I was lucky to play Jansher Khan during my career (left), not that I always thought that at the time! Jansher was an amazing athlete, with the ability to understand the court, game and his opponent with what seemed like relative ease.
Of course, the work he put in as a younger player was monumental and this gave him the tools to be the player he was by the time I had a chance to play him. The most memorable period playing Jansher for me was two of our main encounters in major events of 1994, and the different outcomes of those matches.
We played at the Leekes Welsh Classic in Cardiff, second round, in February 1994. I was a young and eager professional at 21; Jansher had just won the World Individual and Team titles in Pakistan late in 1993. To me it was the perfect draw, I desperately wanted the challenge of playing Jansher and unbeknownst to me, Jansher had not really lifted a racquet since his victories the previous year.
The match was an education, I was trying to play every ball and force Jansher to play in prolonged, energy-sapping rallies. Jansher, for his part, was trying to end every rally early by going for winners and also tactically making my path to the ball as difficult as possible. Luckily I was very fit and stubborn, he was unfit at that time and had already won everything in squash for numerous years so did not seem overly bothered by the end of the match – I walked off court a 3-1 victor.
The confidence this gave me was unbelievable and I attribute my immediate improvement to this one outcome. However, the second match I remember playing Jansher from that year was in the final of Hong Kong, and it was a lesson I’d never forget.
I’d come to the final beating Rodney Eyles and Brett Martin in the process so I felt good about my chances. Prior to going on court, I saw the glass boxes with ticket stubs – a chance for the spectators to win a ticket with Cathay Pacific if they guessed the winner correctly – and my side had 90% of the tickets! Going onto court Jansher was a very different beast, he looked fit and focussed, although that didn’t bother me in the slightest.
The next 31 minutes did though! Jansher systematically took me apart on court. His line and length were almost perfect and then he would finish the rallies off with ease. He was so much better than me it felt embarrassing. I was humbled and Jansher took the time to shake my hand for an overly sincere length of time whilst looking into my eyes, he was saying, “I’m the champion here and you’ve been given a lesson, that’s what I can do to you”.
I was deflated but within a few days had renewed energy to try and challenge this great player. The beating he gave me spurred me on as it showed what I still needed to learn. I had witnessed Jansher play great squash in the past but that was my personal chance to feel what it was like to be on court with him when he was playing his best.
The main point I took from these encounters is that results will vary against players but my personal progression has to be put in front of any outcome. Learning from wins and losses equally meant more to me and helped define my success over the following decade.
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