As the countdown continues to the PSA World Series Final in Dubai, Will Jones takes a trip down memory lane to relive the greatest winning run in the history of squash – by Pakistani legend Jahangir Khan
Every sport has its famous winning streaks, lengthy periods of dominance achieved by the legends of the game. Tennis star Martina Navratilova won 13 consecutive tournaments in 1984. American hurdler Ed Moses went undefeated for a decade. Heavyweight boxer Rocky Marciano ended his career 49-0. And so on.
The greatest streak of all, though, might be the one compiled in the 1980s by Pakistani squash player Jahangir Khan. Over the course of five years, Khan played 555 competitive matches – and, astonishingly, won them all. This unprecedented run launched Khan into the pantheon of the world’s greatest sportsmen. But how did he do it?
Pedigree helps. Six years before Khan was born in December 1963, his squash-playing father Roshan had won the 1957 British Open – at that time, the de facto world title. As Jahangir said in a recent interview, “[Squash] was very much like my family business. Members of my family had already achieved a great deal in squash and I wanted to continue that legacy.”
Picking up a racket for the first time at the age of eight, the young Khan took to squash like a duck to water. After capturing the 1979 World Amateur Championship aged just 15, he headed to London to be coached by his cousin Rehmat Khan, himself a world-class player. The move paid dividends. Two years later, Jahangir followed in his father’s footsteps by winning the British Open, then travelled to Toronto in November 1981 to challenge for the World Open.
Reaching the final with few alarms, second-seeded Khan came up against Australian player Geoff Hunt, who was working on an impressive streak of his own: the world’s top-ranked player for six years, Hunt had won all four World Opens since the tournament was established in 1976. At the time, his dominance over the sport was absolute.
Not any more. After Hunt took the first set in the final, Khan won the next three sets for the loss of only five points to take the title. The guard had changed, and one of sport’s most astonishing streaks had begun.
Although Khan was a master tactician and a skilled technician, it was his superior fitness that really set him apart from his rivals. Even when he didn’t have his ‘A’ game, Khan was able to bend and eventually break opponents by simply exhausting them. And when he was at his best, Khan was untouchable. In 1982, the 18-year-old won the International Squash Players Association Championship without losing a single point.
Khan’s streak ended at the 1986 World Open, when New Zealand’s Ross Norman pipped him to the title. However, he carried on winning – another World Open in 1988, a total of ten straight British Opens (all before his 28th birthday), countless other matches and tournaments all over the world – before retiring in 1993, shortly before his 30th birthday.
The greatest of all time? Few would dispute it.