it was good that we are both here and we could play with the best team to see how they are on-court and how they are playing. We got a lot to learn. Have you come across Indian movies or songs? Gabriela: Actually, we watched few Indian movies. Stefani: Our teammates play many Indian songs so they play like 20 times. So, it's in my head now. But we did watch an Indian movie two years ago. Your favourite Indian song? Stefani: Difficult. I don't remember the name but I can play on YouTube. The name I don't remember. There are some three songs. What about the lyrics? Your teammates didn't explain it to you? Stefani: Difficult to remember the lyrics. Gabriela: We have to listen to it many, many times so that we can remember. I think we remember one song but I don't remember the name. It's so different but we like it. Some of the Indian songs are similar to our Bulgarian music because of the rhythm and everything. So, yeah, we also like to watch some of the Indian movies. Most of the times she puts some Indian song on the computer so I need to listen to it all the time.