Gary Anderson claimed the 2018 BetVictor World Matchplay title, edging out Mensur Suljovic 21-19 in one of the greatest matches of all time to lift the coveted Phil Taylor trophy.
Two-time World Champion and Premier League winner Anderson became only the 3rd man in history- after Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen- to complete the ‘Triple Crown’ of PDC titles and cement his legacy in the sport.
The Scot, 47, enjoyed a remarkable week at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, pocketing £45,000 for a magical 9-dart leg in his epic quarter-final encounter against Joe Cullen before adding the £115,000 Champions cheque to boot.
However, Gary didn’t have things all his own way as Mensur Suljovic produced the best performance of his career to date, pulverizing the treble 20 like never before and coming so very close to making history of his own.
It was an understandably nervy start from both players, Gary missing 5 darts to break throw before Mensur nailed Double 2 with his 5th attempt to lead 1-0.
Predictably, it wasn’t long before both players hit their stride, with Mensur playing at a much faster pace than he employed in his semi-final victory over Peter Wright.
This suited Anderson, who, in previous meetings, had struggled to get into a rhythm against the giant Austrian- notably losing 13-9 in the second round of the 2015 edition of the Matchplay.
Both players thumped the treble 20 with metronomic regularity in the early stages, Anderson threatening a 9-dart repeat in leg 5 with back-to-back 180s before securing a 3-2 lead at the first interval.
Many predicted a landslide victory for huge odds-on favorite Anderson, but it was obvious from the get-go that Suljovic was going to hang around. Two breaks of throw in the second mini-session of play- including a cool 11-darter- leveled things once more at 5 apiece.
Subsequently, ‘The Gentle’ stamped his foot on the gas, troubling Anderson’s throw in the 17th leg and requiring just 25 to finish things off. Inexplicably, he chose the 5, double 10 route and missed wildly.
On returning to the board, Mensur reverted to his normal modus operandi of 9, double 8 but failed to convert- Anderson scrambling a double 2 to level once more at 7-7.
Unfazed, Suljovic nailed the first 3-figure outshot of the final with a 118 checkout on double 19, before engineering a 2-leg gap between the players for the first time with a break of throw to lead 9-7.
He should have stretched this advantage to 11-7 but missed numerous opportunities on the outer ring, especially after pinning 7 perfect darts in the 18th leg.
Consequently, Anderson hauled himself back to 9-9 and found himself 11-9 in front at the end of the session to the astonishment of Suljovic, who missed 10 consecutive darts at double- a defining period of the match.
The Flying Scotsman
Gary had been let off the hook, and it was all the encouragement he needed to take the shackles off and explode into top gear.
Relentless scoring across the next 5 legs meant Suljovic had now registered more 180s than ever before in a professional darts match. Even then, he could not match ‘The Flying Scotsman’ in the scoring phase and Gary struck the blows needed to secure a 14-11 advantage- just 4 away from the winning line.
A brief reposte from Mensur- who clawed himself back within 2 legs at 15-13- was superbly snuffed out by the World No.3 with his first tonne-plus finish of the game. The 105 checkout (Bull, 15, DTop) was executed with impeccable timing to keep his opponent at arm’s length, 16-13.
Anderson then moved himself to the brink of the 18 legs needed for victory, surviving 2 bounce-outs and a dart at double 16 from Suljovic to go 17-13 up and surely break the spirit of the lovable Austrian.
The Greatest Game?
Incredibly, he rallied, pumped in 12, 13 and 16 darters to draw back to only 1 behind and forced Anderson to serve the match out in order to avoid a tie-break.
Clearly stunned by the fight back, Gary buckled with the smallest of errors when level on 261 points each in leg 34. A meager score of 58 was met with a 140 from Mensur to create an opening.
Unbelievably, the 47-year-old completed the comeback with a 121 finish on the bullseye!
17 all and the rules of the World Matchplay dictate the winner must triumph by a margin of 2 clear legs.
Even Gary had to smile and as referee Paul Hinks enlightened the crowd that- for the first time this century- the final would be decided in overtime, the two men acknowledged each other’s efforts with a fist-pump.
A quick sip of water and a deep breath before the battle ensued.
By now, both were playing purely on adrenaline and continued to produce an impossibly high standard under the most intense of pressure.
Instinctively, Suljovic leaned on his beloved double 14, hit it first dart and moved into the lead for the first time since he was 9-8 up.
Now firmly on the back foot with Mensur just one leg from the title, Gary kept his composure and ended his 5-leg losing streak with tops to make it 18-18.
In what was now the longest final ever, Anderson went through the gears once more to smash in a 12-dart break of throw and regain the advantage.
What followed in the 38th leg surely confirmed this as the most dramatic final in the history of the Matchplay and possibly the sport itself. Throwing first, Anderson nailed back-to-back 140s before setting himself up on 121 for the title with a steady tonne…
Inconceivably, Suljovic chased him down with his 14th 180 before teeing up a shot at 46 after just 9 darts thrown- should Gary slip up.
He didn’t. Anderson conjured up a match dart at the bullseye for the win and hit it, only for it to fall out!
Calm as you like amidst the gasps from the enchanted audience, Mensur stepped up to level again at 19-19.
Clearly angry at his misfortune, Anderson showed his class to bounce back with a 180 on his very next turn and pick-pocketed Suljovic after he missed darts at double top and double ten.
20-19 to Anderson and this time, with Anderson rocketing towards the finish line Mensur had no answer.
History is Made
Double ten sealed a 21-19 victory for the Scot- his first World Matchplay crown and second major title of 2018 after his UK Open triumph in March.
In total, Gary now has 7 major PDC titles to his name- drawing him level with James Wade- and joins the aforementioned ‘Triple Crown’ club.
Both gladiators received a standing ovation in the iconic Winter Gardens venue, having treated viewers to 40 legs of pure darting drama.
Suljovic became only the 3rd man in the 25-year history of the event to lose the final with a higher average than his opponent. His 14 180s contributed to a record-equalling 28 in total, matching Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis’ figures from the 2013 final.
It was a phenomenal effort from a man attracting legions of fans- not least for his wondrous performances on the oche, but also his charm, humbleness, and warmth of character off the stage.
No doubt, magical Mensur will challenge again in the near future. As for Gary, he has pre-ordered a spot in the darting Hall of Fame.
Both players gave a great show of respect for each other in the aftermath, posing for photographs with their children and lapping up the atmosphere their master class created.
It was a fitting finale to a dazzling spectacle.
Once more, the PDC provided the pinnacle of darting superstardom at their showpiece event of the summer. Roll on 2019!
(Photos: Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
2018 BetVictor World Matchplay
Sunday 29th July
Gary Anderson 21-19 Mensur Suljovic