Squash: Jansher set for journey into legend: The world's best player will exploit a reshaped game and a reformed character at the British Open, beginning today. Richard Eaton reports

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The Independent Online
JANSHER KHAN will win much more than the world's most famous tournament for the third time in a row if he captures the Hi-Tec British Open, which starts at Lambs Club in London today. He will take an important step from being a great player towards becoming a legend.

After the best part of six years as the world's outstanding player, you would think legendary status ought to be his anyway. But Jansher has suffered more brickbats than any other leading player in the game, from allegations that he did not promote squash properly, to reprimands for not trying, to criticism of his private life, and to the temporary demotion from the world No 1 position last summer because he failed to appear for tournaments he had entered.

For a while Jansher suffered commercial punishments, too. Without sponsorship of any kind, he was embittered, emotionally adrift, and at risk of going off the rails altogether. 'He had everything and had it all taken from him,' his manager, Satinder Bajwa, said.

Now Jansher has won most of it back. He is now almost impossible to beat at his best and he is beginning to match his private happiness with a new and important public affability. Business affairs after three years with Bajwa are more stable. The tarnish is wearing off.

So, too, is Jansher's proximity to Jahangir Khan. The namesake's greater popularity should fade into a memory now that for the third and apparently final time Jahangir has retired. Adverse comparisons will now mostly be with Jahangir's achievements, and although Jansher does not believe Jahangir's record of 10 British Opens can ever be equalled, Jahangir's record of six World Opens may well be matched by Jansher later this year.

Equally important, Jansher has sensed a new target. Ten World Opens and six British Opens are, he believes, within his compass. He is only 25 next month and there is still time to achieve a reversal of Jahangir's records. 'Before he used to say: 'I am No 1 and that's good enough',' Bajwa said. 'He has rekindled himself. Now when he's match fit he's untouchable.'

Jansher still has some transformations to make to escape the shadow of Jahangir's name fully, but as a player the change in him has been most dramatic.

Only three years ago Jansher was principally a defensive player. The best containing player in the world perhaps, but primarily Jansher was a Mr Motion who could be shipwrecked in a back corner and still recover to retrieve a drop. But with the help of his brother, Mohibulla Khan, he set about changing that.

Now he can tear opponents apart. He can not only rally, he can kill, ferociously. He can initiate drops from deep positions instead of waiting to use his speed with counter-drops. He can take the ball overbearingly early and he can volley. It is in this department that the most important changes have been made, for now, if he wishes, Jansher can hustle opponents into collapse instead of frustrating them to destruction.

Only two years ago Jansher had yet to win a British Open. When he did the effect was cathartic. For the first time when he returned home to Pakistan he was garlanded and honoured and given the reception of a national hero on a similar scale to Jahangir.

Only a year ago he had angered people by his absences and was unsettled by his mother's heart attack. Now there are signs that he has matured from these experiences. Image and achievement are starting to come together and, from the verge of self-destruction, Jansher has moved within view of his destiny.

(Photographs omitted)