Squash: Jansher's absence means the world to Eyles

Iain Fletcher meets the Australian who grasped the dream of a chance last week
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The Independent Online
ELEVEN years ago Rodney Eyles stepped on to a squash court in his home town of Brisbane expecting to become the world junior champion. His plan was then to become world champion. Just over an hour later the Australian sat deflated and defeated while the press converged on a then unknown, skinny 17-year-old by the name of Jansher Khan.

To make matters worse Jansher then stunned the seniors the following year by becoming world champion, defeating the supposedly invincible Jahangir Khan on the way. It was the first of eight titles for the Pakistani in a reign unparalleled in any other sport.

In 1993 Eyles lost to Jansher in the quarter-finals of the World Open, a year later to him in the semi-finals and last year the junior defeat came back to haunt when he lost yet again in the final to his nemesis.

It seemed that there was always going to be the bridesmaid in the Eyles, that the talent of Jansher would deny him the world title. But fate, and, indeed, Malaysian law, can work in mysterious ways and last week a pounds 200,000 alimony bill was awaiting Jansher's arrival in Kuala Lumpur. Jansher thought better of it, giving Eyles the chance he always believed would come along.

"As soon as we knew Jansher wasn't turning up, all the guys fancied their chances of winning," Eyles said. "Even during the years when Jansher was dominating I never gave up hope. And you can only play against those who turn up."

And play he did, with a clinical ruthlessness that belied his pre-tournament results. Struggling in the first two months of this season, he had the best result of the season two weeks before the championships, finishing runner-up to Peter Nicol in the Kuwait Open.

"Sure, my form wasn't good," he explained, "but I felt I was playing well. I have always made sure the work gets done so all I needed was for it all to come together."

He arrived in Malaysia with an entourage more in keeping with his Bermuda neighbour and friend, the Australian tennis star Pat Rafter, sensing the hoodoo was about to end. They were not to be disappointed as Eyles cruised through the rounds to meet Nicol in a repeat of the Kuwait final. The Scotsman was this time no match as Eyles beat him 15-11, 15-12, 15-12 in 50 minutes.

A few drinks followed but the real celebrations were put on ice as the Queenslander led his country into the world team event, at the same venue, in search of a dream double. England put paid to Eyles's fantasy, leaving the reality of the world title to sink in.

"I have been chasing this for 10 years," he said. "I just remember Rodney Martin saying that it was a fantastic feeling waking up next morning and knowing he was world champion. Last Monday I woke up as world champion and Rodney was right - it felt great."

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