Khan’s great-uncle Hashim Khan died Aug. 18 at the age of at least 100 (some believe he was closer to 105).
Introduced to the game by British army officers at a club where his father was steward, Hashim Khan went on to win his first British Open championship at 36, soundly defeating an opponent believed to be the best in the world.
“You could sense the intensity, at any age, at any time you got on the court with him,” said Sakhi Khan. “He was just someone who absolutely loved squash.”
Hashim Khan passed that intensity down to generations of Khans, including Sakhi Khan, who was the top-ranked U.S. junior player, a four-time All-American (at Tufts), and on the professional circuit for seven years before leaving to work in finance as a trader. He earned a master’s degree at Harvard and settled into coaching, joining Colby’s faculty in 2001.
Squash is a family affair for the Khans, who have won the British Open 23 times, often defeating other family members in the finals, and sometimes assigning family members to win certain tournaments. “My father always won the Irish Open, the Scottish Open, the Pakistani Open,” Sakhi Khan said. “It seemed like they negotiated these things.”
It was a heady life for Hashim Khan, who in the days of the Raj rode a bicycle to the officers’ club and used the servants’ entrance. He picked up the game by watching and playing alone, and soon he was beating all comers. His first British Open was a source of immense pride for newly independent Pakistan, and it made squash the national sport. The village where Hashim Khan was raised was for decades called “Hashim’s village,” said Sakhi Kahn, who traveled there as a child. “You’d go to the airport and say, ‘We’re from the Khan family,’ and get escorted to a different door.”
Doors opened for the Khans in the United States as well. Hashim Khan was hired by squash clubs in Detroit and Denver. Sakhi Khan’s father, Mohibullah Khan, a touring professional, gave an exhibition at the Pentagon. President John F. Kennedy was there—and offered him a job at the Harvard Club in Boston. Sakhi Kahn, then a year old, came to Boston from Pakistan with his mother, and soon the Harvard Club—and its squash courts—became a second home.
“I remember the elbows, being pushed around [the court],” Khan said. “They were Harvard guys who took that game seriously. The last thing they wanted to do was lose to a kid.”
But they did just that as Sakhi Khan rose in the national rankings. But even then, Hashim Khan had seen it all before. “I was the number-one ranked junior in the country,” Sakhi Kahn recalled. “I played him when he was well into his fifties or close to sixty. I hit a really sharp shot and he was right there. He just hit a drop shot in the front court. I said, ‘How’d you do that?’ He said, ‘I knew where you were going to go with it.’”
His great uncle Hashim came to Sakhi Khan’s matches and saw him become the first Khan to complete college. Now that’s common in the family, and preferable to the grind of the professional tour, Sakhi Khan said. One of his sons, Ilyas—17 and a very strong squash player—is now applying to colleges.
“I think he’ll have a very good squash career in college,” Sakhi Kahn said. “But I’d rather see him go to law school, business school, medical school. Play squash after work.”