New Delhi: Two of the biggest names in Indian sports, badminton star Saina Nehwal and tennis sensation Sania Mirza, have been chosen for Padma Bhushan awards, India's third highest civilian honour. Both of them are past winners of the highest award for sports, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.
Women in sports dominated this year's Padma awards announced on Monday with archer Deepika Kumari getting the nod for Padma Shri as well.
All three were in sublime touch last year and brought the country laurels in their respective sports.
Sania enjoyed the most sensational run, clinching nine titles -- including two Grand Slams last year with Swiss great Martina Hingis. The exceptional performance propelled her to the top of the WTA doubles rankings.
The 29-year-old is currently competing in the Australian Open in Melbourne, where she has reached the women's doubles quarterfinals with Hingis.
Saina has also been in spectacular touch, winning silver medals at the All England and World Badminton Championship last year besides clinching the India Open Super Series and Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold.
eepika, on the other hand, won a silver at the Archery World Cup Final besides bronze medals at the World Cup Stage II and the Asian Team Championships.
Saina, who is in the country to compete in this week's Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold Tournament, said the honour has left her surprised. Interestingly, the 25-year-old had expressed her displeasure at being ignored for the award last year.
"It is a great honour and I want to thank the Ministry for giving me the award. I am very happy with the way the last year has gone, I have been performing well. I reached World No.1 last year and now I am World No.2. I am sure this award will give me more motivation to do well further this year," Saina said.
"It came as a complete surprise to me. I had no clue. I did not expect at all. There was no news of it at all. When I think that I am just 25 and I have received this award, it makes me feel great. But it is still a long way to go."
Saina was left disappointed after the Sports Ministry decided to reject her application for the award in January last year, citing norms.
The ministry had picked two-time Olympic-medallist wrestler Sushil Kumar for the honour last year.
Saina was bestowed the Khel Ratna and Padma Shri in 2010 and also received the Arjuna Award in 2009.
The 21-year-old Deepika, meanwhile, had also won the team silver along with Laxmirani Majhi and Rimil Buriuly in the World Championships.
Deepika, who will be competing in the South Asian Games next month, has previously won the Arjuna award and said Monday's announcement has come as a shock to her.
"I am kind of shocked. I can't believe this, it's yet to sink in. It was only four-five days ago, I was telling my friend I dream to be a Padma awardee and want to work hard for this," she told PTI.
"And a day later, late at night, I got a call from the federation that my name was nominated. I thought it's just a nomination and I didn't take it seriously. But this morning I got a confirmation and I'm jumping with joy. There has been a
flood of calls. I took blessings from my coach and parents.
"This award is dedicated to my parents and coaches -- Dharmendra Tiwari and Poornima Mahato and all those who supported me during early years. When I got Arjuna from the President in 2012, my dad accompanied me. This time my dad told me that I must take my mother to the ceremony. I told them 'I'll take both of you this time'. This is the biggest honour for me."
Deepika said the award will motivate her to clinch an Olympic medal this year in Rio de Janeiro.
"It's a big motivation to do well in the Olympics and now the expectations will be more. I want to stay focussed and don't want to be distracted. The biggest challenge for me (in Rio) would be to overcome the mental blockade that's proving costly for me so far," she said.
"I'm concentrating on mental toughness with yoga and meditation. Also psychologists are helping me out."
Veteran sports commentator Sushil Doshi was also chosen for Padma Shri.