Sania Mirza created history after being recommended for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna on Tuesday, while cricketer Rohit Sharma and shooter Jitu Rai were among the 17 sportspersons picked for Arjuna awards.
Sania, currently ranked world number one in women’s doubles, became the first Indian to clinch a women’s doubles Grand Slam when she partnered Swiss great Martina Hingis for the Wimbledon trophy earlier this year.
Sania is only the second tennis player after Leander Paes to be named for the top award. Paes had been bestowed the honour way back in 1996 after his bronze medal in the Atlanta Olympics.
The 28-year-old, who has won three mixed doubles Grand Slams in her career, beat competition from squash player Deepika Pallikal, discus thrower Vikas Gowda, track and field star Tintu Luka, rising shuttler PV Sindhu, and hockey captain Sardar Singh for the coveted honour.
Sania’s name was recommended by a sports ministry-constituted awards committee headed by Justice VK Bali, the retired chief justice of the Kerala High Court.
The committee included eminent athletes such as Dola Banerjee, MM Somayya and Bhogeshwar Baruah and sports journalists apart from top officials of the sports ministry.
It is learnt that the committee recommended 17 names for the Arjuna awards, including those of Jitu, Rohit, gymnast Dipa Karmakar, hockey player PR Sreejesh, the wrestling duo of Bajrang and Babita, athlete MR Poovamma, shuttler K Srikanth and boxer Mandeep Jangra.
The recommendations will now be sent to the sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who will take a final decision.
Only after the sports minister signs the file, the names would be made public. The awards are to be given away by the President Pranab Mukherjee on August 29, the National Sports Day.
The Khel Ratna carries a prize money of Rs 7.5 lakh along with a citation, while the Arjuna awards come with a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh and a citation.
Besides doing well on the professional circuit, Sania had also won the gold medal and the bronze medal in the mixed and women’s doubles categories of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
The Hyderabadi girl had won the Arjuna award in 2004 and was the favourite for the top award this year. In 2006, she was bestowed the Padma Shri – the country’s fourth highest civilian honour.
Sania’s mixed doubles trophies had come in the Australian Open (2009), French Open (2012) and US Open (2014).
Rohit has been India’s batting mainstay in the ODIs and became the highest individual scorer with a knock of 264 against Sri Lanka last year.
Jitu, on the other hand, has been in splendid form, winning seven international medals in the last one year besides an Olympic quota berth.
Sreejesh was recommended for his outstanding show as India’s goalkeeper. He was part of the team that won the Asian Games gold medal last year, which also fetched the side a direct qualification for next year’s Olympics.
Dipa has been rewarded for becoming the first Indian woman gymnast to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games, while boxer Mandeep has been recommended for his silver medals in the Asian Championships and the Commonwealth Games.
Srikanth has been one of India’s top performers on the badminton court, winning three titles this year.
The list of sportspersons recommended for Arjuna awards: PR Sreejesh (hockey), Dipa Karmakar (gymnastics), Jitu Rai (shooting), Sandeep Kumar (archery), Mandeep Jangra (boxing), Babita (wrestling), Bajrang (wrestling), Rohit Sharma (cricket), K Srikanth (badminton), Swarn Singh Virk (rowing), Satish Sivalingam (weightlifting), Santhoi Devi (wushu), Sharath Gaekwad (para-sailing), MR Poovamma (athletics), Manjeet Chhillar (kabaddi), Abhilasha Mhatre (kabaddi), Anup Kumar Yama (rollerskating).