US Championships 2006
Julian Illingworth repeats as S.L. Greeen US Champion
For complete results, visit the USSRA website and click on "Sanctioned Tournament Draws and Results" at the bottom of the homepage.
A storybook setting and a storybook finish in the SL Green Championships found Julian Illingworth, Yale University senior, ending his amateur career on his home court by receiving the champion's paycheck. Although he was the defending champion, Illingworth was seeded fourth behind top seed Preston Quick, and former PSA pros Mike Puertas and Damian Walker. Illingworth's draw was no cakewalk—he had to oust two two-time titleholders en route to the title.
After eliminating Gilly Lane in four in the quarters, Illingworth faced Quick, the 2003 and 2004 champion, in the semis. It wasn't much of a contest as Quick, who has chosen to concentrate on his pro doubles career and had not played singles since the Men's World Team Championships, could not keep up with the younger player's pace, agility and court savvy. A 7, 4, 5 victory put Illingworth into the finals against 38-year-old Damian Walker, himself a titlist in 2001 and 2002.
In the first round, Walker gave Trevor McGuinness a squash lesson, 1, 7, 1 and then took out Richard Chin, 8, 7, 10. The next youngster to take on the veteran was 20-year-old Chris Gordon, the highest ranked US player on the PSA tour. After failing to capitalize on several momentum building runs, Gordon lost the first two games 10-11, 10-11. By the third game, each player's posture belied the outcome—Walker carrying himself with authority while Gordon conveyed uncertainty as he berated himself and the referee. Walker closed out the match at 11-5.
In the finals, Walker's authority faded in the face of Illingworth's composure and comfort on the court on which he had played almost every day for four years. “This year I felt I was more in control,” said Illingworth as he contrasted his 2005 play with this year. “I'm hitting the ball better, applying myself better mentally and being more assertive.” Although the score stayed even in the first and second games, Illingworth demonstrated his assertiveness and broke open a lead each time at 8-5, winning the first 11-8 and the second 11-6.
Utilizing tight rails, sharp volleys and well-timed drops, the Yalie sent the veteran running to all corners of the court. Twenty-five minutes into the match, as Walker fell further behind, Men's Team Committee Chair Mark Lewis observed, “The wheels are falling off.” Finally, the 17-year age difference was insurmountable for the 38-year-old; the tables turned as the youngster gave the veteran the lesson. Up 5-1 and then 7-2 in the third, Illingworth closed out his repeat victory at 11-6 in the third.
As he looks forward to a professional playing career, the confident champion expects to face more pressure. “It is a different sort of nervousness when you are playing for money, particularly when it will determine what and when I eat,” said Illingworth, alluding to relying on his earnings for a livelihood. “But I like the pressure—I like having something on the line.”