Nathan Aspinall sensationally clinched his first televised title at the 2019 Ladbrokes UK Open, as he defeated former world champion Rob Cross 11-5 to triumph on a dramatic evening at Butlin’s Minehead Resort.
‘The Asp’ has enjoyed an astonishing few months, having been ranked 73rd in the world prior to the recent World Championships. The 27-year-old enjoyed a brilliant run to the semi-finals at the Alexandra Palace, and he’s since been selected as one of the nine Premier League contenders.
Many players have failed to build upon impressive World Championship showings over recent years but Aspinall has gone from strength-to-strength since, claiming the scalps of Gerwyn Price and Cross in Minehead to claim his first major title and move into the world’s top 16 as a result.
The Stockport ace kicked off his campaign on Friday afternoon with victory over Toni Alcinas, before edging out former Lakeside world champion Christian Kist in a pulsating last-leg decider.
‘The Asp’ then thrashed Madars Razma 10-2, before recovering from 7-3 down to defeat Irishman Steve Lennon 10-8 to set up a quarter-final clash against Ross Smith.
Smith was appearing in his first major PDC quarter-final and experience paid dividends for Aspinall, who produced finishes of 90, 94, 98, 121 and 170 to prevail 10-6 with a 96.80 average.
In the semi-finals, Aspinall faced Grand Slam champion Gerwyn Price in a repeat of their second-round clash at the World Championship. Aspinall upset the odds on that occasion and he repeated those heroics to end Price’s extraordinary 20-match unbeaten run.
The Welshman, who clinched back-to-back Players Championship titles last weekend, was favourite with the bookmakers to clinch his second major PDC title, but Aspinall defied a valiant fightback from ‘The Iceman’ to record an epic 11-9 victory.
It didn’t get any easier for Aspinall, as he faced world number two Cross in the final. Nevertheless, the 2018 world champion struggled from the outset and the former World Youth finalist held his nerve admirably to scoop the £100,000 winner’s prize and triumph with an 88.72 average.
Cross drew first blood in Sunday’s showpiece with an eye-catching 12-dart hold, with the opening four legs all going with throw. Aspinall struck the first decisive blow however; converting a clinical 77 kill in leg five to complete a precious break.
The Stockport star clinched his third straight leg by pinning double four with his last dart in hand, before stretching his lead to 5-2 with a two-dart 66 combination.
He spurned the chance to lead 6-2 after squandering four darts at a double and Cross pounced; breaking straight back before closing out a 15-dart hold to reduce the arrears to 5-4. Despite this, ‘Voltage’ was then guilty of profligacy; missing six darts at double for the chance to restore parity at five apiece.
Aspinall found double 10 to regain his two-leg buffer, but Cross returned from the second interval and fired in his second 12-darter of the contest to cut the deficit to 6-5. However, the former electrician was certainly lacking his usual spark and was unable to make further inroads.
‘The Asp’ extended his lead to 8-5 as Cross’ scoring power evaporated and whilst the Premier League star piled in his eighth maximum in leg 14, he missed three more darts at double as Aspinall sank double ten to edge closer to glory.
Aspinall pegged tops to seal his fourth straight leg and move to the cusp of victory at 10-5, and Cross’ demeanour was one of resignation during the final interval. However, Aspinall showed no signs of finishing line nerves on his return; taking out a sublime 170 finish to seal the deal in stunning style.
“I’ve worked so hard to get this far and to win this title is just a truly amazing feeling,” Aspinall told the PDC.“In 2015 my grandad and I were sat in the crowd and I told him I’m as good as the players up there, and now here I am four years later lifting the trophy on this stage, it’s just unreal.
“I want to thank my family because I’m away a lot so this is for them and I’d like to thank everyone for their support. The standard is so tough now, it was a long day for us both and neither Rob nor I played like we can in the final but I’m just so happy to get the win.”
The evening ended in disappointment for Cross, who was denied a second major PDC title after producing his worst performance of the tournament. The 28-year-old averaged a miserly 84.79 as fatigue took its toll, but he performed solidly throughout the weekend to continue his strong start to 2019.
The 2018 world champion eased past Darren Webster 10-4 with a 99.10 average in his opener, before defeating Michael van Gerwen’s conqueror Mervyn King in round-five. Cross then came through a scrappy last 16 tie against Cristo Reyes to book his spot in finals day for the second straight year.
In the last eight, Cross faced former World Youth finalist Josh Payne, who was appearing in his first senior televised PDC quarter-final. Payne posted the higher average, but the world number two recorded a 10-7 victory with a 95 average to reach the UK Open semi-finals for the very first time.
Cross took on his fellow Premier League star Michael Smith in the semi-finals, as ‘Bully Boy’ defied his injury woes to produce his best ever UK Open showing. Nevertheless, Smith toiled in the finishing department, as Cross prevailed 11-7 to record his tenth win over Smith in 13 meetings.
The tournament affectionately dubbed ‘The FA Cup of Darts’ didn’t disappointment, as former champions Van Gerwen, Gary Anderson, Peter Wright, Adrian Lewis and Raymond van Barneveld all bowed out on the opening night, while Aspinall was 125/1 with title sponsors Ladbrokes before the tournament began.
‘The Asp’ will be back on the big stage in less than a fortnight, as he becomes the sixth ‘contender’ to feature in this year’s Premier League when he meets Michael Smith in Nottingham, but he’ll be making his debut in darts’ ultimate roadshow as a PDC major champion.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
Sunday March 3
Afternoon Session (1245 GMT start)
Rob Cross 10-7 Josh Payne
Michael Smith 10-1 Steve Beaton
Gerwyn Price 10-5 Simon Stevenson
Nathan Aspinall 10-6 Ross Smith
Evening Session (1900 GMT start)
Nathan Aspinall 11-9 Gerwyn Price
Rob Cross 11-7 Michael Smith
Nathan Aspinall 11-5 Rob Cross