Photos courtesy of Asif Khan
Scion of a world-renowned squash dynasty, Asif Khan continues in his forefathers’ footsteps, teaching the sport to new generations.
Squash has always been central to Asif Khan. A native of Karachi, Pakistan, Khan was born into a family dynasty boasting five different world champions of squash, including his granduncle, Hashim Khan, a seven-time British Open Champion and U.S. Squash World Hall of Famer; world-record holder Jahangir Khan; and uncle Mohibullah Khan, also a British Open champion and Hall of Famer. At Mount Kisco’s Saw Mill Club East, Khan continues his family’s tradition of teaching the next generation of players. We caught up Khan recently to learn more about his illustrious past.
Tell us about your famous family.
Hashim Khan was my first relative to be world champion, and his younger brother, Azam Khan, also won the World Championship. The family was known as the “Fantastic Four” of squash back then, during the early 1950s, along with Azam and Hashim’s cousin Roshan Khan and their nephew, Mo[hibullah] Khan, my father’s eldest brother. These four showed up in the finals of every tournament and every World Championship event then. In 1963, all four toured America for the first time and were invited by the Pentagon to meet JFK, who offered my uncle Mo a job as a pro at one of the most prestigious clubs in America. From then on, Mo taught at the Harvard Club of Boston.
Please discuss your squash career and how you ended up in America.
My father was a teacher at one of the best clubs in Pakistan, the Sind Club. I started my squash career there, playing the National Juniors and representing Pakistan in many national and international events. … I was in Pakistan, playing international tournaments, and moved to Dubai after that. Later, I was playing squash with a friend of mine who said, “Are you sure you want to go to England? Why don’t you coach here? These guys respect you, and learning from you would make a difference to them.” So I postponed my flight to the UK because I thought: Do I want to grow up under my grandfather’s wings, or do I want to have something of my own? I said, “Let me try teaching in Dubai for a week.” That week turned into 15 years. When I came to the U.S. Open with one of my students, I met the owner of PPS [which owns Saw Mill Club East]; he offered me a job, so I began teaching at the Saw Mill Club East in 2019.
Tell us about your teaching.
My philosophy is that I don’t teach; I learn every day with the kids. Every child is a whiteboard — whatever you write on it will be written. … I work with everyone’s individual personality. If an attacking game suits one student, that doesn’t mean it will suit every student. I want to know the nature of the kid first. I want to know what the child will love and build the game around that. I am not a drill sergeant. We must make kids first love the game, then do it for themselves. I want them to win because they love it.
Are college scholarships an important part of your teaching?
I tell my students you don’t have to be the most elite player to get a squash scholarship. As long as the college sees you’re working hard, they can let you in. The number-one player in the world is a Harvard graduate, so it’s college squash that’s actually helping world squash right now. The level of the squash and training at these high-end colleges are so good, you’ll not only get a great education; you’ll be good enough to compete in the world circuit and pursue squash passionately. So, I want kids to utilize squash as a tool to get scholarships at these elite programs.