Nathan Aspinall was overcome by emotion after defying his injury woes to secure his first PDC ranking title in over two years at Players Championship 13 on Sunday.
The 30-year-old has been suffering with a wrist injury since the end of 2021, but he edged out Canada’s Matt Campbell at the Barnsley Metrodome to clinch his first Pro Tour title since March 2020.
Following his World Championship exit at Alexandra Palace, Aspinall was forced to miss the season-opening Masters and the first Players Championship double-header of 2022, with the injury affecting the tendons in the wrist of his throwing arm.
The former UK Open champion revealed his fears that he may not be capable of competing at the elite level again due to his injury woes, but he’s performed superbly over recent weeks, reaching a European Tour semi-final and succumbing to Ryan Searle in a Pro Tour final last Sunday.
Just seven days later, Aspinall was celebrating his return to the winner’s circle; defeating Campbell 8-6 with a 96.41 average to scoop the £12,000 top prize, and the Stockport star spoke candidly post-match about the most tumultuous period of his career.
“I feel so emotional, i’ve had a terrible six months with so much going on. It was only a few weeks ago I was wondering if I would ever play at the same standard again,” Aspinall admitted.
“I have put so much work in over the last few weeks to try and get back to the level I know I could play, and it’s all come together today.
“Two years since I’ve won a tournament, you start to doubt yourself if you belong with the big boys. But over the last couple of weeks I have put the time in and I am reaping the rewards, and today I am the winner.”
“It is still an issue, the tears are still there and you have to let them heal for maybe 12-18 months. I got the good news that I might not require surgery and I am having an injection a week on Tuesday and that should help it.
“I know I am a Premier League player, a top eight in the world player, but I have had a lot of stuff going on.
“Now my mentality and my head is so clear, and I need to get back to where I was in 2019, winning tournaments, TV tournaments and be back in that Premier League. I just need to keep trying my hardest, and put myself in that position.”
Campbell – following in the footsteps of John Part and Jeff Smith in becoming the third Canadian to feature in a PDC ranking final – drew first blood, only for Aspinall to reel off three straight legs and seize the initiative.
‘The Ginga Ninja’ responded to level at three apiece, but Aspinall broke straight back to restore his two-leg buffer, and although Campbell continued to apply the pressure, ‘The Asp’ was undeterred, sealing the deal with a magnificent 12-dart hold.
Aspinall’s route to a fourth Players Championship triumph was relatively serene, as he breezed through to the quarter-finals for the loss of just five legs.
The world No 17 eased past Joe Murnan and Nathan Rafferty in his opening games, before posting 105.96 and 104.97 averages to register 6-1 victories over Andy Boulton and Scott Mitchell respectively.
The 30-year-old defied a late rally from Rob Cross to record a 6-3 win in the last eight, before claiming an emphatic 7-3 success over a below-par Brendan Dolan to reach his second Pro Tour final in as many weeks.
For Campbell, he was left to reflect on a breakthrough moment in his PDC career, trousering £8,000 to put himself in a commanding position for World Championship qualification.
The 32-year-old signalled his intent with a 106.36 average to dispatch Jamie Hughes 6-2, and he backed this up with another sublime display, averaging 103.46 to dump out UK Open champion Danny Noppert.
The Ontario native then whitewashed Krzysztof Ratajski to reach the last 16, and wins over Peter Hudson (6-4), Martijn Kleermaker (6-3) and Gabriel Clemens (7-3) saw him seal his spot in Sunday’s showpiece.
Elsewhere, Adrian Lewis and Josh Rock were embroiled in a remarkable first round clash, as ‘Jackpot’ suffered a 6-3 defeat despite averaging a staggering 113.12, with the inspired Northern Irishman firing in a trio of 12-darters to prevail with a 112.34 himself.
Premier League duo Joe Cullen and James Wade also bowed out in round one, while top seed Gerwyn Price and world No 1 Peter Wright suffered second round exits, with Michael van Gerwen opting not to compete in Barnsley following his last 64 defeat on Saturday.
2022 Players Championship 13
Sunday April 10, Barnsley Metrodome
Martin Lukeman 6-5 Jake Jones
Gabriel Clemens 6-2 John Henderson
Matt Campbell 6-4 Peter Hudson
Martijn Kleermaker 6-4 Jonny Clayton
Brendan Dolan 6-5 Adam Gawlas
Scott Waites 6-2 Mickey Mansell
Nathan Aspinall 6-1 Scott Mitchell
Rob Cross 6-0 Kim Huybrechts
Gabriel Clemens 6-4 Martin Lukeman
Matt Campbell 6-3 Martijn Kleermaker
Brendan Dolan 6-1 Scott Waites
Nathan Aspinall 6-3 Rob Cross
Matt Campbell 7-2 Gabriel Clemens
Nathan Aspinall 7-3 Brendan Dolan
Nathan Aspinall 8-6 Matt Campbell