SIMON WHITLOCK held off a brilliant fightback from Mensur Suljovic to claim his place in the Unibet World Grand Prix final with a thrilling 4-3 victory on Friday night, as Daryl Gurney joined him in the Dublin decider.
The Australian will be appearing in his first televised ranking final since the 2013 European Championship on Saturday after seeing off the number six seed with the aid of some clinical finishing in a see-saw contest.
Whitlock landed four ton-plus checkouts as he opened up a 3-1 lead in sets, only to see Suljovic hit back as a 137 finish fired a run which saw him take the next two sets to force a decider.
Suljovic also led in the decisive seventh set, but three straight legs from Whitlock finally secured his place in the final as he continues his bid for a second TV title.
After Suljovic broke throw to claim the opening leg, Whitlock landed 180s in the next two legs alongside checkouts of 101 and 144 to take command, before claiming the set’s deciding leg with double 18 for a 14-darter.
Suljovic responded with a fine 154 checkout to open the second set, but Whitlock levelled before capitalising on three misses from his opponent to move 2-1 up before another 14-darter – including a 76 finish – sealed the set and doubled his advantage.
Whitlock opened the third set with a third ton-plus checkout of the game as he finished 111, only for Suljovic to level by taking out 70 before claiming the next two legs to respond.
Whitlock’s superb finishing continued as he took out 109 and 90 to led 2-1 in set four, and when Suljovic missed two darts at double 16 the Australian landed a tricky double three to move 3-1 up in the contest.
Suljovic’s battle to stay in the game continued in set five, with the Austrian coming from a leg down to level before punishing three misses from Whitlock with a fine 137 checkout to move 2-1 up.
Whitlock landed his fifth 180 before a 64 finish took the set to a decider, but Suljovic was first to a finish as double 14 gave the Champions League of Darts winner a second set.
Suljovic then took out 60, his favourite double 14 and tops – following 13 missed opening doubles from Whitlock – to soar through set six without reply to send the match into a decider as the tension rose.
Suljovic landed a 180 and a 96 finish to lead in the seventh set, but Whitlock finished 80 and tops in the next two to move 2-1 up before landing a 74 combination to finally claim the win.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” said Whitlock. “I feel amazing after that and maybe I was a little bit fortunate but I think the best player won in the end – just!
“When I was 3-1 up I felt in control and all of a sudden I panicked a bit. I still don’t know how I won that.
“I did choke – I lost my way a bit to be fair and somehow when I was a leg down in the final set I found it again. I didn’t give up – Mensur’s so good but I dug deep to win the match and found some good darts in that last set.
“I’ve been working so hard on everything, practising for three hours a day and especially on my doubles and checkouts, and it’s paying off finally.”
Northern Ireland’s Gurney thrilled the supportive Dublin crowd by reaching his first-ever televised ranking final with a 4-1 win over John Henderson.
Henderson had knocked out Dutch superstars Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Barneveld on the way to his maiden TV semi-final, but saw his memorable week at the Citywest Hotel ended by Gurney.
Gurney punished a slow start from the Scot to claim the opening set without reply, only for Henderson to burst into life in the second as he levelled the contest in style.
The Scot took out 60 for the opening leg before hitting seven perfect darts in leg two – scoring 160 and 180 and another treble 20 before missing the treble 17 in his bid for a nine-darter – as legs of 11 and 13 darts saw him square the game.
Henderson also took out finishes of 80 and 96 as the third set went to a deciding leg, but Gurney grasped the nettle in the decider as he landed a 180 and double 16 to regain the edge.
Gurney then raced through the fourth set without reply to move 3-1 up, punishing misses from Henderson in the opening two legs before finishing 86 for a clean sweep.
He also led in the fifth set before Henderson took successive legs to move 2-1 up, but three missed doubles from the Scot across the next two legs allowed Gurney to seal his spot in the final.
“I can’t really put it into words but I’m totally over the moon,” said Gurney.
“What makes it so hard to play him is that he’s such a gentleman – some players you can get angry against to get your game up, but John’s is such a nice guy.
“He’s such a class act and a super player and I didn’t want to give him the chance to come back, so I’m glad I got the winning double.”
Gurney has reached the UK Open and World Matchplay semi-finals this year and his emergence will continue as he challenges for the biggest title of his career and a £100,000 cheque.
“I’m very glad to get over that hurdle from the semi-final into the final,” he added. “I’ve been knocking on the door in the UK Open and World Matchplay and eventually I’ve got over the finishing line.
“I’ve been trying my very best since I joined the PDC five years ago and I’m starting to reap the rewards now.
“The players are so good and although John being in the semi-finals may be a shock to the TV viewers, to the players it’s not.
“I’ve got a chance to win this title now, and if I can get in front and stay in front I don’t care what my average is as long as I get to the winning post before Simon does.
“I’m looking forward to playing Simon and he knows that he’s going to be in a battle. I’m going to go out there and try and beat him from the first dart to the very last dart.”
Saturday’s final will see a new winner of the World Grand Prix claim the trophy and a £100,000 first prize, with the runner-up guaranteed £45,000.
In addition, both Whitlock and Gurney have now qualified for November’s bwin Grand Slam of Darts in Wolverhampton by reaching the World Grand Prix decider.
The Unibet World Grand Prix final will be preceded by the final of the Tom Kirby Memorial Irish Matchplay between William O’Connor and Jason Cullen, with the winner claiming a spot in the William Hill World Darts Championship alongside Ireland’s top domestic honour.
Unibet World Grand Prix
Friday October 6
Simon Whitlock 4-3 Mensur Suljovic
John Henderson 1-4 Daryl Gurney
Saturday October 7 (8pm)
Unibet World Grand Prix Final
Daryl Gurney v Simon Whitlock
Tom Kirby Memorial Irish Matchplay Final (approx 7.05pm)
Jason Cullen v William O’Connor
Unibet World Grand Prix Final: Best of nine sets, best of five legs per set. All legs must begin and end with a double, meaning that a player must hit a double before he can begin scoring in each leg.
Tom Kirby Memorial Irish Matchplay Final: Best of 11 legs