Former world finalist Simon Whitlock is eyeing a Premier League return after reaching his first major final for over four years at the World Grand Prix last night.
‘The Wizard’ edged out the recent Champions League of Darts winner Mensur Suljovic in a Grand Prix classic at the Citywest Hotel on Friday evening, to reach his first major final since July 2013.
Suljovic recovered from 3-1 down to force a deciding set, winning seven out of eight legs as Whitlock appeared to be crumbling under the pressure. However, the Australian recovered magnificently; winning the remaining three legs in just 42 darts to complete the comeback and secure one of the biggest victories of his career.
In his post-match interview, Whitlock admitted: “I’m stoked with that. I was absolutely gone there but I dug deep to find something special to win that last set. I’ve been working on a lot of things, not just mentally, but physically. I’ve being doing all sorts of things at home during practice and it’s paying off finally.
“Mensur is so good and I still don’t know how I won that. The 144 was huge for me. When I was 3-1 up I lost control. I panicked a bit and then suddenly I found some good darts – I just had to dig deep and I pulled it out luckily.”
Whitlock is now guaranteed a place in next month’s Grand Slam of Darts after reaching the final in Dublin, yet he has his sights set much higher and is targeting a Premier League return in 2018.
The Australian last appeared in the Premier League back in 2014, where he was relegated after sitting rock bottom at the nine week cut-off, but did reach the final back in 2012. Nevertheless, he told Sky Sports’ Laura Woods that he ‘belongs’ in the competition.
“I’ve been in and out of the Grand Slam for the last two months, but it means a lot to me. I also want to be back in the Premier League where I belong – I have got a lot more to offer now. I’m a different player again,” Whitlock insisted.
The former world-finalist will be aiming to lift his second PDC major on Saturday night, to accompany his 2012 European Championship success. However, he faces a difficult task against home-favourite Daryl Gurney, who sealed a spot in his first ever major ranking final with a 4-1 win over the giant-killing John Henderson.
Gurney reached the semi-finals at both the UK Open and the World Matchplay earlier this year, whilst he also reached the final of the U.S Masters in Las Vegas in July, on his World Series debut.
The Northern Irishman admitted: “I’m very glad to get over that hurdle from the semi-final into the final. I’ve been knocking on the door in the UK Open and World Matchplay and eventually I’ve got over the finishing line.
“I’ve been trying my very best since I joined the PDC five years ago and I’m starting to reap the rewards now. I’ve got a chance to win this title now, and if I can get in front and stay in front I don’t care what my average is as long as I get to the winning post before Simon does.”
Gurney has won nine of his eleven meetings with Whitlock, including all four of their big stage clashes, and the home favourite claimed: “I’m looking forward to playing Simon and he knows that he’s going to be in a battle. I’m going to go out there and try and beat him from the first dart to the very last dart.”
It’s set to be a thrilling culmination to one of the most unpredictable major tournaments in recent PDC history. Will Whitlock mark his renaissance with a second major title, or will Gurney secure his maiden TV title on home soil?
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC