Dipika Pallikal is poised on the threshold of squash history as she has more than a realistic chance of becoming the first Indian ever to win a World Championship.
Accorded pride of place in the women's individual event at the 16th junior World squash championship commencing here Wednesday, Dipika will enjoy a distinct advantage of playing on home courts at the ICL Academy here and can obviously count on partisan support.
In fact, the 17-year-old is expected to go one better than her peer, Joshna Chinnappa, also from Chennai, who made it to the final in 2005 at Herentals, Belgium, before losing to Egypt's Raneem El Weleily in three well-contested games.
National coach Cyrus Poncha, speaking to IANS, summed up the home sentiments by saying: "Obviously, we are all excited for Dipika. She best represents our hopes of becoming the first Indian ever to win a World title. The ICL Academy courts are where she began her squash career and she will have our backing."
However, despite the popular sentiments, it would be no cakewalk for Dipika who has received a bye in the first round and heads an 11-member Indian contingent in the draw. She has to reckon with a bunch of talented Egyptian players, six of whom are among the top 16 seeds.
Born and raised in Chennai, Dipika is already ranked inside the women's world's top 50 and has enjoyed a significant junior career, winning the British Junior U17 Open title in 2008 and reaching the final in both the British Junior U19 Open and Asian Junior Championship earlier this year.
The Egyptian challenge will be led by second seed Heba El Torky and her younger sister, the 16-year old Nouran, besides the 13-year old prodigy Nour El Sherbini.
Heba, the 18-year old from Alexandria, has several notches on her squash belt. Winner of British Junior Open titles at U13, U15 and U17, she has also already notched up two WISPA World Tour titles, at last year's China Open and Pakistan Open.
The women's individual event will precede the women's World Junior Team Championships (Aug 3-8), the biennial event which is held in alternate years to the men's junior team championships.
For the first time, the men's junior world championship will be held concurrently from this year following the World Squash Federation's plans to run men's and women's individual world junior championships annually from this year, staged alongside the biennial team championship.
Heading the men's draw is top seed and defending champion Mohammed El Shorbagy from Egypt who is expected to become only the second player in history to win the men's crown twice since compatriot Ramy Ashour's feat in 2004 2006.
The 18-year-old favourite from Alexandria has already enjoyed a meteoric run in the sport. He boasts a senior world top 20 ranking following notable success on the PSA World Tour which has included final berths in the recent Spanish Open and Irish Open and a quarter-final finish in last year's World Open in his maiden appearance in the sport's premier championship.
El Shorbagy's predicted final opponent is Malaysian Ivan Yuen. Winner of the recent Asian Junior Championship title, also in Chennai, the second seed from Selangor made his debut in the world's top 100 in May.
Regarding India's hopes in the men's event, Poncha said: "At best, it will be an excellent exposure and experience for our boys. We have fielded 12 promising juniors, most of whom would be eligible for the next World championship. We are hoping that the tournament will prove beneficial to them."
In all, players from 28 nations, including Pakistan, will be participating in the five-day individual events that will be formally inaugurated by Union Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Pratik Prakashbapu Patil.