Macau Open win a stepping stone to World No.1: Pallikal

Describing the title triumph at Macau Open as the "biggest win" of her career, India's top squash player Dipika Pallikal today said it's a stepping stone in her quest to be the world number one.

Pallikal won the biggest title of her career at Macau this Sunday —- the Women's Squash Association (WSA) Silver band event -- having beaten the formidable Grinham sisters -- former world number two Natalie and former world number one Rachel.

"Yes for sure (the biggest win of my career). This is my first silver tournament win. So it does feel great. My aim is to get to world No.1 and this is just a route to No.1," Pallikal told PTI in an e-mail interview from Shanghai where she would be playing in the USD 50,000 China Open.

"It's been my biggest win till date. I played some really good squash the entire week to win the tournament. My wins in the semis and finals were important. And when I got through to the finals, I knew I had an opportunity to win it and did not want to let it go," she said.

Pallikal got the better of Rachel 12-10 5-11 11-7 11-9 in a hard-fought summit clash that lasted 42 minutes while in the semi-final, she overcame a 2-1 deficit to stave off a stiff challenge from top seed Natalie 11-9 8-11 8-11 11-4 11-9 in a marathon 68-minute encounter.

The 22-year-old from Chennai credited her success to sports psychologist Ken May and said the improvement in her game has come as a result of self confidence and mental toughness.

"Ken May is an incredible guy. He trained Sarah and now he's working with me. There were a lot of stuff we have to erase or go back in time to remove it. It's about making me a new person on court and it's slowly helping. He's an absolute phenomenal guy and I'm so happy that I have him on my team," she said.  

The changes Pallikal recently brought to her game was on full display during her famous wins over Grinham sisters. She did not hit winners too early and waited patiently for her chances to come.

She resorted to playing longer rallies, construct points and picking her moments to go into the offensive -- a mark shift from her earlier perforamces on the circuit.

The world ranked 17th has a five-time world champion, Australian Sarah Fitz-Gerald, to guide her towards the pinnacle of women's squash.

Ever since Sarah started coaching Pallikal in Melbourne, her whole game has taken a turn for the best.

"Sarah has always been the biggest influence I've ever had. We have worked on a lot of things and still working on them to keep improving. I think the thing which really helps is that she's been on the circuit herself and knows how everything works so she shares all her experiences with me which helps a lot," she said.

With seven World Squash tour titles, five tour finals, a career-best world ranking of 10 achieved late last year and an Arjuna Award, what does she wants next?

"My next target is to get back into the top 10 and then move further up in the rankings," she replied.

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