Simon Whitlock edged out Mensur Suljovic in a World Grand Prix classic to set up an enthralling final against home favourite Daryl Gurney, who finally ended the run of giant-killing John Henderson on a captivating night of darts at the Citywest Hotel on Friday night.
In the evening’s curtain-raiser, Whitlock survived a valiant fightback from Mensur Suljovic to prevail in one of the best matches in World Grand Prix history. Whitlock appeared destined to triumph 4-1, but Suljovic fought back to force a seventh and final set, only for the Australian to recover superbly and seal his place in the final.
Suljovic averaged 92.92, posted three maximums and converted 50% of his attempts at a finishing double, but it wasn’t enough. Whitlock averaged 86.03, piled in seven 180’s and boasted an impressive 54% checkout conversion rate, yet his timing was impeccable as he secured a place in his first PDC major final since 2013.
Suljovic kicked off proceedings with an instant break of throw, but Whitlock followed up his first maximum with a fine 101 finish for a 12-dart riposte. The Australian then crashed in a second 180 and converted a sensational 144 checkout (T18, T18, D18) to hold, before closing out an impressive opening set with a 14-dart hold via D18.
‘The Gentle’ responded with a sublime 154 checkout to kick off the second set, but Whitlock replied on D16, before punishing three missed darts at double from the Austrian to register a vital break via D16. Suljovic piled in his first maximum in an attempt to break back, but ‘The Wizard’ dispatched a vital 76 kill to double his lead.
The Aussie ace was finishing superbly and that patterned continued early in set three, as he registered an effortless 111 checkout to hold. However, Suljovic responded. He squared the set by taking out 70, broke throw with a fine 13-darter on tops, before clinching the set on D10 to reduce the arrears to 2-1.
‘The Wizard’ produced a nerveless 109 checkout for an early break in set four, before both men missed key doubles as the next two legs were shared. However, Suljovic was beginning to show uncharacteristic frailty in the finishing department and Whitlock capitalised; sinking D3 to restore his two-set advantage.
The former world finalist followed up his third maximum with a 13-dart hold to kick off set five, but Suljovic responded by crashing in a 174 and levelling inside 15 darts. The Austrian ace then conjured up an inspired 137 checkout out of nowhere to break, but Whitlock produced a sensational 12-dart leg to break straight back and throw for victory.
The Australian had showed no signs of finishing line nerves, but with the advantage of throw for a 4-1 win, he produced an abject leg which Suljovic ruthlessly punished; finding his favourite D14 to reduce the arrears once more. Whitlock then endured a nightmare sixth set, as ‘The Gentle’ reeled off three legs without reply to force a decider.
The recent Champions League of Darts winner had the momentum and followed up his second 180 with a nerveless 96 finish for a crucial break to kick off the final set. He had won seven of the last eight legs and Whitlock appeared in disarray, but ‘The Wizard’ summoned up some magical arrows to launch a remarkable fightback.
The Australian posted his sixth maximum and took out 80 for an instant 12-dart break back, before an incredible third leg ensued. Suljovic posted consecutive visits of 180 and 174 but it wasn’t sufficient, as Whitlock fired in a 15-dart hold to move to the brink, before dispatching a nerveless 74 kill to book his place in the final.
Elsewhere, Daryl Gurney secured a place in his first ever PDC major final with victory over the giant-killing John Henderson in an emotionally-charged affair. Henderson was unable to repeat the performances that saw him defeat Michael van Gerwen & Raymond van Barneveld earlier in the week, as Gurney prevailed 4-1 with an 83.42 average.
The Northern Irishman won an abject opening set without reply, with Henderson averaging just 63.50. The Scot squandered seven darts at double in the second leg and Gurney capitalised; despite averaging just a shade over 70 himself.
However, Henderson responded incredibly in the second set, averaging 107.36 to level up proceedings at one apiece. He opened his account via D10, before landing seven perfect darts en route to an 11-dart break. His sudden resurgence shocked Gurney and ‘Hendo’ rounded off a spectacular set with a commanding 13-dart hold on tops.
‘The Highlander’ converted a two-dart 80 finish for a fourth straight leg early in set three, but Gurney reeled off two straight legs to reassert an element of control. Henderson forced a set decider with an accomplished 96 checkout, but Gurney held his nerve; following up his third maximum with a 14-dart hold to regain the lead.
This visibly deflated the Scot and ‘Super-Chin’ pounced. He found tops for an early break in set four, before extending his cushion on D12 after Henderson wired tops for a 118 finish. Gurney was in firm control and illustrated his dominance with a clinical 86 kill to move to the cusp of reaching the final.
The opening two legs of the fifth set were shared, before Henderson fired in his second maximum and sank D10 for a pivotal break of throw. However, Gurney recorded an instant break back via D10, before pinning two D8s to seal a place in his maiden major final, after ‘Big John’ was unable to peg tops for a 117 finish.
It’s been an extraordinary event with a host of upsets and big-name casualties, and there will be a new name on the World Grand Prix trophy come Saturday evening. Whitlock has the advantage of having lifted a major title, but Gurney has won nine of their eleven meetings, including all four of their televised clashes. It could be special!
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
2017 Unibet World Grand Prix
Friday October 6 (7pm)
Simon Whitlock 4-3 Mensur Suljovic
Daryl Gurney 4-1 John Henderson