New Delhi: Indian tennis star Sania Mirza and badminton ace Saina Nehwal were on Monday named for the prestigious Padma Bhushan, the country’s third highest civilian award.
Apart from the celebrated pair, ace archer Deepika Kumari was named for the Padma Shri, as was popular cricket commentator Sushil Doshi.
Sania and Saina performed outstandingly last year. Sania enjoyed a superb run in 2015 when she won nine women’s doubles trophies, including two Grand Slams partnering veteran Swiss Martina Hingis.
The Indo-Swiss combination is doing well this year also. They have already won the Sydney Open and the Brisbane International and have entered the quarter-finals of the ongoing Australian Open.
(Also Read: Sania, Bopanna enter quarters of Australian Open)
Sania had earlier received the Arjuna Award (2004), Padma Shri (2006) and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna (2015).
Saina too has won the Arjuna Award (2009), the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna (2009-2010) and the Padma Shri (2010).
Deepika, a former World No.1, continued her journey by bagging a silver medal in the women’s recurve event at the 2015 Archery World Cup Final in Mexico City. It was the 21-year-old Jharkhand archer’s fourth medal in five appearances at World Cup Finals.
She had won the Arjuna Award in 2012.
Saina dedicated her Padma Bhushan award to coach U. Vimal Kumar under whose guidance she rose to the top of the world rankings.
“I would like to thank the ministry for giving me Padma Bhushan. It is a great feeling, very honoured. I would like to dedicate the award to my coach U. Vimal Kumar sir totally. The way he has helped me in the last one year is great and made me become World No.1 and so many other achievements,” Saina said in a statement.
“Also, I would like to thank my parents, physio Sidhharth and trainer Deckline Leitao for supporting me so much,” the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist added.
“So happy and honoured to get the prestigious Padma Bhushan award Thank u everyone for the support and wishes.”
Sania personified Indian tennis in 2015 with a stupendous rise that catapulted her to the tip of the women’s doubles rankings and also become the maiden countrywoman to win a Grand Slam.
Her association with Hingis, forged in March 2015, formed the basis of an unstoppable juggernaut as they complemented each other perfectly to embark on a fairytale journey adorned with prestigious Grand Slam victories at Wimbledon and the US Open.
They teamed up in 16 events last year and enjoyed an overwhelming 55-7 win-loss ratio with a 22-match unbeaten hard court streak. The Indo-Swiss collaboration capped off a memorable year with a triumph at the season-ending Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals in Singapore, also winning at Beijing, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Charleston, Miami and Indian Wells.
The Charleston victory propelled Sania to the top of the doubles rankings. It was their third successive trophy together and gave impetus to the Hyderabadi to monopolise the top spot in rankings.
In badminton, Saina was the country’s flag bearer for the sport in 2015. The Hyderabad-based shuttler started the year on a brilliant note by winning the India Grand Prix Gold in Lucknow, beating reigning world champion Carolina Marin of Spain in the final. She backed it up with her lone Superseries title in March — India Open — which she won here, defeating former world champion Ratchanok Intanon in the summit clash.
She also reached the finals of three extremely prestigious events — All-England, World Championships and China Open. The Khel Ratna awardee also achieved quite a few number of firsts this season.
The 25-year-old became the first Indian since Pullela Gopichand to reach the All-England final which the current chief national coach had won way back in 2001. She also became the first Indian to reach the final of the World Championships in August. She lost both finals to Carolina.
The Hisar-born was also on her way to defend the China Open Superseries Premier but lost to reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui of China. Then she also became the first Indian woman shuttler to become World No.1. She and Carolina kept exchanging the top spot for most of the year.
With her consistent performances, she also qualified for the year-ending World Superseries Finals in Dubai for the second successive year where she failed to qualify for the semi-finals and was recently nominated again for the Badminton World Federation (BWF) Female Player of the Year Award.