In pursuit of elusive top-10 spot,Pallikal takes the route Down Under

Mission possible: Win against world no. 7 Kasey Brown is her biggest success since shifting to Melbourne

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai | Published: March 30, 2012 12:09 am

Things have been looking up ever since Dipika Pallikal moved Down Under last year. Trying to sharpen her game under Australian five-time women’s world champion Sarah Fitz-Gerald,the 20-year-old scored a career-boosting win over world No. 7 Kasey Brown on Wednesday in the $70,000 Women’s Nicol David Kuala Lumpur Open in Malaysia,and credits her ascent in rankings to her mentor.

“Sarah’s changed my racquet swing,” Dipika,currently ranked 15,says of the alteration to her game that helped the Indian reach a career-high of world No. 14 in February after finishing runner-up at the Tournament of Champions in USA. Her relocation to Melbourne also tempered her slam-bang attacking game by adding nuanced wrist-work.

“Sarah’s always believed in volleying,and is passed on those tricks to me that’s helped me make my game faster. She’s helped me balance my game which was always very attacking but lacked the finishing sting,” Dipika adds.

Defeating Brown in Kuala Lumpur was a major push for the youngster’s self-belief — even though a 11-5,11-2,11-6 hammering from World No. 1 Nicol David ended her tournament hopes. “I reached No 15 mid-way through the season. But now with Sarah guiding me,I sense Top-10 won’t be far off,” Dipika says.

There have been many positives in the last one year,when the Indian regularly ran into Top-10 players. “I’m constructing points now and there’ve been some close games to ensure I don’t give up till the very end,” Dipika adds.

The 43-year-old Fitz-Gerald,considered one of squash’s all-time greats with five World Open titles,is equally thrilled to work with the youngster,and also hosts her in Melbourne. “It’s been terrific working with Dipika,and a great experience being on the other side of the glass. Dipika is a lovely young lady… she works hard on court,listens and has a desire to succeed. All these positive attributes are a recipe for success,” the coach says.

Improving shot selection

The two-time Australian Female Athlete of the Year in 2001-2 is quietly putting Pallikal’s game together. “We have been working on her backhand mainly,to improve her straight game and her shot selection. We still have some way to go,but having something to concentrate on gives Dipika direction and focus. She has fantastic natural ability and I don’t want her to lose that flair and instinct,but learn when and how to use it at the right times,” says Fitz-Gerald.

For Dipika too,Australia has been a good training base. “Now if I’m back home in India for too long,I find it abnormal. Travelling’s integral to professional squash and I might as well enjoy it. It’s good for my parents to know that I’m secure at my coach’s place,and it’s squash 24X7 because when we sit down for dinner,Sarah recounts her experiences in winning and competing that’s valuable,” says Dipika.

The quarterfinals at the last World Open were a big stepping stone,but the move to Australia after brief stints in England and Egypt have given her the much-needed stability and an all-squash environment. “Being based in Australia is a good change of scenery. She’s comfortable here and my husband and I have tried to give her all the comforts of home. Being in Australia for an extended period between events gives her a chance to settle into a routine and concentrate on her game,” Fitz-Gerald says.

While the swing and volleying are the most perceptible changes,her coach believes she’s greatly improved her body language,crucial in a sport where players try bossing over their opponents and mark their territories. “I would like to think Dipika has improved mentally and become more confident. Improved results mean improved ranking,” the Australian signs off.

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