Olympics: first medal in, hopes alive in badminton and tennis

Olympics: first medal in, hopes alive in badminton and tennis

Rifle shooter Gagan Narang opened the medal count for India at the London Olympics by winning a bronze here Monday, and hopes for more laurels were still alive with Indian stars doing well in badminton and tennis.

Badminton star Saina Nehwal got the better of Belgian Lianne Tan to enter the women's singles pre-quarterfinals while the doubles pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta stayed in the competition with a fighting win over Chinese Taipei's Wen Hsing Cheng and Yu Chin Chien at the Wembley arena.

The tennis combinations of Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes and Vishnu Vardhan got off to a winning start at the All England Club. Returning to Olympic hockey after a hiatus of eight years, erstwhile monarchs India fought valiantly with the higher-ranked Netherlands before going down 2-3 in a pool match.

The day undoubtedly belonged to Narang, who finished third in his pet 10 metre air rifle event at the Royal Artillery Barracks. Participating in his third Games, the 29-year-old aggregated 701.1 (598 qualifying, 103.1 final) to secure the last podium spot, triggering celebrations among the Indian diaspora here and back home.

Narang's exploits lifted the gloom that had set in after his illustrious compatriot and defending champion Abhinav Bindra -- India's only individual Olympic gold medallist -- failed to make the final of the same event in the morning.

Narang, who missed the final round in Beijing Games on a countback, was in his elements. In the final round, he had a series of 10.7, 9.7, 10.6, 10.7, 10.4, 10.6, 9.9, 9.5, 10.3 and 10.7, helping him hold on to the third place among stiff competition.

The gold went to Romanian Alin George Moldoveanu who totalled 702.1 (599 qualifying, 103.1 final) and Italian Niccolo Campriani bagged the silver with 701.5 (599 qualifying, 102.5 final). It was the third time in row that Indian shooters had won an Olympic medal. Double trap shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won the silver in 2004 and Bindra gave India a historic gold in Beijing.

In the qualifying round, Narang shot perfect series of 100 in all the rounds except the third when he scored 98. He also shot 53 inner 10s. "It still doesn't feel like I have won an Olympics medal. This medal has evaded me and I have finally got it," Narang said.

There was good news from the badminton court, as fourth seed Saina topped her group with an emphatic 21-4, 21-14 victory over unseeded Lianne.  Jwala-Ashwini beat Hsing Cheng and Chin Chien 25-22, 16-21, 21-18 for their first win in Group B.

In tennis, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna started their Olympics campaign with a hard fought 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (4-7) and 8-6 win over Max Mirnyi and Alexander Bury of Belarus to move into the men's doubles second round.

Paes and Vardhan also advanced after being stretched by Netherlands' Jean-Julien Rojer and Robin Haase. They eventually won 7-6 (7-1), 4-6, 6-2 in an hour and 52 minutes.

Earlier in the day, Vardhan's dream outing in the Olympic men's singles clash was short-lived as he went down in straight sets 3-6, 2-6 to Slovenia's Blaz Kavcic . At the boxing venue, Sumit Sangwan seemed a victim of an unfair verdict - that television commentators called "daylight robbery" and prompted India to lodge an official complaint.

Sangwan, who fought with gusto and seemingly dominated Brazilian Yamaguchi Falcao Florentino in the opening round of 81 kg category, found himself on the wrong
side of a 14-15 points verdict. The result, however, stayed after the complaint was rejected by the organisers.

India's pool B hockey match saw World No.3 Netherlands open up a 2-0 lead within the first half hour mark in a pool. But the eight-time champions rallied back remarkably during a four-minute blitz after half time to draw parity at the riverbank arena.

Robert van Der Horst, Roderick Weusthof and Mink van der Weerden were the scorers for the Dutch, while Dharamvir Singh and Shivendra Singh struck for India in a pulsating and fast game played in front of packed stands. At the historic Lords, archer Laishram Bombayla Devi paid the penalty for erratic shooting to lose her second eliminator against Mexico's Aida Roman 2-6.

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