Interview by RJ Mitchell
Jahangir Khan has described the release of the provisional tournament list for the resumption of the PSA World Tour as “fantastic news” while also lauding both the PSA and its key sponsors for helping produce a tournament list that is high standard.
The immortal Khan, who occupies pole position on the men’s all time major winning list with 16 British and World titles in total, has also revealed his sympathy for today’s leading pros, admitting they have lost a “vital part of their careers” to the COVID-19 pandemic enforced suspension of the tour, which will span six months by the time squash makes it scheduled restart at Manchester on September 16.
Khan, who was lucky enough to avoid suffering any major enforced spell on the side lines during an unsurpassed 14 year professional career, has also admitted he will be fascinated to see how the game’s top players return to action.
While the Pakistani legend believes that with the seven scheduled tournaments due to be played behind closed doors, the role of SquashTV in servicing the needs of the game’s loyal fans has never been more important.
“It is fantastic news that we have a provisional calendar for the resumption of the PSA World Tour,” said Khan.
“It has been such a tough time for the world and the COVID-19 pandemic has hit everything hard from people’s health, the economies of our countries and then there is also the mental aspect of lockdown, so our players have had to deal with an awful lot while not being able to play the sport they love.
“From my perspective I was lucky enough never to have experienced a long break from squash when I played and I only took a three moth spell off towards the end of my career to help recharge my batteries, so I can only imagine how tough it has been for the players over the course of the suspension. I am sure the relief they are feeling now at having competition dates to work with is huge.
“It is a limited life being a squash player, and if you take the two months out that the Tour would have been in close season for the summer, then we are talking three months that would have featured some of the biggest tournaments in the year being played and the players can’t get these months back, they have lost a vital part of their careers and I really feel for them in this regard.
“So, the PSA deserve huge credit in getting this provisional calendar up and what is even more impressive is the quality of tournaments they have incorporated in it. To have a Tour Finals and five Platinum series events in there reflects very positively on the PSA and of course on the loyalty of our sponsors who have stood behind squash and played a key part in getting our players back out into competitive action again.
“Clearly a great deal of thought has been put into place in terms of the location of the tournaments in relation to the second spike of COVID-19 and we just have to hope that the governments around the world can succeed in getting on top of it again and that our tournaments will be safe to be played as listed.”
Khan with the World Championship trophy
When it comes to how the six – month suspension will have hit the leading players, Khan believes there are positives to be taken for both the younger and older pros.
“There are many ways to view how it will have impacted on different players. I am sure the younger players will have been very motivated to work on parts of their game that need strengthening and have seen this as an extra bonus period to make these vital changes.
“For the older guys, like [Mohamed] ElShorbagy and [Tarek] Momen who have been at the top for many years, then they have had an extra opportunity to let their bodies heal, to rest up, recharge themselves mentally and they will, because of the extra period of the suspension be coming back fresher and niggle free than they have been for perhaps many years.
“So, I expect a really good tournament in Manchester to get us up and running and I think it will be fascinating who comes back the sharpest in both the men’s and ladies’ championships there.”
As he reflected on the seven – tournament list released by the PSA last Thursday, Jahangir admitted that two events rekindled memories from his own majestic reign as king of the court: “I did play in Manchester on several occasions during my career. There was one particular event that was called the Lucas Masters and it was for the best 16 or 32 in the world at the time and I enjoyed that one and the warmth of the fans in the city.
“With the event being held at the England Squash National Centre, this will insure that we have the safest possible environment for the players to compete and knowing how meticulous the PSA is I am sure they will create an ultra – safe bubble for players and officials alike to get us off to a memorable start in Manchester for both the men’s’ and ladies tours respectively.”
But the reinstatement of the Everbright Sun Hung Kai Hong Kong Open to the Tour also brought back memories for Khan.
It was in Hong Kong at the semi-final stage in 1987, that he suffered his first ever loss to his most celebrated rival, Jansher Khan, while the Hong Kong Open was arguably the only major title not to have been claimed by the game’s greatest player.
“I am also excited to see Hong Kong back in there. I had the pleasure of playing in Hong Kong Open although I never won it and it was there that I played Jansher for the first time and it is definitely a tournament I would have loved to have won.”
Yet for Khan there is one painful absence from the seven tournament list released last week and that is that the tournament that elevated him to the game’s all-time leading man, for the British Open, will not be played in 2020.
“Of course I am disappointed that the British Open is not in the schedule. For me it is the greatest tournament we have, the most historic and for there not to have been a British in 2020, well it hurts.
Jahangir Khan with the British Open trophy
“I know there are plans to have this year’s early in 2021 but for me if there is still any way, we can have it in 2020 then I really hope that can be explored. I know that will be tough now but for me the British must always be played in each calendar year.”
Of course conditions will be slightly surreal for the players when the resumption gets going and with no fans allowed in to view the action live and Khan admits the game will be robbed of vital vibrancy, passion and colour, yet he expects the players to adapt and flourish.
“Probably the one negative is that there will be no spectators. For me, when I played, I thrived off the crowd. When I was down in a match, tired and fatigued and maybe not on the top of my game, on many occasions I used the energy of the crowd to fuel me, to give me that second wind and help me climb up off the floor like a fighter.
“So the players will miss the intensity that the crowd can bring to a game and I think it may be a bit surreal for them early on but you are a professional squash player and when you walk through the door and tread these boards then you have to give 100% every time and focus on your match completely.
“So the players will get past that and although I know they will be desperate to play in front of the fans again as soon as it is safe to do so, they will just be so delighted and relieved to be resuming their careers and playing the sport we all love so much that I don’t see it being a big issue.”
Following on from the absence of the fans Khan admits that the role of SquashTV will be absolutely vital and he also revealed that it is one of his biggest regrets that the poor production values of TV back in the sepia dimmed days of the 80s failed to help translate the dynamism, athleticism and, intensity of our game into a more compelling TV spectacle.
Something Khan says that SquashTV has more than made up for: “The quality of production in SquashTV is absolutely superb. When I was at the top everything was a problem with the TV coverage. They struggled to pick the ball up on camera, the footage couldn’t give a true perspective of the intensity and dynamism of our sport and it made us look like we were just strolling about.
“Because so much was lost in translation in terms of the TV coverage in the 80s and 90s, I think that did have a negative impact on the growth of our sport. So, it can’t be underestimated as to how important the quality of SquashTV is now in helping squash come to the attention of new viewers, while also giving us squash fans superb coverage that brings the colour intensity and athleticism of our sport into the living room.
“Now with the provisional tournaments behind closed doors the role of SquashTV has never been so important and I am confident that their usual superb production values will play a crucial part in the success of the tour’s resumption.”