Our top picks for emerging sportsperson of the year cover proteges in golf, shooting, kabaddi, wrestling, and chess.
Diksha Dagar became only the second Indian to win an event on the Ladies European Tour after Aditi Ashok when she won the South African Women's Open in Cape Town in March. The 19-year-old former World Deaf Championship winner and 2017 Summer Deaflympics silver medallist overcame a slow start in the first round and then put in a confident display over the next three rounds to win the title.
Divyansh Singh Panwar
Divyansh Singh Panwar secured a quota for India in the men's 10m air rifle event at the Tokyo Olympics after winning silver at the Beijing World Cup in April. The 17-year-old put in a spate of consistent performances as he won gold in the same event at the Putian World Cup Final later in the year, which featured the best and most consistent shooters from the year. He also won three gold medals and a bronze medal in the 10m air rifle mixed team event across the four World Cups and World Cup Final in the year.
After winning gold at the World Junior Championships in Tallinn, Punia was India's best performer at the senior Worlds too, where he was the only Indian to win silver. That display saw him earn a quota for the Tokyo Olympics. He holds the distinction of being the youngest Indian to medal at the Worlds and is a former World Cadet and Junior Champion. A leg injury saw him miss the final bout at the Worlds but opponents will be wary of him at the Olympics.
The women's 10m air rifle event is choc-a-bloc with quality Indian shooters but Gagan Narang's protégé Valarivan surged to the top of the list by winning gold in the World Cup Final in Putian to end the year. She had earlier won gold at the Rio de Janeiro World Cup too, besides winning gold at the Asian Air Gun Championships and silver at the World University Games. While the Olympic quotas were won by the more experienced Apurvi Chandela and Anjum Moudgil in 2018, Valarivan has staked a solid claim for an Olympic berth.
Naveen Kumar was at the heart of Dabang Delhi KC's impressive run to the final of the Pro Kabaddi League after topping the table in the group stages. Naveen, who is the first player born in the 21st century to play in the PKL, was named the Most Valuable Player of the league. He also conjured a barely believable streak of scoring a Super 10 (10 or more points in a match) in 21 consecutive matches. Though Delhi lost in the final, Naveen's performances stood out through the course of the season.
A prodigious talent, Praggnanandhaa is the fourth youngest Grand Master in history and won the Xtracon Chess Open in July last year. He surpassed that achievement by winning the title at the World Youth Championships in the under-18 section by notching an impressive tally of 9 points in 11 rounds.