Pattie Reilly
February 19, 1979 12:00 PM

Sharif learned his style from his dad, known respectfully as ‘the Butcher’

For nearly three decades the Khan family from Pakistan has ruled the sport of squash—first Hashim, now in his mid-60s, then an assortment of his cousins and nephews and Hashim’s eldest son, Sharif. But before last month’s North American Open, the World Series of squash, there was talk that perhaps Sharif was over the hill at 34. “He’s been tough,” said Canadian challenger Clive Caldwell in some precompetition bravado, “but Sharif can’t go through three or four tough matches and always come up winning.”

As they say in Karachi, “your father’s mustache.” Sharif slammed his way to an unprecedented 10th title in the last 11 years. His winning purse was $10,000—paltry by most sports standards, but still the largest ever in pro squash. “There are times when I can’t get up for a game,” Sharif admits, “but I’ve retired four or five champs, and I intend to retire a few more.”

Born in Peshawar, 40 miles from the Khyber Pass, Sharif is one of 12 children. British officers stationed in Pakistan taught his father squash—a four-wall game played with racquets and a small rubber ball on a 18½-by-32-foot court. Hashim went on to win 27 major championships, including the North American Open three times. Some still consider him the best player ever—his son notwithstanding. “Before him the game was total elegance,” says Sharif proudly, “but he created a new style of play—he was known as ‘the Butcher.’ ”

Sharif attended a private school in Britain on a squash scholarship, then moved to Detroit and turned pro at age 19. In 1969 he won his first North American Open and has since won every major title in the world at least once. (He also won a 1977 tournament involving five racquet sports; Björn Borg finished third.)

His leading American challenger is Stu Goldstein, 27, but much of Sharif’s toughest competition comes from the other Khans. Cousins Mo and Gul are teaching pros in the U.S. and nationally ranked, cousin Torsham is a contender and younger brother Aziz, 28, is considered heir apparent. “Playing against my family is more traumatic than playing against anyone else,” says Sharif. “We are more aggressive and there’s more blood—but in the end we hug and are relatives again.”

Sharif emigrated to Canada in 1968. He and his British-born wife, Jackie, 27, now live in a duplex in Toronto. They met when he was playing a match in Canada. “She was clapping at all the wrong moments,” he recalls with a laugh, “so I had to find out what was not clicking inside her head.” With Sharif out on the pro circuit most of the time, Jackie runs their pub in Toronto. “She would like children right now,” says Sharif, “but I’m on the road too much. Maybe someday.”

In the meantime Sharif has signed with agent Mark McCormack to promote a line of equipment and wearing apparel and a possible book deal. Sharif already earns an estimated $80,000 a year from tournaments, endorsements and exhibitions. An estimated million North Americans now play squash, and the number is growing by 20 percent a year.

As for the day when he hangs up his racquets, Sharif is philosophical. “I do fear the Khan dynasty coming to an end,” he says, “and that’s why I’d like to stay with the competition for at least 10 more years. If Allah is good to me and my health remains sound, I don’t see why I won’t be here for a long time.”

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