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Building mental muscle helped Dipika Pallikal

In Macau,Pallikal had to dig deep to overcome a 2-1 game deficit against top seed Natalie.

Written by Chinmay Brahme | Pune |
October 22, 2013 12:03:34 am

Immediately upon winning the Macau Open,Dipika Pallikal’s first response is to dole out the usual polite niceties. “Wins are always important,” she says. “I take it match by match and every win helps my ranking move upwards.”

But amidst all that,the Chennai girl can’t mask a profound sense of achievement,having beaten the formidable Grinham sisters Natalie (a former world number two) and Rachel (a former world number one) on her way to the title.

“I have grown up watching Natalie and Rachel win World Opens,” she says. “Natalie’s rivalry with Nicol (David) is well known. I was a little apprehensive before playing Natalie,because the last time I faced her,she absolutely thrashed me.”

In Macau,Pallikal had to dig deep to overcome a 2-1 game deficit against top seed Natalie to win the semifinal 11-9,8-11,8-11,11-4,11-9. She then powered past Rachel,winning the final 12-10,5-11,11-7,11-9. Pallikal says that the way she played against the Grinham’s has given her confidence a big boost.

She credits much of her success to her work with sports psychologist Ken May. “It is very difficult to find someone who really understands your game,your mentality while on court and also how far you can push your capabilities in the first attempt. But when I met Ken in May this year,we just simply clicked,” she says.

“We don’t really discuss tactics in detail. Before the Macau Open,I was constantly pushing the top-15 players but not closing the match. Ken and I discussed why I was losing when I was getting so close and those discussions led us to a solution.”

The 22-year-old says that her problem had been that she would often think a little too far ahead. “Now its just about focusing on the point at hand and then the next point. That’s something Ken has brought into my game,one of his major lessons was to not focus on the next three points but getting myself completely involved in the point that I was playing,” says Pallikal,who is currently ranked 17th in the world.

Playing clever squash was another lesson that Pallikal imbibed from her coach Sarah Fitz-Gerald. “Our main discussion when I beat Delia (Arnold) in the quarters was to keep things as simple as possible. In my games against Natalie and then Rachel,the plan was to keep the ball in play,hit powerfully and keep my angles tight. That was a way of countering the Grinhams’ experience and also their tactical superiority by not trying anything too different,” she says.

Fitz-Gerald for her part seemed suitably impressed by the performance of her ward. “Dipika showed excellent maturity in the semifinal and final. She fought hard for the rallies,fought when she was behind the score and fought hard for the match. Both the Grinhams have years of experience and are excellent movers. These back-to-back wins should really help her confidence and self-belief,” she says.

The Australian legend also heaped praise on Pallikal’s mental fortitude,saying that saw her as more alert and focussed than before. “She has groomed herself into a champion squash player,” says Fitz-Gerald. “Her strokes can be compared to the best in the world.”

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