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16 April 2024

Pallikal tracking India racquet sport stars


Dipika Pallikal, who upset the seedings at the Tournament of Champions in Grand Central terminal, is on track to follow a route taken by India's other female racquet sport stars.

The 20-year-old from Chennai showed special skills in overcoming Australia's fourth-seeded Donna Urquhart in a 11-9, 11-5, 7-11, 10-12, 11-9 thriller, putting her into the semi-finals and on course for the world's top 10 ahead of schedule this year.

If the world number 15 achieves that, she will tread a path taken by her friend Saina Nehwal, the Commonwealth badminton champion from Hyderabad who reached a career high of world number two last year.

Pallikal has arguably already surpassed the on-court achievements of Sania Mirza, the tennis superstar from Mumbai, though as a squash player she cannot dream of matching Mirza's charismatic profile and income.

However, Pallikal has already been offered film and modelling roles and is acquiring a tougher match-winning mentality since Sarah Fitz-Gerald, the five times former world champion from Australia, became her coach.

So might she one day reconsider the glamorous offers she turned down?

"It's not my priority," Pallikal said. "I don't have time to act in a movie. After squash if I have time and if everything goes according to plan (it might be possible)."

Her victory over Urquhart follows a loss to the same player at last year's Australian Open in Canberra.

That setback brought a lengthy match analysis with Fitz-Gerald, which helped with Pallikal's tense recovery from an 8-9 final game deficit in New York.

"Sarah went through what happened and what I had to do," Pallikal said. "She said Donna has long legs and is going to get to everything. I had to keep balls tight. But this time I choked in the third and fourth games. I had to keep focus and attack when necessary."

Pallikal also has great looks, a conspicuous presence and powerfully enduring ambition. She left home at 14 to train for squash in Egypt and her long-term focus remains on reaching the top spot held by Malaysia's Nicol David and on popularising her sport.

"Squash doesn't have a lot of history in India, but we have plenty of tournaments and the potential to make it an elite sport," Pallikal said. "It takes time to build. Meantime I'm happy for Sania and for Saina."