Ahead of a weekend that would have marked the 30th anniversary of his record breaking ninth British Open title win, the tournament’s greatest ever champion has recalled the defining moments of his relentless march to an unsurpassed 10 consecutive Championship wins.
Jahangir Khan broke the great Geoff Hunt’s record of eight British Open titles when he beat Australia’s Rodney Martin – who would go on to become World Champion in his own right the following year – in 1990, the third successive final between the duo.
Khan’s epic run started in 1982, in the unlikely setting of the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, when the then 18 year-old Jahangir dispatched fellow Pakistani ace Hiddy Jahan in straight games and continued until 1991, when he defeated the man who was to succeed him as the game’s next great champion – Jansher Khan – in four rollercoaster sets inside Wembley Conference Centre in 1991.
Looking back at the defining triumph of a career that saw him add six World titles to his 10 British Open crowns, Jahangir cites his sole British Open final defeat – to Geoff Hunt in 1981 – as the key encounter of his journey to squash immortality.
“The British Open was always my favourite tournament. It was ‘the’ competition, the one with all the history and tradition behind it and of course my father Roshan had won the tournament in 1957, as well as my uncles, so it was a tournament I was brought up with, had great respect for and strong family links to and right from the start of my career it was just the one to win for me,” said Khan.
“In 1990 there was a lot of pressure and anticipation ahead of my final with Rodney Martin as I went for the record ninth title, but to be fair it was the same in 1989 the year before.
“In ’89 I faced Rodney hoping to draw level with Geoff Hunt’s record of eight wins and the following year Rodney and I met each other again and this time I was trying to break Geoff’s record and it was also the third year in a row that we played in the final.
“But in 1990 to go for the record on its own there was probably more pressure than in ’89 yet by equalling Geoff’s record then, I think that experience really helped me 12 months later.
“The ’89 final with Rodney was the toughest of our three finals in the British Open, it went five games and I had to come back out and win the fifth after losing the fourth 9-0.
“I think that really stood me in good stead when Rodney and I met in 1990. Without doubt to capture my ninth British Open and go one better than Geoff Hunt, whom I had the utmost respect for, was just an unbelievable moment and probably, even although I came back the next year and won a 10th British, the greatest single moment of my career.
“It is the memory above all I will never forget from a great tournament that gave me so many happy memories.”
The roll call of illustrious opponents whom Jahangir met and dispatched on his record-breaking run reads like a who’s who of the games great and good, spanning two decades, but there is one opponent and one match in particular that Jahangir reserves special reverence for.
“Obviously during my run of 11 British Open finals, I played some great opponents like Hiddy Jahan, Gamal Awad, Qamar Zman, Ross Norman, Chris Dittmar, Rodney Martin and of course Jansher Khan – but the only final I lost was to Geoff Hunt,” recalled Jahangir.
“That was in the ’81 final when Geoff set his record of eight wins and it was probably the single match in which I learned the most in my whole career.
“I was still young at the time, around 17 years-old and of course Geoff was at the other end of his career. He was just so strong mentally and physically and had a vast level of experience to draw upon.
“I went into that final having beaten Geoff a couple of times and in fact I’d beaten him the week before, if memory serves, at Chichester and I was confident in my belief that this could be my moment.
“But the one thing you knew when you went on court with Geoff Hunt was that he would give you nothing and that a lot of the time you could expect to be on court for two hours if you were going to get the better of him.
“I don’t know whether it was because I’d beaten him at Chichester in five games so near to the ’81 final, maybe that created a greater expectancy within me or not, but I definitely made mistakes in that final that I shouldn’t have and Geoff made a real solid start to get two games up and that meant it was very tough to haul him back.
“The other thing when I played Geoff was that we had similar styles and it was extremely hard to find a weakness against him. Even at 34, he was just so strong, and he really wanted that record eighth to beat my uncle Hashim’s (Khan) record, and that just made him ridiculously hard to defeat in that final, he would not be denied!
“But I guess eight and nine years later when I was playing Rodney in these finals trying to equal and break Geoff’s run, well it really meant I knew just what I needed to produce to achieve these records but also how much it mattered.
“For me to break Geoff’s record, given how much respect I had for him, just made it even more special for me when it came my time.”
This week’s British Open was postponed due to the suspension of the PSA World Tour by the Covid-19 Pandemic and not surprisingly, given his emotional attachment to the championship, the tournament’s greatest champion has issued a plea that a slot should be found later in the year for the ‘Wimbledon of Squash’ to be held in 2020.
“As I mentioned for me the British Open was always the tournament. To win it for the first time 25 years after my father won it was just an unbelievable feeling and I just hope there is a way for us to play it later in the year when it is safe to do so. Personally, it is just such a pity that with this being the 30th anniversary of my ninth victory the 2020 British Open has been postponed, for the moment.
“But the British Open will always be the single greatest squash tournament because of it’s tradition and history and that is why I think it’s so important that we find a way to play it in 2020 and send out a message that Covid-19 has not and can’t beat our sport.
“Of course I know how tough it will be to juggle things around and find a space in the calendar but for me the British Open should always take pre-eminence and I really hope the PSA find a way to stage it later in the year, if, of course, it is safe to do so.”