TOI Sports takes a look at the major Indian achievers of 2015:
The undisputed queen of Indian tennis had a remarkable year. In all, Sania won ten titles that included two Grand Slam titles (Wimbledon and US Open doubles titles) and the season ending WTA Finals in Singapore. During the stunning season, the doubles-specialist reached the top rankings as she struck a successful partnership with Martin Hingis. For her achievements in 2015, she was rightly named (along with Hingis) as the ITF World Champion.
Saina was the shining star in an average year for Indian shuttlers. During the year, Saina won two titles – Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold and her maiden Indian Open Super Series crown. Her performances launched her to the top of the badminton world as she became the top-ranked female shuttler. Besides, she also reached the finals of the three major tournaments of the year- All England, World Championships and the China Super Series Premier. Late in the year, she suffered an ankle injury meaning she had to skip the Hong Kong Open and later bowed out of the BWF Super Series Finals but not before beating world No. 1 Carolina Marin in a league match.
Saina Nehwal. (AFP Photo)
Paes refuses to get old. At 42, the veteran keeps on winning titles with remarkable consistency. During the season, he won three Grand Slam titles – all partnering Swiss Miss Martina Hingis. He won the mixed doubles titles at the Australian Open, Wimbledon Championships and US Open. He also became only the seventh male player in the Open era to record 700 doubles match victories. Only French Open eluded the Olympic bronze medallist. He didn’t have much luck in the men’s doubles category; although his associations with high profile singles players – Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray – did grab eyeballs.
PV Sindhu & Kidambi Srikanth
Sindhu’s season was affected by injuries as she failed to replicate her last year’s performances. She was troubled by a stress fracture and loss of form but ended the year on a successful note completing a hat-trick of title wins at the Macau Open. Besides, she also recorded a maiden Super Series final appearance at the Denmark Open. Srikanth began the year with two titles – Swiss Open and India Open. He did reach a career-best ranking of three but his form eluded during the latter half of the year, resulting in early tournament exits.
Kumari is on the right track as she prepares for the all-important Rio Olympics. In March, she defeated Chang Hye Jin of Korea to win the bronze medal in the women’s individual recurve event of the World Cup. Next up, along with Laxmirani Majhi and Rimil Buriuly, the 21-year-old pocketed the team silver in the women’s recurve at the Archery World Championship in Copenhagen. This also secured their berth place for the Rio 2016. An individual silver medal followed in October at the Mexico World Cup. Another bronze medal (recurved mixed team) was added at the last month’s Asian Championship in Bangkok.
Advani continues to be the poster-boy of Indian cue sports as he reaffirmed his status with another successful year full of trophies. The season began with the National Billiards and Snooker Championships in January where he won in both the categories. In August, he defended his World 6-Red Snooker Championship crown beating Chinese Yan Bingtao. Next, he won the World Billiards Championship, beating Peter Gilchrist in Adelaide. The ‘Golden Boy’ continued his winning march on the green baize in Egypt where he defeated Zhua Xintong to win IBSF World Snooker Championship – his 15th world title.
India national hockey team
It was quite an eventful year for the men’s hockey team that began with the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia where they finished third. Then they finished fourth at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Belgium. Putting the off-field controversies (sacking of coach Paul van Ass) aside, the team took a flight to Europe for a 15-day tour and went on to achieve Test series victories over France (2-0) and Spain (2-1). They then registered an impressive 2-1 series win over New Zealand in October. The crowning glory came during the HWL Finals at home where they won the bronze medal by beating defending champions Netherlands to win their first medal at a major international tournament in 33 years.
The women team also made history by ensuring their qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics. They last played at the Summer Games back in 1980.
Indian hockey team. (Getty Images)
India’s leading spinner rediscovered his form and became the leading wicket-taker in Tests (as of date) in 2015. In nine Tests, he picked 62 wickets at 17.20, managing seven five-wicket hauls and two 10-wicket hauls. Besides, he also became the fastest Indian ever to 150 Test wickets. He also played an important role to lead his side to successive Test series victories in Sri Lanka and at home against South Africa.
In June, the Olympic medallist turned professional, leaving behind an illustrious amateur boxing career and a chance to represent India one more time at the Olympics in 2016. A much hyped debut followed as the 30-year-old knocked out Britain’s Sonny Whiting at the Manchester Arena. At Dublin, Vijender knocked out Dean Gillin in the first round itself. In his third professional fight, Vijender squared off against Samet Hyuseinov in his maiden six-round bout. True to his words, the Indian didn’t need more than two rounds to outclass his opponent, winning in the second round – by Technical Knockout. Thus, he finished the year with a career record 3-0.
Vijender Singh. (PTI Photo)
Kerala swimmer Sajan Prakash put up a dominating show at the 35th National Games as he collected six gold and three silver medals while setting four meet records in February. The 22-year-old swimming prodigy won medals in the 100 and 200m Butterly, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m Free Style, 4X100m relay Free Style and 4X100m Relay Medley. Sajan was declared as the best male athlete of the National Games.
At the National Games in Kerala, Dipa Karmakar won five gold medals in individual all-round, table vault, balancing beam, uneven parallel bars and floor exercises. She was one of the top medal winners at the event. Later in the year, she won a bronze medal at the 2015 Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Japan. And she became the first Indian to qualify for the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, finishing fifth at the event.
Chauhan etched his name in the history books as he became the first ever individual medallist at the Archery World Championships from India. In the final of the Compound Archery event, at Copenhagen, he lost to Stephan Hansen of Denmark 143-147 to return home with silver.
Golfer Anirban Lahiri scaled new heights in 2015. He won two European titles – Indian Open and Maybank Malaysian Open. After becoming the third Indian ever to qualify for the US Masters, he finished 49th at the event. At the PGA Championship, he finished fifth – the best ever by an Indian at a major. More glory awaited the 28-year-old as he became the first from his country to be named in the Presidents Cup squad. This coincided with him breaking in the top-50 of world golf rankings, reaching a career high of 34.
Anirban Lahiri. (Getty Images)
Nagal was another shining star who became the Wimbledon boy doubles champion – the sixth Indian to win a Grand Slam title at the junior level. A die-hard Pete Sampras fan, Sumit, along with Vietnam’s Nam Hoang Ly, defeated Reilly Opekla and Akira Santillan 7-6, 6-4 to lift the trophy.
Shubham Jaglan & Aditi Ashok
Aged 11, Jaglan became a superstar on the Indian golfing circuit when he won the Junior World Golf Championships in California in July and a week later pocketed the IJGA World Stars of Junior Golf title in Las Vegas – the first from his country to achieve both the feats. Late in the year, teenage golfer Aditi became the first Indian to win the Ladies British Amateur stroke play golf championship in England.
Indians go global
Apart from the above mentioned achievers, it was also the year that saw several Indians registering their presence in international leagues by signing for foreign teams. The most notable among those was Punjab hoopster Satnam Singh Bhamara. The seven-footer created history when Dallas Mavericks picked him up in the National Boxing Association (NBA) draft this year. He thus became the first Indian to do so. He was also the first player in a decade to have been picked despite no college and professional experience.