Jonny Clayton secured his first European Tour title after reeling off four consecutive legs to defeat his fellow Welshman Gerwyn Price 8-5 and secure Austrian Darts Open glory in Graz on Sunday evening.
Clayton picked up his first PDC tournament win in October 2017 and had to wait just six months to add to his collection, pocketing the £25,000 winner’s prize which catapults him up to a career high of 24th in the world.
It was a real topsy-turvy final, with seven breaks of throw in just thirteen legs. Price appeared in control for large periods, but ‘The Ferret’ grew into the contest and reeled off four consecutive legs to storm to victory- averaging 96.56, piling in five maximums and converting 44% of his attempts at double.
Price was left disappointed after being denied a maiden European Tour title by his close friend and compatriot, but there were many positives to take for ‘The Iceman’, who continued his resurgence since suffering Premier League elimination two weeks ago.
He averaged 95.41, landed six maximums and dispatched 38% of his attempts at double, but he was left to rue two missed darts at tops for a 6-5 lead, as Clayton won the remaining three legs to claim the biggest victory of his career.
Clayton drew first blood in a scrappy opener via D2, but Price responded strongly. He kicked off leg two by firing in six perfect darts; later levelling with a 13-darter on tops. ‘The Iceman’ then fired in a 177 and found tops for a 14-dart break, but Clayton crashed in his first maximum and pegged tops for a 13-dart break back.
The pair then exchanged 14-dart holds as the high standard continued, but the Premier League star rounded-off a 17-dart break on tops to regain the lead. Nevertheless, the former Rugby League star was unable to cement this advantage, as Clayton followed up his second maximum with a 14-darter culminating on D8.
Both men were displaying real fallibility on their own throw and that pattern continued. Clayton squandered two darts at tops as Price found D5 with his last dart in hand for the third successive break of throw, but ‘The Ferret’ responded by conjuring up a classy 120 outshot to level up proceedings at five apiece.
However, the turning point came into the 11th leg. Price hammered in his sixth maximum to steal a march on Clayton’s throw, but he spurned two darts at tops for a fifth straight break and his compatriot pounced; finding D12 for a 16-dart hold to edge 6-5 ahead.
This galvanised the 16th seed and he produced a stunning couple of legs to seal title glory. Clayton fired in back-to-back maximums and sank D16 for an 11-dart leg to move to the brink of victory, which he duly sealed moments later, pinning D10 inside 14 darts to wrap up victory.
It was a terrific day for Welsh darts, as the two potential World Cup teammates battled it out in their first European Tour Finals. Jonny Clayton had dumped out last week’s German Darts Open winner Max Hopp in his opening-round tie, and he defeated four of the world’s top thirteen players on Sunday to steal the headlines.
However, his best performance of the day saw him record a convincing 6-3 victory over James Wade in round-three. ‘The Machine’ had dumped out top seed Peter Wright on Saturday evening. but he was comprehensively outplayed by ‘The Ferret’.
Clayton averaged 105.32, registered two maximums and converted 43% of his attempts at double to cap off his best ever big-stage performance. Wade only missed dart at double but was totally outscored by the Welsh star, who also posted an incredible 14 scores of 140+ in just nine legs.
In the last eight, the 43-year-old faced Ian White, who had dumped out Simon Whitlock in the previous round. Nevertheless, it was a real edgy affair, with the pair missing 35 darts at double between them. Despite this, it was Clayton who triumphed 6-4; averaging 86.91, hitting three 180’s and boasting a 27% checkout success rate.
Clayton then took on home hero Mensur Suljovic for a place in the final, after ‘The Gentle’ followed up his comeback win over Cristo Reyes by dismantling Premier League star Daryl Gurney 6-1- averaging over 104 in the process.
However, last year’s Players Championship Finals runner-up defied a partisan Austrian atmosphere to secure one of the biggest victories of his career. Suljovic led 5-3 but failed to replicate his earlier performances and Clayton capitalised; winning four of the final five legs to triumph in a last-leg decider with an 86.66 average and four 180’s.
Clayton reflected: “It’s my first [European Tour] title and I’m chuffed to bits. It’s been a great weekend for me. It’s been a brilliant crowd – I had to play against them all against Mensur but I got through it. It’s nice to see Welsh darts back on stage. There are some brilliant players and we’re all there to do a job.”
On the other side of the draw, Gerwyn Price produced some impressive performances to reach his first European Tour Final in Graz. The Welshman kicked off his campaign with an emphatic 6-2 win over Scott Taylor on Saturday afternoon; averaging 101.36, firing in a maximum and converting 43% of his attempts at double to prevail.
This set up a third-round showdown against Wayne Jones on Sunday afternoon, after Jones had received a bye through to the last 16 following Dave Chisnall’s late withdrawal through illness. However, Jones wasn’t afforded such fortune against ‘The Iceman’, who ran out a 6-3 winner to make it back-to-back quarter-final appearances on the Euro Tour.
In the last eight, Price took on world champion Rob Cross, who edged out Steve West and Steve Beaton in last-leg deciders to reach the quarters. ‘Voltage’ accounted for Price at the same stage in Saarbrucken last weekend, but the former UK Open finalist gained his retribution.
The Welshman averaged 100.98, landed three maximums and dispatched an incredible 86% of his attempts at double to punish an under-par display from ‘Voltage’; prevailing 6-3 to set up a clash against seventh seed Joe Cullen for a place in the final.
Cullen had reached the quarter-finals of the opening three European Tour events in 2018, but he went one better in Graz, defeating Mervyn King and Michael Smith for the loss of just five legs earlier in the day.
‘The Iceman’ converted three clinical finishes on the bull to seal command against ‘The Rockstar’ and although he spurned EIGHT match darts, he eventually regained his composure to prevail in a dramatic last-leg decider with a modest 85.56 average. Despite this, he was denied his first ranking title of 2018 in an unpredictable finale.
It was a dramatic event in Graz, in one of the most wide-open European Tour events in recent memory. World number one Michael van Gerwen was not in attendance after pulling out on Thursday afternoon, whilst Dave Chisnall was another high-profile name to withdraw through illness.
World number two Peter Wright, who was top seed in Van Gerwen’s absence- was beaten by James Wade in a titanic second-round tussle, whilst the likes of Gary Anderson and Raymond van Barneveld also didn’t feature.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
2018 Austrian Darts Open
Sunday April 22
Michael Smith 6-2 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Joe Cullen 6-3 Mervyn King
Gerwyn Price 6-3 Wayne Jones
Rob Cross 6-5 Steve Beaton
Daryl Gurney 6-3 Darren Webster
Mensur Suljovic 6-3 Cristo Reyes
Ian White 6-3 Simon Whitlock
Jonny Clayton 6-3 James Wade
Best of 11 legs
Joe Cullen 6-2 Michael Smith
Gerwyn Price 6-3 Rob Cross
Mensur Suljovic 6-1 Daryl Gurney
Jonny Clayton 6-4 Ian White
Gerwyn Price 7-6 Joe Cullen
Jonny Clayton 7-6 Mensur Suljovic
Jonny Clayton 8-5 Gerwyn Price