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Asian Games

Stronger than the setbacks: Dipika-Harinderpal's remarkable comeback

Squash players Dipika Pallikal and Harinderpal Singh Sandhu secured India's first-ever gold medal in mixed doubles at the Asian Games. The duo speaks about their comeback story.

Dipika Pallikal and Harinderpal Singh Sandhu

Dipika Pallikal and Harinderpal Singh Sandhu secured the gold medal at the Asian Games. (Source: SRFI)


Aswathy Santhosh

Published: 5 Oct 2023 3:36 PM GMT

In the world of sports, there are few narratives more inspiring than a comeback story. Dipika Pallikal has scripted a remarkable tale of resurgence after taking a four-year break to start a family. Her return to competitive squash has culminated in a gold medal at the Asian Games 2023 in the mixed doubles category.

Dipika Pallikal, partnering with Saurav Ghosal, had achieved a mixed doubles gold at the World Asian Mixed Doubles Squash Championship in June. However, the pinnacle of her comeback journey was her stellar performance at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, where she secured gold and bronze medals with different partners.

Dipika, reflecting on her gold medal win with Harinderpal Singh Sandhu at the Asiad, says, "I don't think it has sunk in for either of us. For myself and Harinderpal, the dream of making a comeback and competing in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games has now become a reality."

While Harinderpal was already a double gold medallist in the men's team event, Dipika cherished her first gold medal at the Asian Games. She confesses, "I always had the aspiration to return and win a gold medal at the Asian Games, knowing I already had one from the Commonwealth Games."

Dipika is happy to share this victory with Harinderpal, emphasising that they were also playing for themselves, not just for the gold. "I just tried to take us back to Chennai (Indian Squash Academy), where we train every day and just to try and enjoy the game," she adds. Dipika drew inspiration from former world number one player James Willstrop, who once said, 'It's not about winning, it's about surviving.'

A natural bond on the court

Despite this being their first appearance as a pair at a quadrennial showpiece, Dipika and Harinder had known each other since 2003-04, having travelled to various parts of the world for junior tournaments. Harinder shares their natural chemistry, saying, "It's the first time both of us have paired up together, the first time we have been playing together, (and) it is a very good sign. We've been working hard a lot, understanding each other."

He highlighted the familiarity that came from their shared history, stating, "We go way back as kids playing the sport. The gelling of us together and understanding each other on court was natural. We didn't have to force anything."

Their mindset during the crucial moments of the final was clear: fight relentlessly. Harinder explained, "All we can do when we lose the lead is fight, fight, fight. Fight for every point, every ball, stay in the moment and give our best. Even if we lose, we go down fighting. That was our mindset."

Dipika Pallikal and Harinderpal Singh Sandhu's partnership not only yielded a remarkable gold medal but also manifested their undeniable chemistry on the court.

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