All poised for the game

Sporting spirit Dipika Pallikal

Sporting spirit Dipika Pallikal   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: V. GANESAN

At 17, squash player Dipika Pallikal handles victory and defeat with astounding maturity

Even the way she did her shoelace minutes before the match seemed to say ‘Bring it on’. She moved (actually, darted) powerfully across the glass-walled court oozing poise, and hit the ball with unbridled ferocity. She lost the Asian junior title to Low Wee Wern, but won many hearts that evening.

A week after the loss Dipika Rebecca Pallikal is limping because of a hamstring niggle and looks a trifle jaded. But I am struck by her grace, and the aggression, conspicuous by its absence. She reports she has pulled out of tournaments in England and Sweden, and says she fervently hopes to recover in time for her Nike ad shoot in Mumbai.

Intriguingly, Dipika says squash was not her first sport. She started out with tennis. But, after nearly a year, her mother pulled her out of the sport as it was too outdoorsy. And, squash happened, quite by chance.

Natural flair for the sport

At 10, Dipika first hit a squash ball at a summer camp. She discovered that she had a natural flair for it, hitting the ball better than everyone else — even the boys. Within a year of taking up the sport, she found herself winning her first National title. She has since won many more, in the country and abroad, including the British, German, Dutch, French, Australian and Scottish Junior Opens.

Was sports a natural choice, given the fact she hailed from a family of sportspersons (her mother captained the Indian cricket team; granddad was a basketball player; and grand mom, an athlete)? “My parents always stressed that sports was important, but never forced me into it,” she says.

Her strength

And, this liberty reflects in her game. “I think my greatest strength is that I can keep a cool head, as there is no pressure on me to perform.” With just two more years to go before she enters the senior circuit, the 17-year-old says the preparation has begun. Dipika has been in Egypt for the last three years, training under Amir Wagih. “My game has evolved. My shot selection has improved, and I am faster and more aggressive. I am also learning to be more defensive.”

Initially, of course, it was difficult staying away from family and friends, but once she accepted the change it was easy to move on. “It is worth it. And, now I am very comfortable in Egypt, particularly because I share a great rapport with my coach. He’s my best friend.”

Perhaps because she rubs shoulders with the best in her sport, she idolises none. “I am friends with all the players, so it’s funny to think of them as idols. But, I’d like to be the Roger Federer or the Tiger Woods of squash.”

With a calendar bursting with tournaments, training sessions and the occasional ad shoot, she hardly has time for interests or hobbies, says Dipika, who once trained under Bharatanatyam dancer Chitra Visweswaran.

She even turned down film offers from noted directors such as Gautam Vasudev Menon, and opportunities to act opposite Madhavan and Mohanlal. “If I have the time, and good scripts come along, I’ll definitely accept offers.”

Shopping and friends

Dipika says she spends a lot of her leisure shopping and hanging out with friends. Considering she’s still a teen, who pulls the purse strings? “My parents take care of my money, but they don’t question how I spend it.”

A Class XII student at the Lady Andal School, Dipika is now busy collecting her subject books. “I prepare just a few weeks before my exams. I can manage.” So, what’s next? “My parents suggest that I join my sister at the University of Leeds. Or continue in Egypt, it has a couple of good universities.”

Help from sponsors

Delighted at having a signature racquet, thanks to Tecnifibre, Dipika says the journey so far has been possible only with liberal support from such sponsors and the likes of Mittal Champions Trust, which took care of everything from her travel to coach. However, she’s disappointed that not much comes from the Government — neither support nor recognition. “I’d have been more popular, had I played tennis,” she reflects.

But, she says, at no point did she regret choosing squash. “It has taught me to handle victory and defeat with maturity. When you lose, what is important is how well you fought. You fall. And, get up.”


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