New Delhi: Dipika Pallikal, whose phenomenal on-court success helped her become the first Indian to break into the top 10 of the squash rankings, has now set her sights on joining the elite club of the world`s top five by next year.
"My next target is top five. I broke into the top 10 club this month and, hopefully by next year, I can break into the top five. That`s my immediate target," Dipika said.
She became world number 10, the first Indian ever to reach the summit clash of a Silver event, when she entered the final of the Tournament of Champions in New York in January.
However, it was her performance in the World Open in February that helped her achieve a career-best ranking of 14 where she finished in the top eight.
In August, she achieved another first for an Indian when she reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, a Gold event.
She further proved her credentials when she led India to a fifth-place finish in the WSF Women`s World Team Squash Championship at Nimes, France in November -- the country`s best performance in the competition.
Pallikal, whose next assignment is the World Open in Cayman Island later this month, has credited her Australian coach, Sarah Fitz-Gerald for her transformation in the last two years.
"There are a lot of people starting right from my coach Sarah who has put in a lot of efforts into my game and into my training. Whatever I am today is because of Sarah. She has trained me really hard for the future challenges.
"There are obviously so many things that we have been working on, especially on my fitness and mental training. Sarah has been there, done that and knows exactly how to do it. Having the five-time world champion (Sarah) there really helped me a lot as she brings a lot of experience with her," added Dipika.
The 21-year-old from Chennai defined 2011 as the turning point of her career. The year saw her winning three WISPA titles -- Orange County Open in California, Dread Sports Series tournament in Washington and Crocodile Challenge Cup in Hong Kong.
"It was a big achievement for me to win three WISPA titles last year. The same year I also broke into the top 20 and then I did extremely well at the World Open also. It was a good year for me. That year I realised that I am good enough to be in the top 10. The year 2011 was an eye opener for me," said Dipika, who was conferred with the Arjuna Award, India`s second highest sporting award, earlier this year.
Talking about the World Championship in Cayman Islands in Western Caribbean, she said, "It`s one of the biggest championships in the squash calender. You need to give it all there. It`s one of the most important and prestigious tournament. Everyone wants to win there and improve their future rankings. I am confident of performing well there."
Asked about her views on IOC suspending India because of government interference in its election process, Dipika termed the decision "disappointing" and a sad development for Indian athletes.
"It`s disappointing for the Indian athletes. Squash is still not part of the Olympic programme but as an Indian athlete, all your life you train to win medals for the country and when you go on to play for the country, the last thing you want to do is not play under the country`s flag, country`s name.
"It`s a shame for a lot of Indian athletes. It`s a very sad development. Some lessons need to be learnt from this. I don`t know who is to be blamed but as an athlete, it`s very disheartening for all of us. I hope the situation gets better from here on and people learn from it," she said.