New Delhi: World No 1 women’s doubles tennis player Sania Mirza has been chosen for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award after she was recommended for the country’s highest sporting honour by the awards committee led by retired Chief Justice of Kerala V K Bali.
The committee also recommended 17 names for the Arjuna award, including athlete M R Poovamma, cricketer Rohit Sharma, shuttler Kidambi Srikanth, shooter Jitu Rai and wrestlers Babita and Bajrang.
Sania will become only the second tennis player after Leander Paes to receive the award. Paes had received the award in 1996 after winning the bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics. Last year, no athlete was awarded the prestigious award as no candidate was deemed suitable.
It has been a memorable year for Sania who became the first Indian woman to become No. 1 in doubles rankings and also clinch a women’s doubles Grand Slam title. She won the 2015 Wimbledon title partnering Swiss ace Martina Hingis.
An excited Sania tweeted on Wednesday: “Whooaa.. waking up in Toronto to the most amazing news from back home.. Thank you everyone .. Thank you so much.”
The 28-year-old Hyderabadi had also won the gold and bronze medals in the mixed and women’s doubles in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
Sania, who has three Grand Slams in mixed doubles to her credit, had received the Arjuna award in 2004 and Padma Shri in 2006.
She was chosen ahead of a host of athletes like squash star Dipika Pallikal, discus throwers Vikas Gowda and Seema Punia, shuttlers P V Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth and hockey captain Sardar Singh.
“Sania was the favourite all the way. No one could match her achievements. As for Srikanth, we decided to give him Arjuna this year,” one of the committee members told Deccan Herald after a four-hour-long meeting at the Sports Authority of India office on Tuesday.
The panel also kept a tab on doping records of the players and ruled out discus thrower Seema Antil. She had tested positive for a stimulant after winning the gold at the 2000 World Junior Championships. She had to return her gold medal.
Hockey goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, who has had an outstanding station, was chosen ahead of V R Raghunath for the Arjuna award.