Mensur Suljovic clinched his first major television title with a dramatic 11-9 victory over Gary Anderson in a thrilling Champions League of Darts Final at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena on Sunday evening.
‘The Gentle’ was a rank 40/1 outsider with the bookmakers going into this weekend’s event, but he enjoyed a dream Champions League debut; defeating Anderson, Peter Wright and Dave Chisnall to top Group B, before defeating Raymond van Barneveld and Anderson once more to seal the title and the £100,000 winner’s cheque.
The Darts-Control man produced statistically his worst performance of the tournament in the final, averaging 87.85, posting four maximums and converting 37% of his attempts at double. By comparison, Anderson averaged 98.03, but the enigmatic Austrian simply found a way to win the biggest match of his career.
Anderson secured an early lead in a scrappy opener after Suljovic spurned three darts to hold. The Scot doubled his lead via tops, before the Austrian landed a fine visit of 171 and sank D3 to open his account. Anderson then completed a 14-darter via D6 to lead 3-1, before Suljovic produced a crucial 116 checkout to reduce the arrears to 3-2.
‘The Gentle’ capitalised on a poor scoring leg from the Scot to level via his trusted D14, before finding D10 for his third straight leg to secure the lead, after Anderson missed tops for a 145 finish.
Gary was becoming visibly frustrated and those frustrations were compounded after the interval. He missed two darts at D10 to restore parity at four apiece and Suljovic conjured up a nerveless 118 finish for a 5-3 lead, before pinning D6 for a fifth straight leg after Anderson again displayed fragility in the finishing department.
However, the world number two stopped the rot by virtue of pinning D10, before landing successive 13-darters to level the tussle at six apiece. Suljovic’s consistency had momentarily dissipated, but he regained his focus and produced a 14-dart hold to edge ahead once more.
Anderson sank D10 to level up proceedings at seven apiece, before Suljovic overcame some double-trouble to land D4 with his eighth attempt to lead 8-7. However, the Scot bounced back superbly; firing in two maximums in a high-quality 16th leg, levelling in 11 darts to heap the pressure on the world number seven.
This was unchartered territory for Suljovic, who was thrashed 11-1 by Michael van Gerwen in his only other appearance in a major final at last year’s European Championship. Nevertheless, he held his nerve admirably, finding D5 with his last dart in hand for a pivotal 15-dart hold.
Anderson dispatched an exhibition tops tops finish to make it 9-9, but ‘The Flying Scotsman’ then failed to take out 94 as Suljovic found D14 to move to the cusp of victory. Anderson had the throw to force a dramatic decider, but his profligacy cost him, and Suljovic stepped in and pegged D14 to clinch the biggest win of his career.
The Austrian proudly reflected: “It’s the perfect feeling. I never thought I could win this tournament. Gary is brilliant player and a gentlemen. I have so much respect for this guy. I never gave up.”
Earlier in the evening, Suljovic had edged out Raymond van Barneveld 11-9 in a thrilling semi-final. Both men had performed superbly in their first Champions League appearance, but it was the Austrian who clinched his spot in the final after a thrilling conclusion to the contest.
Suljovic averaged 97.91, landed seven maximums and converted 39% of his attempts at double to seal a place in his second major final, whilst Van Barneveld just lost out after averaging 95.19, posting two maximums and boasting a 45% checkout conversion rate.
The first three legs all comfortably went with throw, before Van Barneveld missed D16 for a 112 checkout and a break in the fourth. However, he was then handed a reprieve moments later. He posted visits of 177 and 174 in leg five, but Suljovic missed two darts to break having posted a 180 and a 174 himself, as Barney regained the lead via D8.
The Dutchman took out a clinical 68 combination to head into the interval 4-3 ahead, but he emerged from the break in sluggish fashion and Suljovic capitalised, reeling off three consecutive legs to establish a 6-4 cushion.
The next four legs all went with throw, before ‘The Gentle’ powered in a brilliant 110 finish for a 9-6 advantage, but Van Barneveld bounced back with his first break of throw followed by a 14-dart hold to reduce the arrears to 9-8.
Suljovic was unflappable and dispatched a 77 kill with aplomb to move to the brink of victory, but he wired tops for a 157 finish in the following leg, and Van Barneveld conjured up a nerveless 88 checkout via D7 to keep his hopes alive. The Austrian then threw for the match in an absolutely incredible leg of darts.
The pair exchanged maximums and Van Barneveld left himself on D16 after just 9 darts to force a deciding leg, in which he’d have the throw. Nevertheless, Suljovic produced an inspired 160 finish under the most intense pressure to provoke jubilant scenes of celebration and clinch one of the biggest wins of his career.
In the other semi-final, Anderson ended Phil Taylor’s impeccable Champions League record with a convincing 11-6 win over ‘The Power’. ‘The Flying Scotsman’ enjoyed a sequence of eight straight legs to seal total control of the contest, sealing his progression with a 96.19 average, seven maximums and a 34% checkout success rate.
Taylor made a blistering start; producing finishes of 102 and 121 in the opening two legs to secure the early initiative, but Anderson opened his account on D8, before levelling with a 15-darter.
‘The Flying Scotsman’ then capitalised on Taylor missing nine darts at double across the next two legs to establish a 4-2 cushion, before he converted a clinical 68 kill for a fifth straight leg. The two-time world champion then landed a brilliant 174 and found D18 to extend his lead, before pouncing on further misses from Taylor to lead 7-2.
The world number two secured his eighth leg in succession by virtue of hitting D10, but Taylor stopped the rot with a superb 11-dart hold. The 57-year-old then produced a 13-darter via tops to reduce the arrears to 8-4, before finding D16 for a third straight leg.
Nevertheless, Anderson regained control with a fine two-dart 96 combination for a 14-darter; then moving to the brink of victory after pegging D5. He spurned six match darts in an error-strewn 16th leg, but there was no heroic comeback, as Anderson wrapped up victory with his ninth match dart, having fired in his seventh 180 earlier in the leg.
However, it was Suljovic who claimed glory and Anderson was typically gracious in defeat, admitting: “The man’s been brilliant in the last two years, phenomenal.
He’s been the best player this weekend and he deserves it. He’s brilliant.”
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
Evening Session (6.30pm)
Mensur Suljovic 11-9 Raymond van Barneveld
Phil Taylor 6-11 Gary Anderson
Gary Anderson 9-11 Mensur Suljovic