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Aparna Popat crashes out

ATHENS, AUG. 15. She made people sit up and take notice of her ability, but Aparna Popat was unable to sustain the tempo and was literally dealt a punch on the face by the World No.4, Mia Audina of the Netherlands, in the second round of the women's singles event here on Sunday.

Playing on court No.3 at the Goudi badminton hall — the only court that was not being covered by television for `live' action — it was a splendid effort by the 26-year-old Bangalorean, recovering from 4-9 down to take the first game.

She was hesitant to start with but put her deft touch to good use and produced a sudden burst of confident play to take the initiative.

However, the Dutch girl showed her class in the second and third games, as she repeatedly pushed Aparna back with her smashes and moved her around, even as Audina emphasised her undisputed supremacy at the net.

The high quality game and the pace of the rallies proved too much to handle for the Indian lass.

Audina, with her right leg in a knee-brace and looking heavy, showed that appearances can be deceptive as she toyed with the Indian in the second and third games, though it has to be said that Aparna missed a few easy points in her anxiety to grab the opportunity.

"She was attacking more from the second game. She was good at the net, and I didn't want to play there. I think I lacked the consistency to make a better fight of it," said Aparna, who has lost to Audina twice before without winning a game.

The momentum shifted after Aparna won the first point of the second game. Thereafter, the Dutch girl reeled off 16 consecutive points to blow away the Indian challenge.

Aparna did play very well, but could match her opponent only in patches in lively rallies. She showed some irritation at her mistakes and poor judgement at times, even as Audina gained a stranglehold over the proceedings.

"I let my game dip, and should have won a lot more points. We are not used to playing at this pace consistently for an hour or so," observed the 27th-ranked Aparna after the 45-minute duel.

After the match, Audina revealed that she had already started thinking about the next match when she was leading 9-4 in the first game, thus losing concentration.

"I realised that if I lost this match there would be nothing for tomorrow. I focused better after the first game," said Audina, who showed her experience in quelling the Indian girl's challenge — a class act in the climax.

It was a better show from Aparna than what she had managed in the Sydney Olympics where she lost to Kelly Morgan of Britain in the first round, after having led 7-4 in the second game. — Kamesh Srinivasan

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