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Vol. XXXIII No. 7, July 16-31, 2023

A shot in the arm for Indian squash

-- by S.R. Suryanarayan

The leading lady of Indian squash, Dipika Pallikal Karthik makes only few appearances on the squash court these days. The first Indian woman to break into the top 10 in world ranking over ten years ago, Dipika had a wonderful run in the professional circuit and for India. Later she married India cricketer Dinesh Karthik and then motherhood came in to force her to keep away from the tough grind of professional tours and participations. But family support and her well known grit combined to ensure her courtship with squash was still strong. Dipika switched to doubles play and what is more proved her strength when in the world doubles held in Glasgow last year, she partnered Joshna Chinappa, the other leading light of Indian squash and won the title. Thereafter she joined her brother-in-law, Saurav Ghosal, highest ranked Indian in the men’s section to clinch the world mixed doubles title as well. Need anything more be said of this superbly talented player, a proud product of the Indian squash and triathlon academy?

Now a few days ago Dipika was again in the news. She and her Academy mate Harinder Pal Sandhu combined to win the inaugural Asian Mixed Doubles event held in Hangzhou as a prelude to the Asian Games to be hosted by the city come September. Mixed doubles is being introduced in the squash programme for the first time in the Asiad and the current tournament was held as a test event with nine countries taking part. Dipika and Harinder have hardly played together in an event of this stature but what came to fore was not just their experience but the fruits of the strong grounding that they had at the Academy in their coming-up days. The Indian pair was not the favourite to win, going by their seeding (they were seeded three) but as they say, it is the performance on the day that mattered. Two Malaysian pairs were seeded ahead of them.

Abhay Singh, Anahat Singh, Dipika Pallikal Karthik and Harinder Pal Singh Sandhu.

Dipika and Harinder showed their professional abilities to get past the top seeded Malaysian pair of Aifa Azman and Mohd Syafiq Kamal in the semi-final. That it took them just 29 minutes to finish off in style underscored the level of confidence that the Indians exhibited. And this came to the fore in the final where they were pitted against the Malaysian second seeds Rachel Arnold and Ivan Yuen, both experienced and higher ranked players in the world. Dipika and Harinder combined well, cut off the rival enterprise and in 26 minutes carved out a straight game win to signal a good augury for Indian squash as the Asian Games nears. To add to this happy tidings was the bronze medal win of the other Indian pair in this event, Abhay Singh, another trainee of the Chennai Academy and Anahat Singh, a top junior.

Overall, it was a memorable outing for the Indians, gearing up as they are for tougher challenges at the Asian Games. Indeed, a win of this kind could not have come a day too soon. Dipika, always a resolute player and Harinder, no less in grit, have reasons to feel optimistic of their chances at the same site, Hangzhou. A world title already, Dipika in particular will be keen to add one more to her precious collection of silverware.

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