New Delhi: Sania Mirza's name was today officially approved for the coveted Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, becoming only the second tennis player to be nominated for the highest sporting honour.
The government also named the winners of the 2015 Arjuna Awards. The list has 17 sports-persons including cricketer Rohit Sharma and shooter Jitu Rai. Gymnast Dipa Karmakar, hockey player P R Sreejesh, wrestling duo of Bajrang and Babita, athlete M R Poovamma, shuttler K Srikanth and boxer Mandeep Jangra are among those who won the Arjuna.
“It's a tremendous honour for me to be conferred the Khel Ratna award and I feel humbled with the love and respect showered on me by my country,” Sania told PTI from Toronto.
“Representing my country in all corners of the world has been my great privilege for so many years and this recognition of my efforts by the government of India is certain to inspire me to earn more laurels for our country. I would like to wish all my fellow Indians a happy independence day,” she said.
Sania, currently ranked world number one in women's doubles, scripted history by becoming the first Indian to win a women's doubles Grand Slam title when she and Martina Hingis clinched 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 P V Sindhu, and hockey captain Sardar Singh for the coveted honour.
The awards will be conferred 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:
P R 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), Yumnam Santhoi Devi (wushu), Sharath Gaekwad (para-sailing), M R Poovamma (athletics), Manjeet Chhillar (kabaddi), Abhilasha Mhatre (kabaddi), Anup Kumar Yama (rollerskating).