Riou's back on the glory trail
Emsworth's Panuga Riou has netted her first European circuit title win in more than two-and-a-half years.
The England international was crowned women’s singles champion at the Bulgaria International last weekend – a fitting close to Women’s Sports Week.
Playing in just her second tournament since August 2014, Riou’s victory also marked the end to a personal injury nightmare that has ruled her out of competition for the past two seasons.
The 24-year-old made a welcome return to court in Slovakia last month, where she reached the semi-final stages of the Slovak Open.
But the Bulgarian International saw her go one better.
Unseeded in Sofia, Riou was back playing at a level approaching that which saw her reach a world top-60 position before her injury problems took hold.
A 21-15, 21-16 win in Sunday’s final against Malaysian international and fourth seed, Lyddia Cheah, capped an impressive run which also included victory over top seed and London 2012 Olympian Alesia Zaitsava, from Belarus.
The triumphs over Cheah and Zaitsava were Riou’s first in her career – and the title was her third from four finals on the European circuit.
Her last victory came at the Polish Open in March 2014.
Riou’s championship victory was also the first ever recorded by an England player at the Bulgarian International
Speaking on Twitter, Riou expressed her delight at being back to winning ways after such a long period out of the game.
She said: ‘It feels super nice to finally compete again and, of course, it feels even better when you do well.
‘It’s been a long road for me but hopefully this will give me confidence for my tournaments coming up.’
Sunday’s finals in Sofia also featured England rising-star Grace King, who partnered Cheah in the Women’s doubles final in which the duo lost out 17-21, 17-21 to Turkey’s Busra Yalcinkaya and Fatma Nur Yavus.
Former England international Ben Stawski was also in finals-day action but lost 13-21, 16-21 alongside Bulgaria’s Lubomira Stoynova in the mixed doubles final to Nur Yavus and Melih Turgut.
It was Stawski’s first final on the European circuit in four years.