British Open Squash Championship, often referred to as the ‘Wimbledon of Squash’ is a professional Squash tournament held annually in England. With Squash losing out to Golf and Rugby Sevens as new additions to the 2016 Olympics, British Open along with World Open remain the two most prestigious tournaments in the sport.
Although there was already a men’s professional Squash league, in 1930 British Open was incepted by the All England Club (which also established Wimbledon). Until 1947, a ‘challenge’ format was followed in which a challenger had to prove his worth and then play a ‘best of three’ with the defending champion. Owing to the challenge format, in 1934 the tournament did not take place as no one rose to challenge then defending champion F.D. Amr Bey of Egypt. Bey , then, went on to win four straight titles.
From 1939 to 1946, the tournament remained suspended due to World War II. In 1947, the challenge format was dropped and in 1948 the current ‘knockout’ format was introduced. Earlier, the tournament use to take place in the Wembley Conference Centre but since its return in 1947, it started moving around England.
Reign of Egypt and Pakistan
Up until 1950, British Open was largely dominated by the Egyptians, winning 10 of the 14 championships. England won the remaining four, of which the very first champion (Charles Read) was simply appointed to be put up against a challenger. From 1951 to 1963, Pakistan chewed right through the competition with the likes of Hasim Khan, Roshan Khan, Azam Khan and Mo Khan. But the best of them was yet to come.
Roshan Khan’s son, Jehangir was only 17 when he entered his first British Open in 1981. This was a lad who had undergone a hernia surgery and was denied an entry into the world championship two years back due to poor health.
But his opponents were in for a surprise.
He barged ahead in the tournament, wearing his opponents down by engaging them in furious and long rallies, and went on to win the tournament. For 5 years after that, Jehangir simply never lost. In 1982, he won the International Squash Players Association Championship without losing a single point.
This unbeaten run lasted for 555 matches until he was finally defeated by New Zealand’s Ross Norman in the 1986 final of World Open. To this day, Jehangir holds the World Record of the longest winning streak by an athlete in a top level professional sport. Jehangir and rival compatriot Jansher Khan won a total of 16 straight British Open titles for Pakistan (Jehangir 10 and Jansher 6).
Since the tournament started moving around in England, it lost its regular Wembley viewership and hence interest. It had to struggle a lot with sponsorships and there were times when sponsors backed out at the last minute. Yet, the tournament staggered on.
Lack of sponsorship finally led it to discontinue in 2010. But in 2012, a local generator manufacturer, Allam agreed to sponsor the event. The championship was hence renamed, ‘Allam British Open Squash Championship and was held at the O2 Arena.
Nick Mathews, 31, of England won over Egyptian Ramy Ashour on 20th May, becoming the first Englishman to win the title 3 times (previously in 2006 and 2009). After a long time, the coveted British title was retained by a Brit.
(Also, the women’s title was won by Nicol Davis of Malaysia defeating Egyptian Nour El Sherbini)