Ratajski comes from 5-1 down to see off man of the moment Price in Minehead
Krzysztof Ratajski produced an astonishing comeback to edge out last week’s controversial Grand Slam of Darts champion Gerwyn Price as the 2018 Players Championship Finals got underway in Minehead with a bumper day of first round action, played across two boards simultaneously.
‘The Polish Eagle’ found himself 4-0 and 5-1 down at the hands of a brilliant display from the Welshman, who seemed to be continuing his form from the Wolverhampton stage. However, without the play of ‘The Iceman’ relenting, Ratajski found a stunning run of form, averaging 119 in those five consecutive legs won to somehow deny Price a single match dart and progress to a second round clash with Adrian Lewis, who seemed back to his best with a 6-2 win over youngster Adam Hunt. Lewis’ average would’ve been well over the 100 mark if it wasn’t for one scrappy leg on the doubles, but he will certainly be looking forward to his rematch with the Pole after Ratajski came out on top in a highly-charged encounter in the last Players Championship event of the year.
On a day without too many other shocks, only two of the top sixteen seeds fell by the wayside. One of them was World Champion, Rob Cross, who was demolished 6-1 by a resurgent Cristo Reyes despite not playing all that bad. For ‘Voltage’, he goes into the defence of his world title massively out of form, while ‘The Spartan’ may fancy a run this weekend with a round two meeting with Steve Lennon in the offing. The Irishman averaged over 97 in a 6-2 defeat of Ryan Joyce. That particular section of the draw seems one of the most wide open, with World Youth Champion and nine-dart hero at the Grand Slam Dimitri Van den Bergh knocked out 6-2 by James Wilson and German Gabriel Clemens coming through 6-3 against Andrew Gilding.
‘The Dream-maker’ now turns his attentions to Sunday night, where he aims to become the first two-time PDC World Youth Champion against Martin Schindler, who may have also been concentrating on that game in his Players Championship Finals match today. Nathan Aspinall still played very well, though, in his 6-1 defeat of ‘The Wall’ with an average of nearly 97 and 46% on the doubles; the top quarter of the draw sees Aspinall as one of six Englishmen progressing. By far the best performance of that sextet was top seed, Ian White, who destroyed Scott Taylor 6-2 with the second highest average ever in this event, a 111.12. Local to Minehead, Ryan Searle produced a mini-shock to see off two-time PDC event winner Josh Payne 6-2 and book a meeting with Daryl Gurney who came out on top 6-3 against Robert Thornton, a game between two former World Grand Prix champions.
Elsewhere in that section, James Wade and Dave Chisnall were both made to work against Ross Smith and Jamie Lewis respectively, needing ten legs to advance but both looking promising ahead of a big period in their respective careers. The latter will take on Chris Dobey on Saturday after ‘Holllywood’ eventually got over the line 6-3 against Ron Meulenkamp. The first game of the day over in the atmospheric Red’s Bar saw Brendan Dolan join countryman Daryl Gurney in the last 32 with a 6-4 win over this year’s Challenge Tour champion Michael Barnard.
All the remaining big names avoided a shock at Butlin’s, with Gary Anderson looking to move on from his fiery defeat to Gerwyn Price at the Grand Slam, and starting off in style with a 108 average in a 6-2 win over Alan Tabern. Michael Smith, Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright all managed to progress as well with differing levels of performance, sending home Vincent van der Voort, Matthew Edgar and Toni Alcinas 6-0, 6-2 and 6-2 respectively. ‘The Bullyboy’ meets Jonny Clayton in the second round after he came through an all-Welsh clash with former finalist in this tournament Mark Webster 6-3, while Simon Whitlock also beat a fellow countryman, Kyle Anderson, 6-4 to set up a mouthwatering meeting with Gary Anderson.
Benito van de Pas’ return to the big stage after the withdrawal of Mensur Suljović ended in disappointment, although he managed to win three legs despite averaging below 80 in his defeat to Keegan Brown. Two more lowly averages were on show in a very scrappy Mervyn King-Simon Stevenson match-up, although it was the former World Master who progressed and will go on to face Danny Noppert in the last 32. ‘Noppie’ beat Rowby-John Rodriguez 6-3 on stage two, as elsewhere in that quarter, Stephen Bunting came through an absolute classic with Richard North with his 164 finish one of four ton-plus checkout’s in Bunting’s 6-5 success. He will play Madars Razma on Saturday after the Latvian beat Mickey Mansell 6-4. Max Hopp produced the highest average of the afternoon session, a 98.44, to edge past Steve West 6-4 in a great game and go through to a very winnable meeting with Peter Wright.
World Matchplay semi-finalist Jeffrey de Zwaan will play Dutch Darts Championship finalist Ricky Evans in a very tasty match-up in the round of 32 after they both won through, sending home two Dutchman – Jelle Klaasen and Jan Dekker 6-4 and 6-3 respectively. It wasn’t a brilliant day for Dutch darters in Minehead as Jermaine Wattimena and Jeffrey de Graaf were also knocked out, the former at the hands of Players Championship Finals debutant Stephen Burton in a deciding leg, and the latter losing out 6-3 to Darren Webster to set up an East Anglian derby of sorts.
Some ‘Late Night Beaton’ action in Red’s meant an entertaining commentary stint for Dan Dawson and Paul Nicholson, and the ‘Bronzed Adonis’ delighted his adoring crowd, coming through against Kim Huybrechts after the full eleven legs were played. For ‘The Hurricane’, ‘he’s still only won once on TV this year, which was that epic game against John Henderson in Blackpool. Speaking of Big Hendo, he was also taken all the way but was just edged out by European Championship semi-finalist Joe Cullen, who has set up a meeting with Steve Beaton as the second and third rounds are played on Saturday.
2018 Ladbrokes Players Championship Finals
Schedule of Play
Friday November 23
Jeffrey de Zwaan 6-4 Jelle Klaasen
Max Hopp 6-4 Steve West
Keegan Brown 6-3 Benito van de Pas
Adrian Lewis 6-2 Adam Hunt
Simon Whitlock 6-4 Kyle Anderson
Daryl Gurney 6-3 Robert Thornton
James Wade 6-4 Ross Smith
Dave Chisnall 6-4 Jamie Lewis
Brendan Dolan 6-4 Michael Barnard
Josh Payne 2-6 Ryan Searle
Nathan Aspinall 6-1 Martin Schindler
Gabriel Clemens 6-3 Andrew Gilding
Ryan Joyce 2-6 Steve Lennon
Mervyn King 6-4 Simon Stevenson
Stephen Bunting 6-5 Richard North
Mickey Mansell 4-6 Madars Razma
Ian White 6-2 Scott Taylor
Gary Anderson 6-2 Alan Tabern
Rob Cross 1-6 Cristo Reyes
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-5 Gerwyn Price
Peter Wright 6-2 Toni Alcinas
Michael van Gerwen 6-1 Matthew Edgar
Michael Smith 6-0 Vincent van der Voort
Jermaine Wattimena 5-6 Stephen Burton
John Henderson 5-6 Joe Cullen
Jonny Clayton 6-3 Mark Webster
Ricky Evans 6-3 Jan Dekker
James Wilson 6-2 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Danny Noppert 6-3 Rowby-John Rodriguez
Chris Dobey 6-3 Ron Meulenkamp
Darren Webster 6-3 Jeffrey de Graaf
Steve Beaton 6-5 Kim Huybrechts
Saturday November 24
Afternoon Session (1245 GMT)
Daryl Gurney v Ryan Searle
James Wade v Nathan Aspinall
Dave Chisnall v Chris Dobey
Cristo Reyes v Steve Lennon
Gary Anderson v Simon Whitlock
Michael van Gerwen v Keegan Brown
Peter Wright v Max Hopp
Stephen Bunting v Madars Razma
James Wilson v Gabriel Clemens
Jeffrey de Zwaan v Ricky Evans
Stephen Burton v Darren Webster
Ian White v Brendan Dolan
Danny Noppert v Mervyn King
Michael Smith v Jonny Clayton
Steve Beaton v Joe Cullen
Adrian Lewis v Krzysztof Ratajski
Evening Session (1900 GMT)