Ross Smith ended his seven-game losing run against Brendan Dolan to clinch his maiden PDC ranking title at Players Championship 19 in Coventry on Wednesday.
The 32-year-old, who defeated world No 1 Gerwyn Price and two-time world champion Gary Anderson en route to the final, defeated Dolan 8-4 in Wednesday’s showpiece to join the winner’s enclosure, having succumbed to Michael Smith in the Players Championship 10 final earlier this year.
Smith – a PDC Tour Card holder since 2012 – was visibly emotional after wrapping up victory against ‘The History Maker’, which ensures he will make his World Matchplay debut at the Winter Gardens later this month.
The former UK Open finalist conjured up an inspired 135 checkout to break throw for a 4-2 lead, despite having seemingly blocked the bullseye. Dolan responded with an immediate break of throw, but the pendulum shifted once more as Smith pinned the bull yet again to complete a 91 kill and restore his two-leg buffer at 5-3.
The next three legs went with throw as Smith moved to the cusp of glory at 7-4, and he wrapped up the biggest victory of his career with a clinical two-dart 66 combination – culminating on his favourite double 18 – to scoop the £10,000 top prize.
“It feels like it’s taken me 50 years, I’ve been playing that long,” Smith joked. “I’m so happy to finally win a title, I’m bursting with pride.
“Beating Brendan is a massive mental hurdle I’ve overcome today. I know I can beat anyone on my day but what I’ve always struggled with is the consistency.
“I feel like for the first time in my career I’m starting to beat the big players and then kick on in my next game. I hope this can be a breakthrough moment for me. Before this year I had never made a final, I’ve made two and one won now so there’s no reason why I can’t make an impression at the World Matchplay.”
Smith began his campaign by accounting for two Irishmen; following up a deciding-leg win over Steve Lennon with a 6-3 success against Keane Barry. ‘Smudger’ then fired in a 105.60 average to stun world champion Price, before landing another ton-plus average to demolish Anderson 6-1 in the last eight, having also dumped out Ron Meulenkamp.
Dolan was denied a second Players Championship triumph in 2021, but the Northern Irishman has regained his place in the world’s top 32 as he prepares for a seventh World Matchplay appearance later this month.
The former World Grand Prix finalist edged out five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld in the second round and posted a sensational 109.19 average to dispatch Michael Smith in the quarter-finals. Dolan also saw off Dimitri Van den Bergh in comprehensive fashion to reach the final, having succumbed to the Belgian in Monday’s quarter-finals.
Nevertheless, Van den Bergh continued his impressive form ahead of his impending Matchplay title defence, landing the third nine-dart finish of Super Series 5 during his 6-3 defeat of Premier League champion Jonny Clayton in the last 16.
Elsewhere, Michael van Gerwen suffered an opening-round exit at the hands of an impressive Luke Woodhouse, while Glen Durrant’s 17-match losing streak finally came to an end, as he battled past Joe Cullen in his opener, only to relinquish a 5-2 cushion against ‘Rapid’ Ricky Evans in round two.
Thursday’s event represents the final opportunity for players to secure their spots in the World Matchplay, although 27 players have confirmed their spot in the 32-player field, as Vincent van der Voort, Ian White, Ryan Searle, Callan Rydz and Chris Dobey currently occupy the final five provisional Pro Tour qualification places.
Five-time world champion Van Barneveld would need to win Thursday’s £10,000 top prize to secure a Winter Gardens return, while 2013 runner-up Adrian Lewis and former Lakeside champion Steve Beaton must also lift the title if they are to maintain their appearance records at the Winter Gardens.
Simon Whitlock – who defeated Van Gerwen to reach the quarter-finals of last year’s event – also faces the prospect of missing out on the World Matchplay for the first time in his PDC career unless he reigns supreme at Players Championship 20, which marks the conclusion of Super Series 5 at the Coventry Building Society Arena.
Image Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
2021 Players Championship 19
Wednesday July 7
Ryan Joyce 6-5 Kim Huybrechts
Keegan Brown 6-3 Luke Humphries
Gary Anderson 6-1 Martin Schindler
Ross Smith 6-4 Ron Meulenkamp
Nathan Aspinall 6-5 Kevin Doets
Dimitri Van den Bergh 6-3 Jonny Clayton
Brendan Dolan 6-0 Jeff Smith
Michael Smith 6-2 Danny Noppert
Ryan Joyce 6-3 Keegan Brown
Ross Smith 6-1 Gary Anderson
Dimitri Van den Bergh 6-2 Nathan Aspinall
Brendan Dolan 6-2 Michael Smith
Ross Smith 7-2 Ryan Joyce
Brendan Dolan 7-2 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Ross Smith 8-4 Brendan Dolan