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10 Indian sports stars who left a mark on 2015

December 29, 2015 09:30 IST

What a year Sania Mirza, Leander Paes, Saina Nehwal, Vijender Singh and Anirban Lahiri had!

Sania Mirza of India

IMAGE: Sania Mirza. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

2015 was an extraordinary year for Sania Mirza. She won 10 titles, including two Grand Slams, with partner Martina Hingis apart from retaining the year-end WTA Finals crown in Singapore.

At Wimbledon, she won her maiden women's doubles Grand Slam. Later, she and Hingis won the US Open too.

The Hyderabadi star also became world No 1 in the individual doubles rankings after winning the Charleston title and consolidated her position with continued success in Hingis' company.

Sania also became the first Indian to go atop the WTA doubles rankings when Hingis and she won the Family Circle Cup in April.

The 28 year old won her third successive doubles title with Hingis following triumphs in Indian Wells and Miami to achieve the top ranking milestone.

In August, she was conferred the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, India's highest sporting honour.

Having won the WTA Finals doubles title in December, the Sania-Martina pair was named ITF World champions for their stupendous showing through the year.

Saina Nehwal

IMAGE: Saina Nehwal. Photograph: Matt King/Getty Images

The year saw another Hyderabadi get her crowning glory, not once, but twice over!

In April, Saina Nehwal created history by becoming the first Indian woman shuttler to attain the World No 1 ranking after her closest challenger for the spot, Spain's Carolina Marin, lost the India Open Super Series semi-final.

Saina replaced China's Li Xuerei at the top of the rankings table.

Her good run continued when she became the first Indian woman to make the final of the All England Championships.

Sadly, Marin beat Sania in the final.

Saina who held onto the No 1 spot for five weeks -- she lost it in the middle of the year -- was again atop the pinnacle of the rankings, and gave the country a great Independence Day gift after making it to the World Badminton Championships final in August.

She regained the No 1 ranking from Marin despite her loss in the World Championship final.

She reached the French Open Super Series quarter-final and the China Open final. Sania closed the year as the World No 3.

Pankaj Advani

IMAGE: Pankaj Advani. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The poster boy for cue sports in India, Pankaj Advani won his 17th World crown in November.

The Bengalaru native began the year claiming his 4th National billiards and snooker titles in January.

The 30 year old clinched his 13th World title after winning the World 6-Red Snooker Championship convincingly in August. He outplayed China's Yan Bingtao 6-2, stamping his authority on the green baize in the final in Karachi.

He continued his fine run to win the World Billiards Championship after outplaying Singapore's Peter Gilchrist in the title clash.

His consistency on full show, he went on to clinch his 15th World title in November after defeating Zhua Xintong in a tough final in Egypt.

The Indian mesmerised the audience as he prevailed over the Chinese teenager 8-6 in the best-of-15 final.

Pankaj is the first person in history to win the short (6-Red) and the long snooker formats in the same calendar year.

Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri 

IMAGE: Anirban Lahiri. Photograph: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The ever improving Anirban Lahiri emerged the biggest star in Indian golf, clinching the Indian and Maybank Malaysian Open titles, earning a fifth place finish at the PGA Championship, qualifying for the prestigious President's Cup, claiming the Asian Tour Order of Merit and achieving a career-best ranking of World No 34.

In the PGA rankings, released on December 28, he was ranked 40th and, as a result, secured a place in the Augusta Masters, 2016's first Major.

Anirban began 2015 on a high, clinching his maiden European Tour title in Malaysia.

At the PGA Championship in August, the 28 year old fired a closing four-under-par 68 for a 13-under-par 275 aggregate to enjoy his best-ever outing in a Major and surpassed countryman Jeev Milkha Singh's tied ninth finish at the 2008 PGA Championship.

Anirban also equalled the course record with a sensational nine-under 62 at the par-71 Macau Golf and Country Club to finish second at the Venetian Macau Open in October.

Vijender Singh

IMAGE: Vijender Singh. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

India's star amateur boxer turned professional this year.

Vijender Singh signed up with influential British boxing promoter Francis Warren. That decision, taken during a training trip to the UK, proved a good one, with the pugilist tasting early success.

In October, Vijender made a smashing professional debut, knocking out Sonny Whiting in the middleweight category, ruthlessly demolishing the man who promised to put him through hell at the Manchester Arena.

In his second bout, he recorded his second straight knockout, demolishing Dean Gillen in the first round itself in Dublin on November 8.

Vijender's dream run on the pro circuit continued as he notched a third successive knockout, thrashing Samet Hyuseinov in less than two rounds in Manchester on December 19.

All three wins have been knockouts in under three rounds.

Narsingh Yadav

IMAGE: Narsingh Yadav. Photograph: PTI

Rising wrestling star Narsingh Yadav represented India in the 74kg weight division and won medals consistently.

A bronze at the Doha Asian Wrestling Championships followed by a gold medal at the international wrestling tournament confirmed his growing stature before a bronze medal finish at the World Championships secured an Olympic berth.

The 26 year old is the first Indian wrestler ever to earn an Olympic berth with a medal at the World Championship.

Satnam Singh Bhamara

IMAGE: Satnam Singh at the NBA Draft. Photograph: NBA India/Facebook

Satnam Singh Bhamara became the first India-born player to be selected in the 2015 NBA draft after being picked by the Dallas Mavericks.

The 19-year-old Satnam, 7 feet 2 inches tall, was one of the few players to be selected to train at the IMG Academy in Florida five years ago.

At 16, he was the youngest player to represent India at the 26th Asian Basketball Championships at Wuhan, China, in 2011.

Satnam's selection marks the first time since the 2005 NBA draft that a player would declare to enter the draft without playing in college, overseas professionally, or in the NBA Development League as well.

Dipa Karmakar

IMAGE: Gymnast Dipa Karmakar with her five gold medals at the National Games in Thiruvananthapuram. Photograph: PTI

At the 35th National Games in February, Commonwealth Games bronze medallist gymnast Dipa Karmakar excelled with five gold medals for Tripura.

Dipa, the first Indian woman gymnast to win a Commonwealth Games gold, repeated her 2011 National performance, clinching gold in the individual all-round, table vault, balancing beam, uneven parallel bars and floor exercises.

In August, she clinched the women's vault bronze medal at the 6th Senior ART Gymnastics Asian Championships in Hiroshima.

Conferred the Arjuna Award this year, Dipa was the first Indian to enter the World Championships final and finished fifth.

Abhishek Verma

IMAGE: Abhishek Verma. Photograph: Getty Images

In another fruitful year for Indian archers, medals came swiftly courtesy on-target archers throughout the year.

It all began in March when the Indian Junior Recurve Mixed Team Won Gold at the Asia Cup. The Indian recurve mixed team of Sanjay Boro and Madhu Vedwan beat Indonesia 20-19 in a shoot-off to win gold at the Asia Cup Stage 2 archery competition.

In August, at the Archery World Cup, India's men and women finished second in the recurve ranking round.

While the men's troika of Mangal Singh Champia, Bulbul Marandi and Rahul Banerjee totalled 1,981 points, the women's team, with Deepika Kumari, Bombayla Devi and Rimil Buriuly, scored 1,933.

There was more cheer after as the men's compound Team won bronze in the World Cup. Sarvesh Pareek, Sandeep Kumar and Isaiah Rajender Sanam, seeded sixth, beat the higher ranked Venezuela 231-222 in a one-sided bronze play-off.

India won two silver medals at the World Championships in Copenhagen. The first time India won two medals at a single World Championship.

Rajat Chauhan became the first Indian compound archer to win an individual medal, a silver, at the World Championship. Rajat was narrowly beaten by Dane Stephan Hansen 143-147 in the men's individual compound final.

In October, Abhishek Verma became the first Indian to win silver in compound in the World Cup Final.

Abhishek, an Asian Games individual silver medallist, dealt a perfect 150 to giant-killer Mario Cardoso in the semi-final, only to go down 143-145 in the final to Turkey's Demir Elmaagcli.

Veteran Indian tennis star Leander Paes

IMAGE: Leander Paes. Photograph: PTI

The 'ageless wonder' continued to win laurels, bagging three Grand Slam mixed doubles titles with Martina Hingis.

But age may be catching up with Leander Paes who turned 42 this year. A diminishing force in men's doubles, in 26 tournaments, playing with different partners, Lee reached the final only thrice and won one title.

Lee hopes to win a medal at his seventh Olympics at Rio. That would be an appropriate swan song for one of India's greatest sportsmen.

Rediff Sports Desk