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September **, 2000
Gopichand to take to court Monday
Harpal Singh Bedi
National champion Pullela Gopichand will rely on his deceptive skills to match the power and speed against his Ukrainian rival V Druzchenkov in the men's singles badminton at the Olympics on Monday.
On his day, the Hyderabad-based lad, who has been India's number shuttler, can challenge the best in the world.
The 1998 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, Druzchenkov is not an unknown quantity. ''I have played and beaten Druzchenkov. He is a very tough player and a greater fighter,'' Gopichand said about his first rival.
If Gopichand crosses the first hurdle he would face world number 2 Hendrawan of Indonesia whom he has never played. ''I would like to concentrate on the first match first and then think of the next,'' an unassuming Gopichand said.
''Though I did not have enough practice here but 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.
If not a medal, Gopichand could finish at least among the top bracket. ''I will give my best and leave the rest to god,'' he said.
Gopi powered India to the Thomas Cup finals this year and has reached the quarterfinals of the All-England championship twice. He also won the Toulouse and Scottish Open titles last year.
Reuters adds: Women's badminton gold medal favourite Gong Zhichao of China cruised through her first-round game at the Sydney Olympics on Sunday but was making no predictions of final victory.
Gong, who has won three major titles this year, faces a battle to defend traditional Asian domination of the game against a challenge from reigning world champion Camilla Martin of Denmark, the number two seed.
But Gong sees fellow Chinese and fourth seed Ye Zhaoying as her main worry, with a likely contest in Thursday's semi-final.
"I want to get the gold very much, but I think I have to take it step by step," Gong told Reuters after beating Hong Kong's Wanting Ling 11-4 11-3.
"I get one (win) and then another, and then my confidence will grow," the top ranked woman said.
The men's seeds, including Indonesian star and world number one Taufik Hidayat, do not play till Monday, but unseeded Briton Roger Vaughan, who survived a challenge from Thailand's Boonsak Ponsana, is expecting a strong field.
"Indonesia and the Chinese, the Danish players, it's a very strong competition," he told Reuters.
Camilla Martin, who was to play Indonesia's Ellen Angelinawaty later on Sunday, said in the lead-up to the Olympics that everything went her way in 1999, culminating in the world championship.
"Only two years ago, it was a title I thought I could never win," she said. "I thought I was always going to be the lonely European always being beaten by players from the Far East."
But Gong, who was second in the world championships in 1997 and slipped back to ninth place last year, has picked up form, winning the 2000 Grand Prix meets in England and Malaysia, along with the Japan Open in Tokyo.
The Chinese champion is reported to undertake endurance training by running up and down a steep mountain and wearing special clothing filled with sand in everyday training.
"I do it very conscientiously," is all she will offer of her training regime. "There is no secret."
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