Krzysztof Ratajski produced a superb comeback to edge out Joe Cullen and claim his first title of the year in the final Pro Tour event of 2021 at Players Championship 30 on Thursday.
‘The Polish Eagle’ has reached semi-finals at the World Matchplay and World Series Finals this term, although he was without a PDC Pro Tour title since February 2020.
Nevertheless, the former World Masters champion saved his best performance of the season until last, to deny Cullen a third Pro Tour success of the campaign and scoop the £10,000 top prize at the Barnsley Metrodome.
Having scraped past Berry van Peer in an attritional opener, Ratajski relinquished just five legs in sweeping aside the trio of Jose Justicia, Nathan Aspinall and Simon Whitlock – firing in a 107 average to dispatch ‘The Wizard’.
The Polish number one fired in a timely 12-dart leg in a decider to dump out Jonny Clayton in a thrilling quarter-final, which he followed up with a resounding 7-3 victory against Darius Labanauskas, averaging 100.47 in the process.
Cullen – who prevailed in the first Players Championship event of 2021 – appeared poised to triumph in the last after storming into an early 3-1 advantage, and although Ratajski levelled at three apiece, he squandered a multitude of chances to lead and ‘The Rockstar’ duly restored his two-leg cushion.
Ratajski trailed 7-5 at one stage, yet he followed up earlier checkouts of 139 and 108 by punishing a sloppy leg from Cullen to break throw in leg 13, before converting a clinical two-dart 87 combination to force a dramatic last-leg shootout.
Cullen was afforded the advantage of throw in the decider having won the bullseye, but Ratajski was the first to a finish and made no mistake, sealing the deal with a superb 112 kill on double 16 to spark jubilant celebrations.
“It was incredible for me, very emotional,” admitted Ratajski ppst-match. “I’m really happy with this win, it’s very important for me. It’s a long time since I won the last tournament and it’s something incredible for me, really.
“At the start of the season I played good in the stage tournaments but in the floor tournament’s I wasn’t so good. In these last three days I’ve played really brilliant darts and felt really good. It’s a big thing for me.”
Despite missing out on a sixth Players Championship crown, Cullen still had plenty to celebrate, as he confirmed his spot at next weekend’s Grand Slam of Darts.
Cullen knew he would be assured of his place in Wolverhampton unless Chris Dobey or Callan Rydz lifted Thursday’s title, and after Dobey succumbed to Jamie Hughes in his opener, Cullen defeated Rydz in an absorbing last 16 tussle that saw both players average over 100.
That was one of three ton-plus averages recorded by Cullen throughout the afternoon, who followed up a comfortable win over Jeffrey de Zwaan by registering deciding-leg victories over Andy Boulton and Kim Huybrechts respectively.
Fresh from defying a 106 average from Rydz in the last 16, Cullen then prevailed in another titanic tussle against Danny Noppert in the quarter-finals, closing out a 6-3 win with a 104 average, despite Noppert averaging almost 109.
This set up a semi-final showdown against Michael van Gerwen, who was bidding to secure back-to-back Pro Tour titles, but ‘Mighty Mike’ was left stunned by an astonishing comeback from Cullen.
Van Gerwen raced into a 3-0 lead and led 4-2 at one stage, yet the Bradford-born star came roaring back, reeling off five consecutive legs to triumph with a staggering 111.28 average, courtesy of six 180’s and a 100% success rate on the outer ring.
MvG had maintained his fine form by posting three ton-plus averages of his own, including high-quality wins over Daryl Gurney and Damon Heta, although Cullen’s heroics denied the world No 3 a chance to secure his second Players Championship title of 2021.
Elsewhere, Lithuania’s Labanauskas enjoyed his best run in a Players Championship event since May 2019 courtesy of wins over UK Open champion James Wade, Dirk van Duijvenbode and in-form Ryan Searle en route to the semi-finals.
Matt Edgar produced some superb performances to reach his first Players Championship quarter-final since February 2019. ‘Prime Time’ dumped out top seed Michael Smith and Luke Humphries, but his hopes of retaining his Tour Card rest on his performances at both the Grand Slam and World Championship qualifier.
Newly crowned World Series Finals winner Clayton, World Grand Prix semi-finalist Noppert and ten-time major winner Wade joined Edgar in the quarter-finals, though it was Ratajski who claimed the spoils, as he remarkably reached the final of the last Players Championship event for a fourth consecutive year.
In other news, Simon Whitlock secured last-gasp qualification for the Players Championship Finals with a run to the last 16 on Thursday. ‘The Wizard’ overcame Lisa Ashton and Karel Sedlacek to reach his board final, where he survived ten match darts and recovered from 5-1 adrift to defeat Raymond van Barneveld.
Image Credit: PDC
2021 Players Championship 30
Thursday November 4
Matthew Edgar 6-5 Luke Humphries
Michael van Gerwen 6-4 Damon Heta
Joe Cullen 6-4 Callan Rydz
Danny Noppert 6-5 Martin Schindler
James Wade 6-5 Mensur Suljovic
Darius Labanauskas 6-5 Dirk van Duijvenbode
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-2 Simon Whitlock
Jonny Clayton 6-1 Stephen Bunting
Michael van Gerwen 6-3 Matthew Edgar
Joe Cullen 6-3 Danny Noppert
Darius Labanauskas 6-4 James Wade
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-5 Jonny Clayton
Joe Cullen 7-4 Michael van Gerwen
Krzysztof Ratajski 7-3 Darius Labanauskas
Krzysztof Ratajski 8-7 Joe Cullen