Kashif Abdul Razzaq – Karachi
In Melbourne, Australia, in the final of the World Junior Squash Championship, Hamza Khan defeated Egypt’s Muhammad Zakaria, winning the trophy for Pakistan after 37 years.
After losing the first set, Hamza Khan made a remarkable comeback to defeat Muhammad Zakaria with a score of three sets to one. During the match, commentators praised Hamza Khan’s talent, and one commentator said, “Welcome back, Hamza Khan… Today, Pakistan’s squash has returned.”
Prior to this, the last time Pakistan had a Junior Squash Champion was in 1986 when Jahangir Khan represented Pakistan and won the World Junior Squash Championship. In the same year, he also defeated Australia’s Chris Dittmar and Pakistan’s Jansher Khan to win the Senior World Open.
After this historic victory, Hamza Khan spoke to the Media over the phone and said, “When I was leading 7-3, I kept thinking in my heart that I had won, but I didn’t let that thought distract me and remained focused on my game.”
Hamza Khan, 17, hails from the village of Nawan Kali in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said, “I trained hard for this victory, waking up at 3 AM to train, and my father supported me throughout, arranging training sessions regardless of the weather.”
It should be noted that Pakistan reached the final of an international squash trophy after 15 years; the last time was in 2008 when Aamir Atlas Khan played the World Junior Championship final and lost.
Hamza revealed, “My mother prayed for my victory in every prayer, and my father consistently boosted my morale. I am very happy that I brought this honor to Pakistan after 37 years and broke the record.”
Speaking about his future ambitions, Hamza said, “Now that I have become the Junior Champion, I aim to win the Senior Championship, but I need support for that.” He shared that it was his grandparents’ dream for him to become a Junior Champion, and now that one dream has come true, he will work hard to fulfill the other.
Hamza’s father, Niazullah Khan, works as an Air Traffic Control Superintendent at Sialkot International Airport. He watched his son’s final match from a distant area near the airport where he is posted. Speaking about Hamza’s victory, he said, “I was so overwhelmed with happiness that I fell to the ground in prostration of gratitude.”
He further added, “When I talked to Hamza on the phone, I told him that I am proud that he has raised Pakistan’s flag high in the world.”
Hamza’s emotional voice was evident, and he was not able to control his emotions, but I consoled him by saying that now he has to become the World Senior Champion, and for that, he needs to prepare.
It should be noted that before this match, Hamza Khan defeated French player Milou van der Heijden in the semifinal, with the match lasting for 81 minutes.
Hamza initially led with two sets to zero, but Milou made a comeback, leveling the match at two sets each. However, Hamza fought back and eventually won with three sets to two.
Zafar Iqbal, the Secretary of the Pakistan Squash Federation, responded to Hamza’s victory, saying that they focused heavily on their performance this time. He mentioned that instead of sending many players to the tournament, they only sent Hamza Khan to play. While India had eight players, and Egypt had 14 players participating, Pakistan’s strategy paid off as they had the one player they needed for this championship.
Zafar Yab Iqbal revealed that “since childhood, Hamza used to practice against the walls of his house. Squash is an expensive sport, requiring a court, squash ball, racket, and shoes. However, his parents constantly motivated him from an early age.”
Zafar Yab Iqbal further said, “We are thankful to Hamza’s parents, and their hard work is also reflected in this victory.”
“During Hamza’s initial training, his father Niaz was always there to support him. Despite the long-distance commuting, he focused on his child’s progress.”
“Throughout this journey, Hamza’s mother acted as his mentor, and all the coaches’ efforts contributed to this victory.”
Hamza’s mother had a wish that her son becomes a champion after getting educated, and Hamza has already taken his Matric exams.
“Hamza’s grandfather expressed his desire to see him become a world champion before his passing away, and today, it’s not only his grandfather’s dream but the dream of every young person in Pakistan that has come true,” Zafar Yab Iqbal said.
According to Zafar Yab Iqbal, “In 1986, Jahangir Khan won the championship, and now we have won. It was a time when various departments, including the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), supported different sports. In today’s match, 128 players from around the world participated, but he triumphed and raised Pakistan’s flag.”
“His future goal is to become a World Champion,” said Zafar Yab Iqbal. For many years, Hamza had been determined to make Pakistan a squash world champion again. He expressed this ambition nearly two years ago that he would make Pakistan a world champion once again.After winning the British Junior Squash Championship in 2020, he stated that his “future goal is to become a World Champion.”
In December 2021, while training in the USA, he said in an interview to Daily News, “I am eagerly waiting for the World Junior Squash Championship, and I am confident that I will end the 36-year drought.”
He won the US Junior Open in Philadelphia and said that his father, who works in Soul Avection, bought him the ticket for that match. In February 2023, Hamza Khan and Noor Zaman brought victory to Pakistan against India in the Asian Junior Squash Championship 2023 in Chennai. At that moment, he said, “There was pressure on us; this was their (India’s) home ground, and even the referee was theirs. But we did not succumb to the pressure; instead, we focused on squash and won the final.”
“Despite participating in international tournaments to improve his ranking, he sometimes has to sacrifice his national ranking,” said Hamza Khan last year.He trained in Boston with his uncle Shahid Zaman Khan, one of Pakistan’s top squash players who reached world number 14. After that, he trained in Houston with Jahangir Khan and Egyptian coach Omar Abdel Aziz.He said that he was getting better training in the USA. “I requested the federation multiple times to allow me to stay there, but they did not agree.”
He also mentioned the challenges of getting equipment in Pakistan. “Here, I have to sign at three different places to get a racket.” He admitted, “I was getting frustrated here because there was no support.” At one point, he even considered moving abroad on a foundation basis. “I received offers from various places to play there, but my father said, ‘You are a Pakistani player, and you will play in Pakistan.'”Despite receiving international accolades, he says, “I have not received any reward from anywhere in Pakistan.”