If she was not into squash, she could have got into films or modelling. Dipika Pallikkal’s selection of squash as her career was made quite early so that she had no time to think about alternative fields. And in her chosen sport, she grew quite fast; today at 25, she is India’s top squash player, ready to make grades that have not been achieved by anyone in the sport.
In fact, much before Dipika started getting endorsements for sports apparels, Joshna Chinappa was into it and together they formed a formidable duo for squash promotion in the country. The duo also played a key role in putting Chennai on the squash map of India as women’s squash in the pre-1990 period was dominated by Bhuvneshwari Kumari (16-time National champion from Rajasthan and Mekala Subedar of Maharashtra).
Pallikal turned professional in 2006, but her career was filled with ups and downs initially. She became more consistent and started notching up winning performances after her brief training stint in Egypt in the beginning of 2011. Curiously, Dipika’s mother Susan Itticheria, had represented India in cricket in the 1970s but the daughter said she was not interested in the same career. However, she could not keep cricket away for a long time as she married former Indian wicket-keeper Dinesh Karthik. “I played tennis for a year or so before taking up squash,” says Dipika. “I attended a training camp at the squash academy and after that I did not feel like leaving it.”
Interestingly, the Squash Racket Federation of India’s academy at Chetpet was very close to Dipika’s house and that must have influenced her decision too. But Dipika says she has not regrets taking up squash, which is not as popular as tennis or badminton. “Today squash is an elite sport (in the list of sports ministry). It is growing over the years and I love to be seen as the face of Indian squash,” notes the glamour girl.
Dipika won her first three WISPA (women’s tour) titles in 2011 at the Orange County Open in Irvine, California. She added another in the United States with another WISPA tour event victory. The third came in Hong Kong in the Crocodile Challenge Cup and that took her to number 17 in world rankings. However, it was her performance in the World Open that shot her into the limelight. She was on a roll after that. In 2012, she became the first Indian ever to reach the final in New York and in the same year she reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, another first for an Indian. Dipika was an integral part of the Indian team that finished fifth in the 2012 Women’s World Team championship.
The gold at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games made Dipika a prized possession of Indian sport. And when she reached the top 10 in the world for a brief period (she is now in the top 15) she had scaled a new high. “She can definitely get back her position in the top 10,” says national coach Cyrus Poncha. And the coach Dipika thanks for her incredible performance in the last five years or so is Sarah Fitz-Gerald.