Mensur Suljovic recorded the biggest victory of his darting career to defeat World Champion Gary Anderson and progress to the quarter-finals of the World Matchplay in Blackpool.
Suljovic performed superbly and capitalised on inept finishing from the Scotsman to record a stunning 13-9 win in the early hours of Thursday morning, dispelling any hopes of Anderson completing the much-publicised ‘triple crown’.
Anderson struggled to contend with Suljovic’s unconventional style and rather laborious throwing routine; in scenes reminiscent to the Scot’s first-round clash against Scott Kirchner at the 2015 World Championships.
However, Anderson’s battle with Kirchner was purely on a mental level, as Kirchner didn’t have the quality to sustain a genuine challenge against ‘The Flying Scotsman’. Nevertheless, Suljovic is more than just a tricky opponent with a unique throw; he is a top-quality player with tremendous ability and composure under pressure.
Suljovic began strongly, securing a break of throw in the opening leg. He narrowly missed the bull for a 121 finish, but as the Scot failed to take out 100, Mensur returned and posted D8 with his final dart. The 44-year-old from Musselburgh delivered an instant riposte, hitting D20 to break straight back, before clinically taking out 98 in two darts for a 2-1 lead.
Suljovic remained unflappable and despite Anderson posting a flurry of maximums in the opening stages, Suljovic nailed D16 to restore parity, before capitalising on 5 missed doubles from the World Number 3 to hit his favourite D14 and cement a 3-2 advantage at the break.
Suljovic extended his advantage in the sixth leg, completing a 100 finish culminating on two-tops with Anderson poised to break, but this lead was short-lived. Ando held his throw emphatically in 12 darts, before he produced a terrific 11-darter for 4-4, after posting a two-dart 81 finish.
Just as it appeared that Anderson was beginning to establish a semblance of control over his Austrian opponent, Mensur regained his lead thanks to a brilliant 104 finish on D12. Both men squandered opportunities in the tenth leg, before Suljovic eventually closed it out to lead 6-4 at the second intermission.
The two-time UK Open quarter-finalist capitalised upon a distinctly mediocre scoring leg from the Scot to secure another break of throw in the 11th leg, before moving 8-4 up after Anderson failed to convert 4 darts at double, which culminated in him busting D5 after drifting into the D12 bed.
Anderson stopped the rot, hitting Suljovic’s favourite D14 for 8-5, before the enigmatic Austrian regained his four leg advantage thanks to a brilliant maximum and nerveless 76 checkout. Mensur failed to convert three darts at tops for 10-5, allowing Anderson to hit D18 to reduce the deficit to 9-6 and maintain his slender hopes of overturning the deficit.
Suljovic edged a scrappy 16th leg to move 10-6 ahead, before the World Champ demonstrated impressive composure to post an 87 finish with Suljovic looming ominously. However, as the latter stages of the encounter approached, the usually respectful Winter Gardens crowd became rather boisterous and behaved quite distastefully when Suljovic was shooting at double.
Suljovic eventually held his nerve to hit D2 for an 11-7 advantage after Anderson missed a cluster of crucial doubles, before moving one leg away from a memorable victory after hitting D14. The Austrian then began to realise what he was on the cusp of achieving, which allowed Anderson the chance to forge a late comeback.
The recent Premier League Champion was rather fortuitous, as Suljovic squandered five match darts which enabled Anderson to claw the deficit back to 12-9. Nevertheless, he wasn’t gifted another opportunity, as ‘The Gentle’ finally converted D14 with his seventh match dart, to spark jubilant scenes of raw emotion as he acknowledged the magnitude of his achievement.
It was a fantastic performance from Mensur; he scored consistently and demonstrated impressive resolve under pressure, when more seasoned professionals may have faltered.
Suljovic has established himself in the Top 32, and this marks his second appearance in a TV quarter-final in 2015. His decision to compete full-time on the PDC circuit has undoubtedly been vindicated and he will be relishing the prospect of facing James Wade in the quarters. Suljovic famously defeated Wade in the second round of the 2011 World Championships, so he won’t be daunted by the challenge facing him.
Anderson will be extremely disappointed with his erratic display and ineptitude on the doubles. He recorded a meagre 25.7% on the doubles, hitting just 9 from 35 attempts. He was visibly rushing his throw to compensate for Mensur’s methodical approach, but this proved costly, particularly in the later stages of legs.
In my opinion, he can have no complaints whatsoever. Although the pair had never met before, Anderson would have been well aware of Suljovic’s style and I don’t think Mensur was playing any slower than usual. He is not notorious for his use of ‘tactics’ and slowing down opponents, so accusations of gamesmanship may be misplaced.
Suljovic was perhaps composing himself for longer periods prior to pivotal visits, but that’s inevitable in such an important encounter. He deserves immense credit for maintaining his cool amidst the crowd pressure, which just illustrates his development as a stage-player over the last few years.
Anderson cannot expect every individual to play at a rip-roaring pace; you have to adapt your game depending on your opponent; Michael van Gerwen is a prime example. Although he prefers to play at a frenetic pace, he has learned to cope with more methodical throwers and it doesn’t affect his game any longer.
However, there are still positives for the Scotsman to take. He will leapfrog Phil Taylor to World Number 2 in the rankings, irrespective of how Taylor fares for the duration of the competition. Also, the talk of Anderson securing the coveted ‘triple crown’ must have been a rather unwelcome distraction; he can now focus on performing well in the imminent World Series events In Australia.
In the evening’s opening clash, Dave Chisnall edged a topsy-turvy contest against former World Youth Champion Keegan Brown 13-11. Brown led 6-3 and 8-5 at one stage, before Chisnall raised his game and reeled off five successive legs for a 10-8 lead. Brown fought valiantly but failed to produce his best game in the decisive moments, allowing the Premier League semi-finalist to edge through to his third-consecutive World Matchplay quarter-final.
Chisnall will meet 15-time Matchplay Champion Phil Taylor in Friday’s quarter-final, after the Power eased past Andy Hamilton 13-6. Taylor came agonisingly close to securing a perfect 9-darter in the fourth leg, hitting eight perfect darts, before pulling his ninth dart at D12. He eventually lost the leg, but he reeled off four consecutive legs to lead 6-2 and Taylor appeared in cruise control.
Despite this, the Power still showed signs of susceptibility on the outer segments, which allowed Hamilton to stage an unlikely fightback. His D16 and D8 shooting appeared particularly erratic, allowing the Hammer to restore parity at 6-6.
The defining moment occurred in leg 13, when Hamilton was punished for a sloppy sequence of shots after being well ahead, which prevented him from taking the lead for the very first-time in this all-Stoke clash.
This visibly deflated the Hammer, who lost seven legs without reply, as Taylor secured his 37th consecutive victory at the Winter Gardens. It’s an absolutely astonishing record and although he is not producing his vintage best, he remains a major contender for the title.
In the evening’s other contest, James Wade continued his remarkable affinity with Blackpool, as he comfortably overcame Brendan Dolan 13-8. Wade was solid if unspectacular, as he posted a modest 94.67 average and almost 50% on his doubles. It was a rather uninspiring contest, as Dolan struggled for fluency throughout.
The ‘History-Maker’ produced a roof-raising 170 checkout in the 13th leg as he threatened an unlikely fightback, but the Aldershot ace was always in control and performed well within himself for the vast majority of the contest. Wade will now meet Suljovic for a place in Saturday’s semi-finals, as he continues his search for a second World Matchplay title, 9 years on from his initial Blackpool triumph.