New Delhi: One of India’s finest squash players, Dipika Pallikal is back on the court after four years, a break she needed to start a family and to do “something different” in her life with her career graph “stagnating”.
Blessed with twins last October, the 31-year-old has been training hard for the last couple of months with the focus on the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games later this year.
Pallikal, who established an interior designing business in her time away from the game, is aiming to create more history at the two multi-sporting events.
She is expected to take part in the doubles events in the Birmingham Games before gradually increasing her workload to also play singles in the Hangzhou Games.
Pallikal and India’s highest-ranked player Joshna Chinappa had won India’s first-ever gold in CWG history at the Glasgow edition back in 2014.
Speaking to PTI on motherhood and comeback, Pallikal said she was fortunate to have had a support system that allowed her to take time off from the game back in 2018.
The former world number 10 was ranked in the top-20 when she took the break but she was not able to move up the ladder, making her decision easier.
Being the mother of twin boys is “double the hard work” but Pallikal, married to cricketer Dinesh Karthik, is enjoying this special phase of her life.
“Yeah it is hard (being a mother and professional athlete) but I don’t want to emphasise it. Obviously, it’s hard with the sleep cycle of the kids and it is double the work because of twins.
“My husband is also an athlete, and he’s away training and playing. So a lot of responsibility lies on me but obviously, I’m very lucky to have had to have a solid system, a family, that helps me with my scheduling that I still go for training in the morning and the evening.
“…it’s all the same as before but have to get up for a feed at 3 am before training. But I knew well before that I wanted to come back and play. I had wanted to do this even before I had kids and I know it was going to be double the hard work that I had to do after I get kids.
“It’s been exactly that, it’s not been easy, but I’m enjoying the space of extra responsibilities of just going back home after training and being with the kids.”
A knee injury last year and the pandemic also delayed her return but Pallikal can’t complain about COVID wreaking havoc in the lives of millions around the world. With the kids by her side, she feels more grateful than ever.
“It’s a very new way to look at life. How do I say it’s a very new outlook on life. It has always been squash squash squash since I was 10, me wanting to be the best in the sport.
“But so many things happened in life in the last two years. I have learned to appreciate life and I appreciate the smaller things. So for me to just be back on court standing on both my feet and playing that is giving me happiness,” said the Padma Shri and Arjuna awardee.
Pallikal could make her competitive return alongside Joshna in the Women’s Doubles World Championships in Glasgow in April. The Chennai-based player plans to return to the PSA professional tour only after the Asian Games. She expects to back to her best after another month of training.
Her selection in the Indian team for the two big events is subject to her performances in the trials which will be held in due course, SRFI secretary-general Cyrus Poncha has said.
Pallikal was 27 when she stepped away from the game. Four years later, she remains young enough to compete at the highest level. Her longtime teammate Joshna, who is 35, has played her best squash in the last couple of years and only seems to be getting better with age.
Talking about the decision she took in 2018, Pallikal added: “I wanted to take time off for many reasons. I felt stagnated in results, I was at a level where I wasn’t very happy.
“Another reason was wanting to start a family. And definitely trying to do something different. I had been playing squash since I was 10. I had not done anything other than squash.
“It might not have been the right time back then. It might have been the right time.
“It might have been the right age. It might not have been the age. But I felt that I was stagnated and I sat down and I truly felt I wasn’t going to move up. So for me, it was very important (to make that call).”
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