Azam Khan – the squash great dies of coronavirus at 95

KARACHI: Pakistan’s squash great Azam Khan passed away from coronavirus infection at 95 in London on Saturday.

Azam won four consecutive British Open titles between 1959-62. He tested positive for COVID-19 last week and was admitted to London’s Ealing Hospital where he breathed his last.

“All of us here in London are in isolation and the news has come as a big jolt for us,” said Wasil.

Azam is one of the prominent members of the great Khan dynasty which ruled international squash decades. He had settled in Britain back in the sixties.

His son Wasil Khan, a former British junior champion said that the hospital authorities informed the family about Azam’s demise on Saturday afternoon.

His elder brother, Hashim Khan, was the first Pakistani to win the British Open back in 1951.

Azam got his first taste of real competition soon after arriving in London when he played for the professionals against the amateurs. He got a match against the best player of the rival team, Roy Wilson. Azam lost that match but not before stretching Wilson to full five games.

Azam may not have featured in the British Open final but everyone in the squash world knew that Hashim, his elder brother and first Pakistani to win the British Open back in 1951, had managed to prepare a worthy successor. After his loss to Roy Wilson in the Professional vs Amateurs match, Azam was never beaten by a non-Pakistani player in his entire career. Most of his defeats came at the hands of Hashim either in the finals or semi-finals of major international tournaments.

Azam featured in all major events and his first British Open title finally came in 1958 when Hashim was forced to pull out of the tournament because of an injury. He went on to win three more British Open titles but was forced to call it quits after snapping an Achilles tendon in 1963. He was still young enough and could have made a successful international comeback but a great tragedy struck when his eldest son died. After his son’s death, Azam lost interest in life and gave up any plans he had of returning to professional squash.

During an illustrious career, Azam featured in seven British Open championships and was regarded as one of the world’s best shot-makers and strategists. Even the mighty Hashim Khan could never beat a British Open final opponent the way Azam routed compatriot Roshan Khan in the 1959 finale. He won 9-1, 9-0, 9-0 to the dismay of an angry gallery which was left astounded by the quick outcome of the title match.

Azam’s squash talent was inherited by his son Wasil, who was a British junior champion during his schooldays. But squash wasn’t a passion for Wasil, who today is a successful businessman, based in London. While Wasil didn’t pursue squash as a profession, his daughter Carla, did carve a successful professional career. Carla rose to become a top-20 player in the world and won several international titles including the Pakistan Open, El-Salvador Open, Ottawa Open and the Iranian Open.