Krzysztof Ratajski and Brendan Dolan clinched Players Championship titles on a weekend that featured a host of big-name absentees in Hildesheim.
Michael van Gerwen, Rob Cross, Daryl Gurney, Gary Anderson, Peter Wright, Gerwyn Price and James Wade all sat out this weekend’s double-header in Germany, leaving World Matchplay finalist Michael Smith as the solitary top eight representative in action.
Ratajski has made a significant impression on the PDC circuit over the last 18 months and ‘The Polish Eagle’ claimed his fifth ranking title with victory in Players Championship 21 on Saturday, defeating World Youth champion Dimitri Van den Bergh 8-7 in a pulsating finale.
The former World Masters champion began the day with successive 6-2 victories against Maik Kuivenhoven and Jonathan Worsley respectively, before seeing off Gabriel Clemens and Conan Whitehead for the loss of just three legs to reach the last eight.
The Pole fought back from 5-4 down to defeat Mickey Mansell in the last eight, before posting a 104 average en route to a thumping 7-1 success over Danny Noppert in the semi-finals. This set up a showdown with Van den Bergh and Ratajski twice fought back from two legs down to prevail – taking out 82 on tops in the decider.
Saturday’s exploits saw Ratajski break into the world’s top 32 for the first time in his career, becoming the first Polish player to achieve the feat. “I’m very happy,” said Ratajski. “It was very tight and it was really, really hard.
“I played my semi-final against Danny Noppert and I had never beaten him, but today I played almost a 104 average and it was superb. In the final with Dimitri, I’ve also lost with him many times, and I thought about it. When I was 7-7, I said to myself that I must win. It’s a very important result for me.”
However, in Players Championship 22 on Sunday, an emotional Brendan Dolan defeated Dutch World Cup star Jermaine Wattimena 8-5 to scoop his first PDC ranking title for almost five years.
The former World Grand Prix finalist won five ranking events between 2013 and 2014 but in recent years he’s slipped further outside the world’s top 32. Nevertheless, having reached the World Championship quarter-finals in December, he continued his revival by claiming the £10,000 top prize in Germany.
‘The History-Maker’ kicked off proceedings with victory over Jeffrey de Zwaan, averaging 100 in the process. The Northern Irishman then defeated Alan Norris and Chris Dobey, before posting a stunning 107 average to edge out Dave Chisnall 6-5 in a thrilling last 16 tussle.
Dolan claimed his third deciding-leg win of the day to dump out recent World Matchplay semi-finalist Glen Durrant, which he followed up with a 7-3 win over New Zealand number one Cody Harris, with another ton-plus average.
This set up a showdown with Wattimena in Sunday’s showpiece, as ‘The Machine Gun’ continued his bid for a maiden ranking title. The opening six legs were shared before Dolan reeled off four legs on the spin to seize control at 7-3.
Wattimena reduced the arrears to 7-5 with legs of 13 and 14 darts, but Dolan completed the win with a clinical 108 checkout and in a tearful post-match interview, he sensationally revealed that he had considered quitting the game less than 24 hours earlier.
“I just can’t believe it. It’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” said Dolan. “I’ve worked so hard and I haven’t got results out of it. Yesterday, the way I played was unbelievably bad and I sent my wife a text. She told me to wise up.
“I used to always say that if I get past the first round then I’m dangerous. I’ve tried really hard this last 18 months and not got the results, but I’ve performed really well. I think I’ve got the luck on the day today and it’s just great to get a win.”
“To be honest, I can’t remember five years ago! I really couldn’t remember how to win and today it was about saving face. This game’s all about pressure, mental pressure. I pressurise myself all the time, and my wife told took all the pressure off me and told me just to play darts.”
With World Series of Darts events taking place down under during the next three weeks, the Pro Tour will now enjoy a summer break. The European Tour returns from August 30-September with the Austrian Darts Championship in Vienna, whilst the next Players Championship events take place on September 10-11 in Barnsley.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC