At 21, Dipika Pallikal oozes confidence of a veteran. In a short period of time, Indian squash's pin-up girl has achieved a lot, becoming the first player from the country to break into the top 10 in November last year.
Sky seems to be the limit for the ambitious Chennai lass, who has set her sights on becoming World No 1. In an interview with HT, the glamourous Dipika, named amongst the 10 most beautiful women in India, reveals her ambitions, her struggles and her singleminded determination to make it to the top.
After breaking into the top-10 rankings, you said the aim is to become No 1. How close are you to achieving that?
I think when you set goals, you have to be realistic in achieving that target. I never thought I would break into the top 10 at the age of 21. But everything is happening so fast. I had a few good wins last year. I reached the semifinals and quarterfinals of big tournaments and that has given me a lot of confidence.
I know I can beat them (top 10 ranked players); when you have that belief, it makes it that much easier. Hopefully, I can be consistent and have a good year.
Are you seeing this as the beginning of something special?
I hope so. I have always said being in the top 10 or getting the Arjuna award is just the beginning. I have got bigger goals to achieve. I want to be world no.1 one day. By the end of this year, I want to be in the top 5.
You have moved to Melbourne to train under five-time world champ Sarah Fitz-Gerald. How much has that contributed to your recent success?
Being with someone who has been there, done that does make a lot of difference, not just on the court, but off it as well. To have Sarah in my corner is the biggest confidence-booster for my career.
Do you look up to Malaysian Nicol David for inspiration?
She is a role model. Nicol has dominated the sport for so long, has been the World No 1 for more than seven years now. Winning against her is the benchmark.
How difficult is it to make a mark in a sport which is neither spectator-friendly nor high-profile?
The most difficult thing for me has been being away from home from the age of 14. I had problems with the federation then, everything is solved now. But when I had the differences, I didn't have a place to train. I had to go to Egypt for training. I stayed there alone for four years. It definitely was tough. With squash not being a high-profile sport in India, you don't get a lot of sponsors. There is a lot of competition that makes it tough. The main reason for me being here is my parents' support.
How do you look back at the initial struggle?
I didn't know what I was getting into. I was just 14. But once I shifted base to Egypt, I learned a lot. Staying all alone in a foreign country makes you stronger. In those four years, I realised what I wanted to do with my life.