Sania Mirza gets Khel Ratna, 17 others get Arjuna award

New Delhi: Sania Mirza's name was on Friday officially approved for the coveted Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, becoming only the second tennis player to be nominated for the highest sporting honour.

Sania Mirza
Sania Mirza 

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.

A couple of unforced error by Wang helped Saina go into the break with a three-point cushion at 11-8 as shouts of 'Jai ho' from the Indian crowd resonated in the stadium.

After the break, Saina continued to stamp her authority as she outwitted an onrushing Wang by pushing the shuttle at the back. Wang came back to level score at 13-13 with Saina faltering with her line. The Chinese then took a two-point lead with some aggressive net play and accurate placement of shot.

Wang reeled off eight straight points to suddenly turn the game in her favour, reaching 17-13. But Saina broke the stream with a delectable drop shot and narrowed the gap down to 19-20 before an experienced Wang snatched it away when Saina couldn't reach for a stroke at the back.

In the decider, Wang straight away put Saina under pressure, leading 4-1. Saina came back with a brilliant rally and then floored Wang with another controlled smash but a few errors by the Indian helped Wang lead 6-3.

Saina exploited Wang's weakness at the left side of the court to make it 4-6 and dominated a parallel game and drew parity with a point at net at 8-8. The duo moved to 10-10 before Wang took a marginal one-point advantage when she found Saina napping.

Wang continued to create chances and moved to 14-12, before Saina again drew parity at 14-14. The duo moved neck-and-neck to 15-15. Luck too seemed to favour Wang as a shot tripped over the net to give her 17-15 lead.

However, Saina once again roared back to level par at 18-18. The Indian produced a body smash to grab the lead at 19-18. After conceding a point in a long rally, Saina gained the match point at 20-19 after a cross court smash.

Without any delay, Saina grabbed the next point as Wang hit wide. Earlier, Sindhu, seeded 11th, was second best in the
battle of attrition, going down 17-21 21-19 16-21 to the eighth seed in a match lasting an hour and 22 minutes.

Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa also lost to the Japanese duo of Naoko Fukuman and Kurumi Yonao 23-25 14-21 in the women's doubles quarterfinals.

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