World’s best squash players to invade Justin Herman Plaza

He wanted to glimpse the world’s best, and at age 13, Julian Illingworth did.

Foraging where he could, he found VHS evidence of two of the finest squash practitioners of his time — Canada’s Jonathon Power and Australia’s Stewart Boswell.

“It’s kind of amazing,” he said, now 29. “‘Cause five years later, I was playing with some of the guys that I had watched on video.”

But more than a decade removed from being exposed to the top level of world squash, Illingworth — despite his surname — this week will vie to see if he’s indeed worthy to stand amongst the world’s elite.

Having already scaled the highest summits of American squash with seven national titles, the Portland, Ore., native will contend for a quarterfinal spot in the NetSuite Open — one of the top 15 competitions on the PSA World Tour — taking place in the Bay Area this week.

Qualifying begins today at various sites before the tournament shifts to an all-glass cube court at Justin Herman Plaza for the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals Saturday through Tuesday.

But to for Illingworth — the tourney’s lone American wild-card draw — to play in the all-glass cube court, he first must topple England’s Peter Barker in a first-round match on Friday. The Brit Barker, ranked No. 7, is one the American Illingworth, ranked No. 35 in the world, has never bested.

“I think he’s definitely in form right now,” Illingworth said. “He’s playing well, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Just last week, Barker claimed top honors at the CIMB Malaysian Open.

“You know it’s going to be a challenge, you know you’re going to have to play well to be in there with a shot,” he said.

At last year’s NetSuite Open, Illingworth was ousted by the tournament’s runner-up Nick Matthew in three tightly contested sets.

“It was a good effort by me, I guess,” he said. “I looked at it sort of as a positive, even though I lost 3-Love.”

The loss, however, didn’t derail a career put on by his squash-playing father. Armed with his racquet, Illingworth by age 10 trekked to the American squash hotbed that is the East Coast, and by 16 had captured the attention of his coaches. And a mere five years later, at Yale, the boy from Portland captured his first national title.

“I figured that being a squash pro would be better than a desk job,” he said. “At least while I could do it.”

And this week, he’ll swing to do it once more.

NetSuite Open

WHAT: World-class squash tournament

WHEN: Qualifying today and Thursday, first round Friday, quarterfinals Saturday and Sunday, semifinals Monday, finals Tuesday

WHERE: Quarterfinals, semifinals and finals at Justin Herman Plaza, Saturday through Tuesday


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