New Delhi: Tennis ace Sania Mirza on Saturday received the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award from President Pranab Mukherjee on the occasion of National Sports Day at the the Rastrapati Bhavan.
The 28-year-old Hyderabadi, thus, became the second tennis player after legendary Leander Paes to have accorded with the highest sports award in India. She was recommended for the award by a Sports Ministry-constituted awards committee headed by Justice V K Bali, the retired Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court.
Mirza, regarded as India's finest women's tennis player ever, won her first women's doubles Grand Slam title by lifting the Wimbledon title with Swiss legend Martina Hingis in June. Previously, she had won three Grand Slam titles in Mixed Doubles at the Australian Open, French Open and US Open each.
Earlier in the day, she dedicated award to the people of India and her family. The Khel Ratna carries a prize money of Rs. 7.5 lakh along with a citation.
“I would like to dedicate it (Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award) to people of India and my family. I feel very happy, privileged & honored to have received this award. This year has been exceptional for me, looking forward to US Open now,” Sania was quoted as saying by ANI.
Sania requested the organisers of the US Open, which starts on Monday, for special arrangement so that she can attend the awards ceremony in New Delhi. And her first round matches will start on Wednesday or Thursday.
"The US Open orgainsers are very considerate and they said our matches will start a couple of days later. They know the importance of the award and they said our matches will start Wednesday or Thursday," she said yesterday.
The draw for both the women's doubles and mixed doubles will be revealed on Monday.
India celebrates August 29 as National Sports Day to mark the birthday of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand. Besides the Khel Ratna, the President also honoured recommended players and coaches with Arjuna and Dronacharya awards on the day.
She had previously won the Arjuna award in 2004 and was the favourite for the top award this year. She 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. In 2006, she was bestowed the Padma Shri — the country’s fourth highest civilian honour.
Despite the despite Karnataka High Court notice to the government following a petition filed by Paralympian HN Girisha, Union Sports Ministry decided to go ahead with its original decision to honour the top-ranked women's doubles player in the world with the award.
2012 London Paralympics medallist Girisha filed a petition earlier this month challenging the ministry's decision, claiming he's the top contender for the award with 90 points.
And on August 27, Justice A S Bopanna of Karnataka High Court after hiring on the petition filed by Girisha, directed the respondents — Union Sports Ministry and Mirza — to reply to the notices within 15 days.
The President also gave away the Arjuna awards but the recipients line-up for the second highest sports award was poor with popular players like cricketer Rohit Sharma, boxer Mandeep Jangra and athlete M R Poovamma missing the function.
The list of sportspersons recommended for this year's Arjuna awards are: 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), Santhoi Devi (wushu), Sharath Gaekwad (para-swimming), M R Poovamma (athletics), Manjeet Chhillar (kabaddi), Abhilasha Mhatre (kabaddi), Anup Kumar Yama (rollerskating)
The Arjuna awardees received statuettes, certificates and award money of Rs.5 lakh each.
For the Dronacharya award, Anoop Singh (wrestling), Harbans Singh (athletics), Swatantar Raj Singh (boxing), Nihar Ameen (swimming) and Naval Singh (athletics, para-sports) were recommended. Anoop's recommendation was, however, challenged by another wrestling coach Vinod Kumar, who went to Delhi High Court claiming he was more deserving for the Dronacharya award. And it will be known in the coming weeks whether Vinod gets the award or not with a division bench headed by Chief Justice G Rohini ordering for further hearing of the matter.
Dhyan Chand awardees for 2015: Romeo James (hockey), Shiv Prakash Mishra (tennis), T.P.P. Nair (volleyball).
(With Agency inputs)