Returning after motherhood, Dipika Pallikal Karthik rides on 'family support' to become India's most successful CWG squash player
Dipika Pallikal Karthik won her fourth Commonwealth Games medal when she won the Mixed Doubles bronze with Saurav Ghosal. No Indian has ever won as many medals.
Just when squash lovers were wondering if the 2022 Commonwealth Games would see the two leading ladies of Indian squash returning empty handed, Dipika Pallikal Karthik tweaked the script.
With her brother-in-law Saurav Ghosal as partner, the mixed pair won the bronze, by winning the third-place play off. Dipika thus earned her fourth overall medal in the squash competitions of the CWG.
Sadly, Joshna Chinappa had no such luck and overall had a forgettable time in the Games this time, unable to find a medal-winning path in singles, doubles (with Dipika) or mixed doubles (with Harinder Pal Sandhu).
Amazing has been the career graph of Dipika. Along with Joshna and Saurav, she has been one of the three leading lights of Indian squash. Coincidentally all three had arrived at the ICL Squash Academy (now Indian Squash Academy) in Chennai at around the same time. Three bright talents waiting to be moulded into champion material.
And that is what the Malaysian Coach Maj S. Manian and his assistants, led by the national coach Cyrus Poncha, achieved. Once the trio turned professionals and started moving around the globe, each had their own way to sharpen their skills with various coaches but ISA was the alma mater that started it all.
A famed rivalry, disappearing from the scene
The rivalry between Joshna and Dipika was the biggest in Indian squash, yet rare were their encounters. And when the two met expectedly it was a contest to watch!
It happened in Chennai in the 2017 Asian Championship and the popular city Mall was the venue to add to the glamour settings. Five well-contested games stretching to over an hour and a quarter, fortunes swinging tantalisingly. In the end, Joshna managed to win her first Asian title.
Dipika lost, but only just, but that evening the two provided a classic game of squash and a glorious rivalry that stood out. Two good friends otherwise but as the match reflected - two unyielding contestants.
Only three years earlier in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Joshna and Dipika had come together as a doubles pair to shock famed pairs, including top seeds Jenny Duncalf and Laura Massaro of England in the final to win the women's doubles gold, an achievement that instantly brought forth headlines on the rising stature of Indian squash.
Both have since been active on the Professional circuit, with Dipika having won thus far 11 PSA titles. She in fact was the first Indian to break into the top 10 world ranking at one time. Yet for all this, from 2018, this ace player quietly disappeared from the scene!
Returning after motherhood and proving herself again
Nobody really had a clue except to conclude that Dipika had opted to take a break. As it turned out, she and her cricketer husband Dinesh Karthik were to become proud parents of a pair of twin boys. Motherhood and squash seemed an impossible combination at that time but like her spectacular shows on the court, Dipika proved she had her own ways to get noticed and what better than as a player again!
New responsibilities, but as the Chennai player was to state, "family support" ensured she could again indulge in her love for squash in all seriousness. Hours of training and shedding sweat not to forget polishing her racquet skills, Dipika announced her return.
It was not as though she was welcomed back with an India berth on a platter. She showed her touch and proved the adage "class is permanent, even if form can be temporary".
Joshna knew she had a formidable partner back to reset their once famed doubles pair and it was the world championship early this year that was to be the testing ground, again in Glasgow.
To be sure, the venue turned lucky. Joshna and Dipika won the title, and what is more, Dipika joined Saurav and picked up the mixed doubles title as well. Two world titles in one go! Whoever then had thought Dipika was on the verge of fading out had a resounding answer.
Only one to win four medals
But the happy tidings received a little dent in Birmingham though because the world champion pair could not reproduce their true touch in the CWG women's doubles. As it turned out, a young pair of Malaysians, seeded low, blasted away past the top seeded Indian pair in the quarterfinal.
As Cyrus Poncha, the SRFI Secretary General said from Birmingham, the Malaysian girls effectively unsettled the experienced Indians to the extent that the latter conceded a big leeway which could not be corrected.
The mixed doubles medal too had looked in danger of slipping away. True, the gold and silver went out of their grab but the bronze was there to be had. The satisfaction was that Dipika and Saurav could beat the last edition's champions - Allison Waters and Adrien Waller of England - with a show of class, as Poncha described.
A bronze may not be enough to affirm their world champion status but still good for an unprecedented landmark for Dipika - four medals thus far in three CWGs from 2014. She is the only one to have that achievement to show.