Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Video Editor: Vishal Kumar & Abhishek Sharma
Dipika Pallikal hasn’t competed in any major event since bagging two silvers at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games followed by a bronze and a silver at the Asian Games, but India’s star squash player says it wasn’t just the hectic season in the court that made her take time off from the sport.
The 27-year-old says she was mentally exhausted from all the drama that ensued off the court, and is currently looking for the answer to –
“Why am I still playing squash?”
Dipika finished second in the mixed doubles and women’s doubles at the CWG, and then bagged a bronze in the singles event at Jakarta while also clinching a silver with the women’s team.
“An athlete is never really happy or satisfied if you don’t win a gold. But we have to look at the bright side. We went from one gold medal at the 2014 CWG to come out with two silver medals at this Games. I would say it’s been an exhausting year for all of us because people don’t realise that besides Asian and Commonwealth Games we do have our professional careers as well,” she said.
The Chennai-born player, who turned pro in 2006 and subsequently became the first Indian player to break into the top 10 of the women’s world rankings, spoke about a lull that took over after the 2018 Asian and Commonwealth Games – the most coveted tournaments in the sport since squash isn’t played at the Olympics.
“It was very important for me to bring back the motivation that I lacked after the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. You suddenly go from an all-time high to an all-time low.”
“Because you’ve won two medals and then suddenly everything goes away and you don’t know what you’re training for because the last four years your goal has been the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.
So it was important for me to take a seat back and enjoy myself. Try and spend time with family, try and spend time with the husband and then try and get that motivation back. Try and see why I actually want to play squash. That hunger’s slowly coming back so you’ll see me soon,” said Dipika.
‘Indian Squash Needs a Proper Structure’
Dipika’s decision to break away from a sport that she has played for so long also had to do with its almost-dysfunctional administration in the country, which has resulted in no full-time national squash coach since April 2018.
After the exit of long-time coach Achraf El Karargui due to a tiff with the Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI), the body failed to appoint a foreign coach for over a year. In April this year, SRFI announced their decision not to hire a full-time coach, instead bringing in experts on a short-term basis.
But Dipika says this cannot be a long-term solution for Indian squash.
“When I decided to take time off I shut everything to do with Indian squash out because as an athlete there’s a lot of things that go on in your system. And with everything that happened before the Asian Games of us going without a coach was mentally exhausting and also led me to taking a break because it wasn’t just about winning medals for the country it was also the whole drama with it.”
“This is not a long-term solution for Indian squash. There has to be a long-term solution.”
“After myself, Joshna and Sourav, there is no depth. After us, we don’t see a lot of juniors coming up. So I think that is the main concern and for that, we need a proper structure a proper programme in place. Not even being controversial, it’s very important for us to bring an international coach, be it for the senior level junior level or even the grassroots level.”
“More so, it’s important that Indian squash starts caring for its players. It’s another thing that there’s a coach who comes who trains, goes away. I think you need to have a connect and the coach needs to care for their players. The coach needs to want their players to do well.”
So, Would Dipika Consider Coaching?
“Yes, I would,” she says.
“I think that’s the only way that squash is going to go forward in the country is for myself, Joshna and Sourav to share a little knowledge with the juniors because we’ve seen our squash careers be completely different from the people in India. Because we’ve never trained in India. We’ve always stayed abroad, always done things differently,” she added.
Why Dipika’s Sporting ‘Family’ on Her VRCT Jacket
Launching Adidas’ VRCT jacket, a canvas of self-expression for an individual to tell their story, Dipika chose ‘Family’ as her personalised badge. She explained why.
“There are about five badges but what suits me the most and what even the Adidas team picked for me, was 'family'. I think we’re all here because of family and in my journey there has been a lot of focus on how family has always been there for me and supported me. Even through the tough times.
“Squash is not a very well-known sport in India. We don’t really have a lot of infrastructure, we don’t have a lot of coaches. For me to become a better player than what I was at 11 years old, it was very important for me to have moved out of the country. And at 13, before I even realised I wanted to become a professional squash player, my family did. My parents were always instrumental in me being an athlete and me being the best that I could.”