Saina Nehwal’s growing stature in Indian sports received an official stamp with the 20-year-old being named for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award for the year 2008-09.
The Arjuna Awards committee headed by former sprint queen, PT Usha, met in the national capital on Friday and recommended the name of the world number 2 shuttler for the highest award for sporting excellence in the country.
Saina is also the second youngest player to win the laurel after 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, who won the award in 2001.
The award, to be given away on August 29 by the President, Pratibha Patil, consists of a scroll of honour, medal and cash purse of Rs 7.5 lakh.
Saina’s coach and mentor Pullela Gopichand is the other badminton player to win the honour, which was instated in 1992. “I am really happy. It’s unbelievable, a dream come true for me to get another within one year.
National awards give you a lot of motivation and it definitely has inspired me to achieve bigger glories for my country,” said Saina, who was won the Arjuna Award last year.
Saina has been the flag bearer of Indian badminton for the last two years, recording many firsts in her fledging career. She became the first woman shuttler to reach the Olympic quarterfinals in 2008 and also won the world junior title and Commonwealth Youth Games gold medal in the same year. She continued her rise in 2009 winning the Indonesia Super Series and reaching the quarterfinals of the World Championship.
“I have done well in the last two years and the three titles that I won recently have boosted my confidence. I am now preparing for the World Championship and I hope to win the title,” said Saina, who is also one of the six brand ambassadors for the Commonwealth Games, to be held in New Delhi from October 3-14.
Saina is the favourite to win the country’s first gold in badminton since Syed Modi’s triumph in 1992. Apart from this, she will also be participating in the World Championship in August and the Asian Games in November.