India wasn't known for its excellence in sports (other than hockey), until the country won the Cricket World Cup in 1983. Thereafter, the adoration of all sports lovers (and their money) zeroed in on cricket. Other sports, unable to project the same glamour, got little or no attention, be it players or sponsors to promote them.
Recently though, two women have made people have sit up and take notice of champions in fields other than cricket. Saina Nehwal in badminton and Sania Mirza on the tennis courts are two prime examples of a widening of the people's focus to include other sports.
Recently, amid the hype that accompanied the Cricket World Cup and the ongoing IPL T20 tournament, these two wonder women forced the limelight towards their outstanding achievements in their individual fields. Both Saina Nehwal (badminton singles) and Sania Mirza (tennis doubles) have risen to become world champions.
On the 28th of March, after Carolina Marin lost to Ratchanok Intanon in the second semi-finals of the Yonex-Sunrise India Open 2015, Saina Nehwal became the top player in women's badminton – she is currently ranked No. 1 in the world by the Badminton World Federation. Since 2010 no Indian player has come anywhere near the top. The only other to have achieved such success was Prakash Padukone. Saina Nehwal has won 14 international titles in her glorious career – she is the first Indian woman to make it to the finals of the All England Championship in Manchester and she won a bronze medal at the London Olympics. In 2010, she was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the country's highest sporting honour.
Sania Mirza's hard work, too, has paid off. On the 12th of April this year, she finally earned the much-deserved World Number 1 ranking, after winning the Family Circle Cup in Charleston with her double's partner, the Swiss tennis player, Martina Hingis. Sania Mirza is the first Indian woman to achieve such a rank in the tennis doubles. Indian tennis has only seen Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi conquer the top ranks in the 90s, through the men's doubles circuit, so Sania's success is unprecedented. She is also the first Indian woman to win a Grand Slam tournament.
So what does this say about our women players? It speaks of their strength, determination and hard work. It also speaks of untapped potential in the country, the kind we need to recognise, take pride in, support and promote.