AS the PSA World Squash Championships started in Chicago this week HEAD squash thought it was the perfect time to catch up with the game’s greatest ever men’s world champion, the immortal Jansher Khan.
On the 25th anniversary of his eighth and final world title triumph, which came in Karachi in 1996, Jansher who won the majority of these global titles with the iconic HEAD Pyramid Power 120 racket in his hand, has revealed his pride in still holding the record for the most world title triumphs in the men’s game.
In a revealing interview with HEAD Squash website the great Pathan also reveals the agonising price he paid to stay at the top of the men’s game for his incredible 97-month reign as world No.1 between 1988 and 1998, which is still the longest in the history of the men’s game.
While Jansher has also cast a forensic eye over the main contenders for the men’s title including Team HEAD’s very own Paul Coll, the World No.4 and losing finalist at the last World Championships, whom Jansher believes is one of the main challengers for glory in the Windy City this time around.
But first the great Khan provided a unique insight into how tough it was to maintain his decade of dominance: “It is amazing to think that my last world title was 25 years back when I beat Rodney Eyles in my homeland of Pakistan for my eighth and final world title but the fact that my record (of eight world title wins) is still in place does help to keep the memory fresh in my mind,” reflected Jansher.
He continued: “Of course when I was at the top at that time squash was harder physically than it is now. In my time there were five or six players who were so tough to beat. Foremost there was Jahangir (Khan) but then the Aussies Chris Dittmar, Rodney Martin, Rodney Eyles, Chris Robertson were all really tough.
“Also, when I won my first title in ’87 in it was still hand-in, hand-out scoring to nine and then two years later when I won my second world title in Kuala Lumpur, we moved to point a rally first to 15, which was not much easier and certainly tougher than the first to 11 of nowadays. The other big factor was that the tin was 19-inches high which made it much tougher to kill the ball.
“So, at that time we played very long matches and they could go on for over two hours, I could have a semi-final with Dittmar that was one and a half hours and then a final with Jahangir that was over two hours but now the matches are much shorter.
“Finals can be 50 minutes to one hour and your semi-final may be under 50 - minutes and I would say fitness is not as important as it was in my day and maybe spin and shots are more important because the tin is that bit shorter.
“Believe me, in my time it was extremely tough to win eight World Opens and I do think it will be very difficult for someone to break my record.”
For most of his reign Jansher’s grace on court was a thing of beauty yet the price he was paying for his apparent serenity was manifesting itself in an increasing catalogue of injuries.
This saw him undergo surgery on both knees, sustain a persistent and niggling groin injury which side-lined him for five months, while also struggling with back issues, before he eventually retired over 20 years ago.
Recalling the agony he endured to enjoy his on court ecstasy, it is clear the warmth of the pride he takes in his amazing haul of six British Opens and eight World Opens dulls the pain: “Yes, of course, these matches and how hard they were and the fact I had already been at the top by the time I was in my mid-20s for almost 10 years took a toll. It was just so hard physically to have achieved what I did.
“But with these top six or seven players and also Peter Nicol coming through, then there was a price to pay for these victories and it was sad for me that ’96 was to be my last world title and that really, because of the price I paid to claim these titles, my body could no longer cope by the time I was in my mid - twenties.
“But at the very top that is the price you have to pay to be the best you can be. To win the World Open eight times and to have been World No.1 for 10 years is something that still gives me tremendous satisfaction.”
In the early nineties Jansher joined Team HEAD to use our legendary Pyramid Power 120 racket with which he formed an unbeatable partnership that was to provide the foundation of his transition to a more attacking game.
This saw him surpass the great Jahangir Khan’s record of six world titles when he defeated Englishman Del Harris in Nicosia, Cyprus in 1995, before annexing his eighth and final world title against Australian ace Rodney Eyles a year later.
Now in his role as head coach at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sports Directorate in his native Pakistan, Jansher is delighted to use the HEAD Speed 120 Slimbody but still recalls its illustrious predecessor warmly.
The eight - time world champion said: “When I signed with HEAD back when I was No.1, they were simply the best rackets I ever used, and I went with the Pyramid Power 120 as I really wanted to develop my attacking game and for that getting the right racket was very important.
“Now, I am really happy to be playing the Speed 120 as it is a racket that gives you everything, the balance is perfect, and it has great feel and this is a racket that feels like an extension of my arm, just like my old Pyramid Power did!”
When it comes to a tip for the player most likely to emerge as 2021 world champion Jansher reckons Team HEAD’S Paul Coll, who is seeded four in Chicago, is very much to the forefront.
The squash legend said: “Paul Coll, who like me uses the Speed 120, is a player who is continuing to work hard on his game and is developing all the time and he is very consistent and if he keeps knocking on the door then one day, I hope, it will open and of course he made the last World Open final and that experience could be vital.
“Of course, you have Ali Farag as World No.1, and he is very fit, very mobile but maybe has not played as many matches as he would like. I think Mohamed El Shorbagy is looking like he is getting close to his best and of course he won at El Gouna and then made the final of the World Finals and he looked very determined.
“I also know how hungry he is to get back to No.1 again and if he were to win the World Open that would probably make that happen. So, of one thing I am sure and that is that it will be really interesting in Chicago this week.”