“Pakistan squash is back,” exclaimed the commentator at the Melbourne Sports Center as the dashing Muhammad Hamza Khan pulled off one of greatest victories for his country by defeating Egypt’s 15-year-old Mohamed Zakaria 3-1 to lift the World Junior Squash title in Melbourne on Sunday.
The young sensation from Peshawar came from one set down to win 10-12, 14-12, 11-3, 11-6 and created history as he became the first Pakistani squash player in the last 37 years to win the World Squash trophy after Jansher Khan who bagged the title way back in 1986.
Between 1986 and 2023, Amir Atlas emerged as the only player who came close to repeating Jansher’s feat 15 years ago by reaching the final of the event but fell short.
Hamza played like a boy possessed as he matched the talented Egyptian opponent stroke for stroke.
Despite having lost the first set 12-10, Hamza remain undeterred and overcame Zakaria in 71 minutes to lift the title in style.
“I am very happy, thanks to Allah, thanks to my coach and my parents,” said Hamza as he was overcome by emotions at the the presentation ceremony.
When the presenter asked him about the pressure of the expectations from his family and the nation, he struggled to express his feelings, “My English is not very good,” he said, ” but i am really excited at winning this title.”
The presenter gave confidence to Hamza to speak more, “Your English is very very good.”
Hamza went on to praise his coach and his parents: especially his father and thanked everyone else for their support.
The former British Junior Champion has seen some trying times but is now setting his eyes on a successful professional career from hereon.
The 17-year-old Hamza hails from a family of legends that include British Open winner Qamar Zaman and former world number 14 player Shahid Zaman.
“I am incredibly happy; it is a great achievement for Hamza. I was talking to him and he was crying with excitement and joy because he just could not believe that he had won the title,” said Hamza’s father Niazullah while speaking to The Express Tribune from Cherat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “I feel this is a result of Hamza’s talent and hard work and the prayers of the Pakistani nation.”
Niazullah was seeing his dream come true as Hamza had finally been crowned the new junior champion after a very tough year that saw him receive a 13-week ban from the Professional Squash Association in February after he had missed a few international events in which he had sent entries.
Hamza’s journey to the world junior title was a challenging one since initially he had little financial support and no sponsors to back him.
But he had lot of faith in his abilities and his father assured him that his talent would get highlighted due to his hard work.
Thankfully, the Army and the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) came to Hamza’s rescue and supported him well. The PSF bore all the expenses of his participation in the World Junior Championship.
“I want to thank the PSF and especially the Pakistan Army, they supported me a lot, and I am grateful to them with all my heart, and Inshallah I will make Pakistan proud everywhere if I keep getting the same kind of support in the future,” said Hamza.
In the final, despite losing the first game Hamza kept his cool and slowly but surely found his feet to play some amazing shots in the second game to first level 8-8 and then taking it 14-12 against Zakaria.
Hamza,the two-time Asian Junior Championship winner and the former US U-19 champion, grew in confidence with each passing minute, playing superbly and even challenging the referee at one point.
He showed resilience and nerves of steel under pressure. He led the third game 11-3 and wrapped up in style to win the fourth game 11-6 and seal the win in the fourth game as he fell into prostration right after raising his fist in celebration.
Earlier, Hamza defeated his French opponent Melvil Scianimanico 11-8, 11-4, 10-12, 9-11, 13-11 in the semi-final.
It is worth mentioning here that Hamza had reached Melbourne on July 13 and it was visible that he was taking his time during the matches to get comfortable on the court.
He found some help from a Dutch coach, but later father Niazullah’s friends had to remind Hamza that he should stick to his attacking game to win the title.
Meanwhile, Hamza’s coach Tahir Iqbal added that it is a huge achievement for Hamza to win the title and it will bring the government’s and the PSF’s attention to the talented players in Pakistan.
“With Hamza, I have fulfilled the dream that I wanted to achieve for my younger brother and Pakistan’s number one player Nasir Iqbal.
“Although Nasir could not do it but Hamza did it, and I am immensely proud of him. He won against the odds, in fact when he came to me he was upset, he wanted to get back to his best game because he was not getting a chance to compete at the PSA events, which is crucial for players to get world ranking,” said Tahir, who trained Hamza for three months before the tournament, while Army coach took him under his wing towards the last month before the event.
He added that like Egypt’s great Ramy Ashour Hamza has the same impressive quality to change the way squash is played.
“Hamza has extraordinary talent, the same quality that Ramy had, he will change the game, he has natural skill and physical power,” said Tahir.
Hamza trained in Peshawar with Tahir, who works at the Directorate General of Sports KPK. Tahir believes that talent like Hamza’s must get proper training abroad.
“The key is to get sponsorships for the players so that they can compete at the professional events, there needs to be a long-term plan for them, and there need to be opportunities for them, right now there are none, but I hope that this win can change it,” said Tahir.
While Hamza is in Australia, his father Niazullah said that the youngster must compete in the professional events such as Costa North Coast Open Coffs Harbour 2023 that will begin on August 16.
“It is exceedingly difficult now for us to arrange for the travel, so we are making sure that he srays in Australia and gets the opportunity to play at this event since he is already there in Australia.
“Hamza will return to Pakistan on August 21,” said Niazullah.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) also congratulated Hamza Khan for his stellar performance at the World Junior Squash Championship in Melbourne.
The POA President Lt Syed Arif Hasan (Retd) and Secretary Muhammad Khalid Mehmood said, “Well done Hamza” and lauded his coach in a letter written to the Pakistan Squash Federation President Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Babar.