I met Hashim Khan only once. It was during a PSA tournament in Denver back in the 90’s. I had traveled from Europe and it was my first experience being involved in an American professional event at a massive private club - the Denver Athletic Club.
The difference in hospitality between playing a tournament in Europe and playing one in the States was colossal. Red carpet treatment appeared to be the norm. Players were revered by the general membership who were genuinely excited to come out not only to watch you play but spend time with you and show off their club, city, tourist attractions, houses, cars, brothers, sisters... just like a young toddler showing off for their parents for approval. It was awesome.
It was here that I also witnessed hardball doubles for the first time. The Denver Athletic Club was running an amateur event with the pros. Up to that point, hardball doubles was only a folkloric game to me - an American I had met a few years earlier in Australia attempted to explain it. We couldn’t understand why the Americans played a different version of squash. At that time, Mark Talbott was their Jahangir Khan. “Mark who?” we asked.
As I watched my first doubles match, I remember seeing 2 very old guys warming up. Once they were done, a much younger pair took to the court to complete their warm up. Surely the old guys weren’t expected to compete against these two? They didn’t stand a chance. Nonetheless, the 2 old guys walked back on 5 minutes later and the racquet was spun for the first serve. I was about to behold a train wreck.
Not understanding the first thing about the tactics of the game, I couldn’t figure out how the old guys were doing it. One in particular. Every time this one guy would hit it, the rally would either end immediately, or shortly thereafter. And it wasn’t because it was an error. He hardly ran, didn’t hit it very hard, and had a partner who seemed to have enough ability to keep the rally going long enough for the ball to eventually come to him. The size of the court was made to look gargantuan to the younger, flailing opponents as the ball found weird angles and spins I had never thought feasible.
As I was watching, a local member walked up to me and asked if I knew who the old guy was.
“No”, I said.
“That’s Hashim Khan. He’s in his 80’s”.
Holy shit. I was in the presence of squash royalty, watching the legend himself play and kick butt!
After his victory, I was introduced to him briefly, shook his hand. I was simply another squash player bug-eyed to meet him, he was as humble as a 5 foot 4 inch Goliath could be.
Hashim Khan died on Monday, August 19, aged approximately 100. (No one is sure of his exact age, but it estimated between 100 and 104.) He won his first British Open at age 37 (estimated) and went on to win the following 6. He was renowned for his uncanny ball control - something I was fascinated by when I watched him play that doubles match - and for his straight forward, no nonsense, common sense coaching tips. “Keep eye on ball” being his most famous. Other little tidbits of genius include these excerpts from a 1962 Sports Illustrated interview - advice that hold true today:
“When opponent likes fast game, Hashim plays slow; when opponent likes slow, Hashim plays fast. Against big man, Hashim makes him stoop to floor with low shots. Against tennis player used to open court, Hashim hits ball all the time very close to wall.”
“Against player wearing glasses, Hashim gives many high shots, which he has difficulty seeing because of light overhead. When Hashim teaches, he emphasizes thinking.”
The squash world lost a deity. I know that some of you (DAC members) also met Hashim when he used to live and coach in Detroit and certainly would have some stories to tell - as the photo would indicate. Raise a glass to him. Be happy and thankful that we had the chance to cross his path.
N.B. Two years ago I posted some writings from Hashim Khan from some documents he wrote. You can see them here: The Hashim Files