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September 16, 2000
Popat loses from winning position
National champion Aparna Popat snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and crashed in three games in the first round of the women's singles in the badminton competition. She was beaten by fancied Kelly Morgan of England 11-5, 7-11, 2-11.
The Indian champion played superbly to race away with the first game and led 7-4 in the second against Morgan, the Commonwealth Games champion. However, she suddenly suffered an inexplicable loss of form before caving in in 40 minutes.
The defeat of Aparna, who was poised at one stage for a spectacular upset over a rival who had thwarted her twice at Kuala Lumpur in the Commonwealth Games two years ago, was a huge disappointment for the Indian camp.
It was not that the British woman played badly in the first game. It was Aparna, silver medallist at Kuala Lumpur, who led her British rival on a merry dance with her speed and court-craft.
The same momentum carried the Indian champion to a 4-2 advantage in the second game when her form began to waver. Though Morgan narrowed down the lead 4-5, Aparna was still good enough to widen it and go up to a commanding 7-4 lead.
However, the British shuttler, with her back to the wall, fought bravely to restore parity with the help of two excellent placements and a close-to-the-net smash after which she never looked back.
In the decider, Morgan began finding the lines and corners often which undermined the Indian champion's confidence.
As she later confessed, 'Aparna gave away too many negative points.'
Aparna was at a loss to explain how she managed to lose from such a commanding position. She felt the three-month ban, imposed on her after she tested positive for an IOC-probibited drug which was detected in a cold medication, cost her good match practice.
"I have to learn to finish off a match. I have to learn the different strokes essential for doing that," she said.
Coach Mohd Arif was a disappointed man. "She frittered away the match from a sound, winning position," he lamented.
According to the Indian coach when Aparna was in a winning position she made a big mistake of not continuing to play at her own pace which allowed Morgan to claw her way back and eventually force a win.
Arif saw this as a temporary problem which was caused by the three-month ban imposed on Aparna, compounded later by a dental surgery the Indian shuttler had to undergo which kept her off the game.
"This outing has been a good learning experience for Aparna. For a player of her class and calibre, these are not insurmountable problems," he added.
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