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Pros and Khans: 93-year-old Hashim Khan patriarch of squash dynasty

Pros and Khans: 93-year-old Hashim Khan patriarch of squash dynasty

Hashim Khan hobbled into the Denver Athletic Club and parked himself on a bleacher behind the glass wall of the squash court.
The diminutive 93-year-old folded his arms across his belly and watched two players rallying back and forth, his eyes examining their technique and footwork.
"All my life, that's what I've wanted to do _ hit that ball," said Khan, one of the sport's all-time greats.
Khan recently took a tumble on the court, fracturing a hip and straining a rotator cuff. Doctors have said no more squash.
He refuses to listen.
Even at 93, Khan can't bring himself to lay down his racket _ he simply loves the game too much.
And squash _ a game similar to racquetball _ has given him so much in return. He's traveled the world, found fame by winning seven British Open titles and become a national hero in Pakistan, his homeland.
He also started a stretch during which he or a member of his family won 13 straight British Open championships. His brother, Azam Khan, added four titles, while his cousin, Roshan Khan, and nephew, Mohibullah Khan, each captured one.
Throw in his cousin's son, Jahangir Khan, who dominated the 1980s by winning 10 straight titles, and the "Khan Dynasty" accounted for 23 British Open titles.
Hashim Khan beamed at the mention of his family's dominance. He was the patriarch who got the ball rolling on Pakistan's squash supremacy.
"Even now, Hashim still is probably the most famous squash player in the world," said James Zug, author of "Squash: A History of the Game" and a senior writer at Squash Magazine. "It's the same way that Muhammad Ali is the most famous boxer or Michael Jordan the most famous basketball player _ and they haven't done anything in years. He was far and away the world's first squash celebrity."
Khan was exposed to squash through his father, Abdullah, a chief steward at a British officer's club in Peshawar, a region of India that later became part of Pakistan. Hashim Khan would go to the outdoor courts to watch the officers play and fetch their errant balls. He earned one dollar a month for his efforts.
"I thought I was rich," Khan said.
When the sweltering sun drove the officers inside, Khan walked onto the court and emulated their shots in the stifling heat, with no shoes, a cracked racket and a broken ball.
Khan's father died in a car accident when he was 11, and he dropped out of school to become a full-time ball boy. He honed his skills playing the officers in friendly games. Eventually, he became one of the club's squash coaches.
He was content.
But then one day a professional player from Bombay showed up at the club, looking for a game. Khan said he'd play him, but the pro just laughed.
Angered, Khan told the visiting pro he would start at minus-50 in a race to nine points. The pro eagerly agreed. Khan outscored him 59-7 to win 9-7.
The pro went home bragging about the play of this unknown player, opening the door for Khan to become an international star.
Khan was invited to participate in the All-of-India tournament in Bombay in 1944. He ended up winning three straight titles, despite being in his 30s, an age when most players contemplate retirement.
His domination ended when his invitation to the tournament was revoked after Pakistan and India became sovereign nations in 1947.
It was back to the friendly games at the club.
Four years later, at the age of 37, the Pakistan government, eager for a national hero, sent him to the British Open in London.
No one gave the 1.65-meter (5-foot-5), slightly potbellied Khan a chance against the best player in the world, Mahmoud El Karim of Egypt.
But Khan shocked the squash establishment by trouncing Karim, 9-5, 9-0, 9-0, to end his string of four straight crowns.
Khan would go on to win six more tournaments, his last coming at 44.
"What he did back then, it's impossible for that to happen now," Zug said. "An unknown showing up at the biggest tournament and winning at an age when most players retire? It's incredible. Can you imagine how good he would've been in his prime?"
Hashim Khan is viewed as one of the best to ever hold a squash racket, an honor he no doubt shares with Jahangir Khan, who once won more than 500 straight matches. The list wouldn't be complete without Azam Khan, Karim, Egypt's F.D. Amr Bey, Jonah Barrington of Britain and Ireland, Australia's Geoff Hunt and Pakistan's Jansher Khan (no relation).
Yet not one dominated at such a late age as Hashim Khan.
"In any other sport, you can argue and argue about who's the best player ever. With squash, it's pretty clear _ it's Hashim," said John Lesko, the squash pro at the Denver Athletic Club.
It's been a heartbreaking past few months for Khan, who recently lost his daughter, and then his wife of 65 years, both to diabetes. He and his wife raised 12 children, most of whom are scattered throughout North America.
Khan brought his family to the U.S. in the early 1960s after being offered a lucrative deal to teach squash at the Uptown Athletic Club in Detroit.
He left to take a pro position at the Denver Athletic Club in the early '70s in the hope his wife's rheumatoid arthritis would benefit from Denver's arid climate.
Khan's arrival in the Mile High City revitalized the club. The squash membership soared from 45 to 400 players.
The fractured hip hasn't slowed Khan. He's still a fixture at the club, where he'll show up to watch matches and then retire to the Hashim Khan Trophy Room, a squash court club members converted into a shrine to him.
Khan sauntered around his trophy room, glancing at his artifacts. His gaze locked on a picture _ a younger version of himself, lunging for a ball with his racket.
"I want to play again," Khan said, tears forming in his eyes. "I want to be on that court, hitting that ball. I was pretty good once."
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On the Net:
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Updated : 2021-06-24 17:56 GMT+08:00