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September 15, 2000
Gopichand, Popat unfazed by tough draws
Harpal Singh Bedi in Sydney
India's main campaigner Pullela Gopichand and women's hope Aparna Popat both have tough draws, but they are unfazed.
Gopichand start his campaign on September 18 against Ukraine's V Druzchenkov.
''I have played and beaten Druzchenkov. He is a very tough player and a greater fighter,'' Gopichand said.
If he crosses the first hurdle, he will face world number 2 Hendrawan of Indonesia, whom he has never played. ''I would like to concentrate on the first match and then think of the next,'' an unassuming Gopichand said.
Gopichand had a fine run in preparation for the Olympics. He beat world number 6 Xing Xing Ping of China and world number 9 Ongewe Hock of Malaysia before losing to world number one, Indonesian Taufik Hidayat 12-15, 11-15 in the semis of the Malaysian Open last month.
''Though I did not have enough practice in Sydney I have no complaints as everybody else was also given equal time to practice,'' Gopichand said adding that he was prepared for the big showdown.
Ranked number 10 in the world, Gopichand, who is making his debut in the Olympics along with Aparna, said, ''I will give my best and leave the rest to God.''
Coach S M Arif was all praise for Gopichand and described him as a world class player. ''He is a real medal prospect. He has improved his game tremendously,'' he said.
''Gopi is very fit and has had some great performances to his credit, which should help him here.''
Arif was of the view that his cool temperament will help Gopichand. ''He never gives up and is a fighter to the core, he has played some of the world's best shuttlers and is not scared or overawed by them.''
Former world junior runner-up Aparna Popat is also all geared to avenge her defeat at the Commonwealth Games to Kelly Morgan of England as she opens her campaign in the Olympics badminton competition on Saturday.
''I am ready to take on Morgan. I am totally focused. I know her game and will put up a better show than last time,'' she told UNI.
The Bangalore girl is a wild card entry.
Arif said he was hopeful that Aparna will give a good fight and added, ''She is a very determined player and can upset anyone on her day.''
Aparna missed three months of match practice due to a ban by the International Badminton Federation for taking a cold medicine which contained a banned stimulant.
She also had an injury. ''How she overcomes this is to be seen,'' Arif said.
He said, ''I do not doubt Aparna's capabilities. She is one of the brightest badminton stars of India, but one has to be objective. She has just returned to world arena and that too in Olympics after a long lay off, let us keep our fingers crossed.''
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