Mensur Suljovic continued his magnificent form to clinch his first ever Players Championship title with a 6-4 victory over Stephen Bunting at the Citywest Hotel, Dublin, on Saturday afternoon.
Suljovic secured the biggest win of his career at the Champions League of Darts earlier this month, before firing in a nine-dart finish en route to reaching the semi-finals of yesterday’s event.
He continued his sensational form to clinch his maiden Players Championship crown in Dublin- beating world number one Michael van Gerwen en route to securing the third PDC title of his career and pocketing the £10,000 winner’s prize, which puts him up to a career high of sixth in the world.
Nevertheless, he was forced to work hard against a resurgent Bunting, coming from 3-0 down to prevail. ‘The Bullet’ averaged 96.43 and converted 44% of his attempts at double, but Suljovic averaged 103.87, fired in three maximums and boasted a 50% checkout conversion rate; winning six of the final seven legs to seal glory.
Bunting enjoyed the perfect start as he crashed in a spectacular 160 finish to draw first blood, before sinking D8 to double his advantage. Suljovic fired in a maximum as he attempted to open his account, but he spurned two darts and double and ‘The Bullet’ pounced; taking out 81 to establish a 3-0 cushion.
However, it was Bunting who was punished for missed doubles in the fourth leg, as Suljovic pegged D10 for a 14-darter to get on the board. The Austrian then found another 14-dart leg via tops to reduce the arrears to 3-2, before he levelled up proceedings at three apiece thanks to a magnificent 121 finish on the bullseye.
‘The Gentle’ produced a clinical 80 kill to record his fourth straight leg and seize control of the contest, until Bunting stopped the rot with D8 to restore parity at 4-4. Suljovic then pinned D16 for another 14-darter to move to the cusp of victory, before he effortlessly dispatched a 112 finish to clinch the title.
Earlier in the day, the Austrian kicked off his campaign with a comprehensive whitewash win over Ted Evetts, before easing into round-three with a 6-2 victory against Richie Corner. However, he was pushed all the way in round-three, as he overcame Justin Pipe 6-5 in a hard-fought affair.
This set up a last 16 showdown against Alan Norris, who had defeated Robbie Green and Adrian Lewis to storm into round-four. However, Suljovic was in ruthless mood; thrashing the former Lakeside finalist 6-1 to breeze into the quarter-finals.
In the last eight, Suljovic faced world number one Michael van Gerwen, who performed brilliantly to edge out his compatriot Raymond van Barneveld in an epic tussle in the preceding round.
Van Barneveld had dropped just six legs in beating Kim Huybrechts, Jermaine Wattimena and Ron Meulenkamp, to reach round-four and continued his fine form against MvG, averaging 105.97. However, ‘The Green Machine’ averaged a stunning 114.99 to prevail in an enthralling last-leg decider.
Nevertheless, Van Gerwen was unable to overcome an unflappable Suljovic in the quarter-finals, as the recent Champions League of Darts winner conjured up a fine 122 checkout to wrap up a 6-3 triumph.
The darts-control man then faced James Wilson in the semis, after ‘The Jammie Dodger’ defeated Berry van Peer, Jeffrey de Zwaan, Simon Stevenson, Robert Thornton and John Henderson to reach his first Pro Tour semi-final for 12 months. Despite this, Suljovic ran out a narrow 6-4 winner; averaging 103.56 and boasting a 50% checkout success rate.
On the other side of the draw, it was a fine day for Stephen Bunting, who performed superbly to reach his first Pro Tour final of the year. ‘The Bullet’ began his campaign with an emphatic 6-1 win against John Bowles, before coming through a deciding-leg shootout to defeat James Richardson.
The St Helen’s star then recorded successive 6-4 victories over Ian White and Yordi Meeuwisse to set up a last eight clash with Vincent van der Voort, who continued his profitable weekend in Dublin to reach his second straight Players Championship quarter-final. Yet Bunting brushed aside the Dutchman 6-1 to storm into the semis.
‘The Bullet’ then faced Madars Razma in the last four, after the former BDO star performed superbly to reach his first PDC semi-final. Razma had only won three first-round matches in his previous 13 Players Championship appearances, but he reversed his fortunes in some style at the Citywest on Saturday afternoon.
The Latvian defeated Chris Dobey, Terry Temple, Keegan Brown, Ronny Huybrechts and Gerwyn Price to secure a place in the last-four, but Bunting quashed his hopes of winning his first PDC title by closing out a relatively convincing 6-3 victory.
Nevertheless, a number of high-profile stars were condemned to early exits in Dublin. Top seed Peter Wright was beaten at the first hurdle by the quick-fire Ricky Evans, whilst Daryl Gurney suffered his second straight opening-round exit of the weekend after losing out to Kirk Shepherd.
Joe Cullen also suffered another first-round exit at the hands of Terry Temple, whilst Jelle Klaasen, Mervyn King, Kim Huybrechts, Steve Beaton and Cristo Reyes also failed to register a victory on Saturday.
Friday’s winner Rob Cross was denied back-to-back Pro Tour triumphs after losing to John Henderson in round-four, whilst Michael van Gerwen’s disappointing weekend culminated in defeat against eventual winner Mensur Suljovic in the quarter-finals.
Elsewhere, three-time world champion John Part enjoyed his best Pro Tour performance of the season; reaching round-three at the Citywest Hotel. The Canadian kicked off the day with a fine win against Jamie Caven, before beating Kirk Shepherd by the same scoreline in a repeat of the 2008 World Championship Final.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC