It resembled a cage-fight. But instead of crazy, hot-headed men wrestling in their knickers, two young women in skirts indulged in a bellicose game that spiced up an otherwise dull afternoon at the Yeorumul Squash Courts here on Sunday.
Racquets were flung at the opponent — albeit accidentally — and angry glances were exchanged. Sly remarks were passed and referees were sneered at. Such was the intensity that if it were a game of football, the two players would have been given straight reds. From the stands, the rest of the players watched in shock as India’s top two squash players, Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa, dished out an unnaturally aggressive game in the women’s singles quarterfinals.
Pallikal eventually emerged the winner, beating her old nemesis in the deciding fifth game (7-11, 11-9, 11-8, 15-17, 11-9). Crucially, she entered the semis, becoming the country’s first woman squash player to win an individual medal at the Asian Games. Even they were surprised at how the match panned out. But then, the stakes had risen even before they stepped inside the court.
Both Pallikal and Chinappa have called the draw “unfortunate” and the former had even considered a pullout claiming “manipulation”. Under normal circumstances, players from the same country are not pitted against each other until the semifinals. But the squash federation cited rules and insisted stuck to the rankings while making the draw. “There were a lot of things for me to deal with in the fight here. In the last minute, I wasn’t sure if I was going to play,” said Pallikal.
She had nearly withdrawn from the event but Pallikal said that a newspaper article forced her to change mind. “It said that I was pulling out of the Asian Games because I was afraid to play Joshna. It upset me and that’s when I decided that not only will I play, but I’ll also win the match,” she added.
And the tension was palpable. The match was a scruffy affair, lacking rhythm and body-blocks galore. Chinappa, who had an upper hand over Dipika going into this tie, started well but Pallikal gradually began to match her seasoned opponent shot for shot and stroke for stroke. Pallikal later admitted that she was so consumed by the match that she forgot that it was her birthday until her fiancé, cricketer Dinesh Karthik, called to wish her. “I was thinking about the match the whole time. Until Dinesh and Saurav (Ghosal) wished me, I didn’t even realise today was my birthday,” said Dipika, who turned 23 on Sunday.
Less than two months ago, they had combined to win India’s first-ever squash medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, where they won the women’s doubles gold. It was a moment that brought them closer and both players insisted that their rough encounter on the court would not have an impact off it.
“Our bonding has really improved since the CWG gold. I just hope today’s match doesn’t affect it,” Pallikal said laughing. “I guess I and Joshna will have some talking to do at the Village tonight.”