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September 18, 2000
Gopichand wins first roundThe Rediff Team
Indian ace Pullela Gopichand, seen by the cognoscenti as a dangerous floater in the Men's Singles section of the Olympics Badminton event, shook off a lapse of concentration in the second set to defeat Vladislav Druzchenko of the Ukraine by two sets to one (15-3, 10-15, 15-7), in the round of 32.
The first set was as good as a walkover for the Indian ace. Starting on serve, Gopi coasted to 10-0 on the board before allowing his opponent a look in. Not that it was much of a look-in, at that -- Duzchenko managed just one point, before Gopi took over again and increased his lead to 13-1 before easing off a bit, and allowing his opponent to pull back two more. The Indian then closed out the set, 15-3, on his next serve.
Crisp, short play characterised the set -- there were very few long rallies, a 16-stroke, 14-second rally being the only one to set the adrenalin pumping. The set lasted a mere 17 minutes.
The second set saw a role reversal. Gopi, mentally a touch relaxed perhaps after the fluent play in the first, started the scoring with a point off his serve, but then played second fiddle while his Ukranian opponent built up a 12-point lead. With the score on 13-1, Gopi rallied, breaking his opponent's serve and then reeling off 6 straight points. At 13-7, the serve changed hands again and Duzchenko went 14-7 up, before Gopi mounted another recovery to pull it back to 14-10. Just when the crowd was seeing visions of a fightback, however, Duzchenko recovered serve and shut out the set, 15-10, in 24 minutes.
With the Ukranian getting back into the game, this set was characterised by more tense play, and longer rallies featured once Gopi found his wind and got back into the game. The longest of the rallies, a pulse-pounding thrust-and-parry affair, lasted 32 strokes (33 seconds).
The second set scare seemed to have worked -- Gopi came out a lot more focussed in the third set. Both players fought hard, serves changing hands constantly as Druzchenko took two points at the start before Gopi fought back to go to 3-2. The Ukrainian levelled at 3-3, from which point Gopi upped his game a notch to reel off 5 points, taking it to 8-3.
At this point, the Ukrainian mounted a viable rally, chipping away at the lead and fighting back to 8-6 before Gopi in his turn built on his lead, to look comfortable at 11-6. The fight seemed to go out of the Ukranian at this point -- though he took one more point, Gopi had little difficulty shutting out the third set, in 17 minutes, at 15-6.
Gopi now advances to the quarters, where the identity of his opponent is not yet known.
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