Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Champ, role model, target

Squash pro all those in her native India

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Dipika Pallikal, a professional squash player from India, is a female role model in a country that has few and needs more.

Pallikal, a native of Chennai, who is ranked No. 15 in the world, capped her stay in Winnipeg this week by winning the $13,000 Women's Meadowood Pharmacy Open on Sunday at the Winnipeg Winter Club. Before a packed house, she defeated Joey Chan of Hong Kong 11-9, 11-7, 11-4 in the championship final. Pallikal won the $2,500 first-place prize and important World Tour points which will help elevate her WSA ranking.

In December, she became the first Indian woman to break into the top 10 in the WSA rankings.

"I've not won a tournament for almost a year so this is a confidence boost for me. I'm just so glad I could win the tournament," said Pallikal, who is completing her degree in English literature from Ethiraj College for Women in Chennai. "My dream is to be No. 1 and that is going to take a lot of hard work."

In the aftermath of the brutal rape and death of a female student on a New Delhi bus in December, which sparked international outrage and put a world spotlight on the ill treatment of women in India, Pallikal said she hopes "people take charge of what has happened and make India a safer place for women."

"As Indians, we're all saddened and disgusted about it. But at the end of the day, what is happening in India with the uprisings, it is all good. It had to happen some day and I'm glad. It's obviously a bad way that it happened, but it has opened the eyes of a lot of people."

Female athletes can play a role in promoting women's rights, she feels.

"We have a few (female) superstars in India. We have Saina Nehwal, who is world No. 2 in badminton. To be among those (athletes) is a great accomplishment and there are a lot of people looking up to us. In the end, I am playing squash because I love it. Hopefully my results can inspire juniors in country and make the sport grow."

Pallikal trains in Australia and is coached by six-time world champion Sarah Fitz-Gerald, who said Pallikal has the potential to be the best.

"No. 1 is a good and realistic goal for her. She's (reached) 10, so the trick is now to keep growing as a person and a player," Fitz-Gerald said. "She's only 21 and as she gets more mature on the court, her game keeps improving. She's very much a natural talent and plays a lot by instinct, so we're working on getting her to be more patient and let the instinct kick in."

Pallikal chose the Winnipeg event over the higher-profile Cleveland Classic and came in as the No. 1 seed.

"We were thrilled to have an athlete of Dipika's calibre at our event," said Trevor Borland, the Winnipeg Winter Club pro and event organizer. He said the Winnipeg event this year achieved a Tour 15 ranking and a larger prize purse than previous years when it was a Tour 10-ranked event with an $8,000 purse. "A top player (like Pallikal) can come here, be the first seed, win the prize money and get more points here than she would if she lost the first round there."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 4, 2013 C4

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