Sharif Khan staggered from one of four furnace-like squash courts in the basement of the University Club on 16th Street yesterday, sweating head to toe.

Khan, the top-ranked squash player in North America, had just defeated second-ranked Gordon Anderson in a tough, 1 hour 5 minute, four-game match to take home first prize in the $2,300 Woodruff-Nee Pro Flight event. m

"It was a brutal match, a typical professional match," said the 35-year-old, a professional since 1966 and ranked No. 1 by the Professional Squash Association the past 10 years. "It's a physical and competitive game."

Squash, which is perhaps one step above racquetball on the "chic" scale of social indoor sports, differs from that latest sports rage only slightly.

According to Tommy Lane, the University Club pro, the ball moves faster in squash, the court is smaller and ceiling is out of bounds. The racket, he also noted, is as long as a tennis racket but has a smaller head.

"Squash is great exercise and great fun," said Khan. "Traditionally it has been an eastern seaboard game but it's enjoying a worldwide boom now."

Khan, who plays out of Toronto, declared that squash as a professional sport has grown tremendously in the last five or six years. With it, according to the champion, the game is becoming more of sport for youngsters, women and the general public.

In addition to playing in the 18 to 20 tournaments during the 10-month season (September to June), Khan participates in exhibitions and other benefits which endorse the sport.

"The ultimate will be when squash appears on TV," continued Khan, who started playing as an 8-year-old in Pakistan. "What we need is publicity. We perform at a level as high as Tom Watson in golf or Bjorn Borg in tennis."

For Khan and his entire family, the game of squash is a long tradition.

"My father Hashim Khan is considered the Babe Ruth of squash," Khan said. "It's a real family dynasty now."

At age 12, Sharif Khan received a squash scholarship at Millfield School in Somerset, England. He has been playing very well, ever since.

Khan defeated a younger and stronger Anderson, 15-12, 10-15, 17-16, 15-7, yesterday.

"He (Anderson) plays a power game," Khan said. "With my age, my aim was to outmaneuver him and try to neutralize his speed. I can't try to outmuscle the younger guys."

"Today I started out at his speed and then gradually slowed down. Then I played more touch and drop shots. Strategy and tactics are getting more important to me now," he said.

For Sharif Khan, the game of squash means much more than the paychecks and even the pride of winning.

"Squash," he said, "is in my blood, and if I stay away from it for more than a week, I know I would die."