Two players from New Zealand secured their places at the 2023 WDF World Championships during a busy July that also featured event double-headers with important ranking implications in England, Japan and Serbia. Andrew Sinclair recaps the action.
300 men and 111 women flocked to Rotorua to take part in New Zealand’s first-ever gold-ranked event, the New Zealand Open, in late July. With so much on the line, it was no surprise that both finals went all the way.
Ben Robb lined up a potential WDF World Championship debut after edging out defending champion Haupai Puha 6-5 in a last-leg decider.
A brace of 4-0 wins put ‘Big Rig’ into the Last 16, where he saw off Tahuna Irwin 4-1. He was back to his whitewashing best in the quarter-finals, accounting for Anthony Benitez 4-0.
Robb then defeated Brian Corbett 5-3 in the last four to set up the title decider with Puha, who, after squeezing through a tight game in the Last 64, dropped just three legs in wins over 13-year-old Ihaka Kaio-Wynyard, Jamie Hilton-Jones, Jimmy Samuels and John Hurring to make the final.
Although he came up short on this occasion, Puha extended his record of having played in every New Zealand ranking final in 2022 and still boasts a comfortable lead atop the regional rankings. There are five events left on the New Zealand calendar before the end of the season.
History was made in the women’s New Zealand Open, where Victoria Monaghan picked up her first WDF title with a 5-4 win over Wendy Harper. With victory, Monaghan has secured her ‘Golden Ticket’ to the 2023 Worlds, where she’ll be the first transgender player to compete in a Darts World Championship.
After coming through a last-leg decider in the Last 64, Monaghan eliminated the experienced Tina Osborne in the Last 32. She then beat Grace Padget 4-0 in the Last 16, Maryanne Teinaki 4-2 in the quarter-finals and Sha Maru-Habib 4-3 in the semis.
Harper, who opted to miss this year’s Worlds because of Covid concerns, appeared to be on a mission before this year’s Open final, dropping just three legs across her four knockout games. Her toughest test came in the semis, where she enjoyed another meeting with the ever-improving Nicole Regnaud. Harper won that game 4-2, although Regnaud still leads the regional ranking table after four events.
In 2021, the England Open weekend contained the first Gold tournament of the year following the resumption of ranking events. While this year's competitions were only Silver-graded, the competition was still fierce and there were four different winners across the four senior tournaments.
WDF World Champion Beau Greaves won the England Open to take her title tally for the year to 2022 and extend her lead atop the women’s rankings.
The teenager breezed into the quarter-finals without dropping a leg. She accounted for Lorraine Winstanley 4-1 in the last eight before seeing off Claire Brookin 4-2 in the semi-finals.
Her opponent in the title decider was Cathy Hughes, who, after coming through a last-leg decider in her opening game, beat the likes of Lorraine Hyde, Rhian O’Sullivan and Vicky Pruim to reach her first WDF final.
Greaves was largely unchallenged in the final, throwing two 180s, averaging 88.41 and completing victory with a 120 finish as she ran out a 5-0 winner.
Deta Hedman had been defending champion but exited in the Last 16 after a 4-0 loss to Sara Mortimer.
The Men’s England Open final was contested by two men in search of their first WDF titles. In a final that featured seven 180s, David Pallett survived match darts to beat Graham Hall 5-4.
A break in the opening leg helped England international Pallett, who’d beaten Jim McEwan and Andy Baetens on his way to the final, establish an early 3-1 lead. Hall, runner-up in May’s Welsh Classic, battled back, though, winning the next three legs in 47 darts to go 4-3 up and move within a leg of the title.
An 18-dart hold of throw from Pallett took it to a last-leg decider, where Hall had the darts. With Hall sat on 60, Pallett wired a dart at tops for a match-winning 108 checkout. ‘G-Man’ couldn’t capitalise, squandering a match dart at both tops and double 10 before Pallett returned to pin double 10 at the first time of asking.
Less than an hour earlier, Scott Marsh had defeated Darren Johnson to pick up his second career WDF title in the England National Singles.
‘Marshy’ had lost the Slovak Open and Romanian Open finals earlier in the year but on this occasion had enough in the tank to come from behind and defeat his Yorkshire-based opponent.
The first five legs of the final went on throw, with Denmark Open finalist Johnson always slightly ahead. The turning point came in the sixth leg, when Johnson missed a handful of darts to go 4-2 up. Marsh would go on to level the scores before breaking himself in the next leg with a 16-darter to lead for the first time.
Johnson’s scoring power deserted him in the final leg, with Marsh proving steady and straight before going out on tops to finish a 5-3 winner.
Rhian O’Sullivan won her first ranking title since the 2012 Turkish Open in the Women’s England National Singles.
Wales captain O’Sullivan had come close to ending her title drought earlier in the year but lost in the finals of the Welsh Classic and Dutch Open.
Here, she dominated the competition in the earlier rounds, dropping just three legs in wins over Emily Davidson, Jordan McNally, Jo Locke, Deta Hedman and Priscilla Steenbergen, before defeating Aileen de Graaf in the final.
O’Sullivan produced a 110 finish in the second leg of the final to break the de Graaf throw and go 2-0 up. De Graaf immediately broke back to halve the deficit but she was unable to build on that momentum; the final statline of 1/12 on the doubles told the story of her final. Instead, O’Sullivan went on to win the next three legs to run out a 5-1 winner.
Luke Littler claimed his fourth WDF Youth title of 2022 in the Boys’ Open, defeating Archie Self 5-1 in the final. The Girls’ crown was won by Hannah Meek, who came from behind and survived match darts to beat England international Amy Evans 3-2.
The WDF returned to Japan for the second time this year for a Silver-graded double-header. The star of the show was Singaporean legend Paul Lim, who, 17 years after his last WDF title, picked up two in the space of two days.
Lim, who threw a handful of ton-plus averages over the course of the weekend, picked up his first title in the Bud Brick Memorial after averaging 91.48 in a 5-1 final win over Masumi Chino.
A sensational 11-darter put Lim 2-1 up in a race to five before the final’s decisive moment came in the fourth leg. After Chino missed five darts to hold throw and level the scores, Lim went out in 16 to double his advantage.
It was a similar story in the next as Lim punished Chino’s misses on the outer ring to extend his lead to 4-1 before then sealing the title with a 14-darter.
He completed the double the following day in the 47th Japan Open. On this occasion, his final opponent was West Japan Cup runner-up Mitsuhiko Tatsunami.
The 68-year-old raced into an early 2-0 lead, holding throw in the opening leg before pinning 96 for a 12-dart break in the second. Tatsunami immediately broke back though and an 82 finish made it 2-2.
A second break for Lim in the sixth leg helped him establish another two-leg lead, only for Tatsunami to produce a 17-darter to make it 4-3. He couldn’t find the darts to draw level this time, however, with Lim instead taking out 104 to seal victory.
Two-time World Champion Mikuru Suzuki ramped up her preparations for August’s Australian Darts Open by winning her second title of the year in the Women’s Japan Open.
‘Miracle’ came through her group without dropping a leg but was pushed all the way in the last 16 by Yuna Yamamoto before winning 4-3. From there she was relatively untroubled, seeing off Takako Kogama 4-1 and Mayu Aoki 4-0 to reach the final.
Her opponent was Yoko Tsukui, whose impressive run included victories over Yukie Sakaguchi and Kasumi Sato. After Suzuki opened proceedings with a 16-darter, Tsukui had chances in the second and third legs of the final. She couldn’t find her range on the outer ring, though, and Suzuki capitalised to establish a 3-0 lead before going through the gears with finishes of 70 and 100 to seal a comfortable 5-0 whitewash win.
Suzuki wasn’t in action the previous day in the Bud Brick Memorial, with 2019 WDF World Cup pairs champion Mayumi Ouchi coming through to win the title.
Ouchi, a winner of seven previous WDF ranking events, dropped just three legs in five games before facing Kiyo Shimizu in the final.
The first four legs of the final went against the throw, Ouchi twice taking the lead before getting pegged back by Shimizu. Shimizu took the lead for the first time in the fifth leg with a 19-dart hold but that was as good as it got for her as Ouchi won the next three legs to complete a 5-3 victory.
Aurora Fochesato made history as the WDF Europe Youth Cup returned in July after a three-year absence.
The teenager, who made a splash last year by reaching the final in her first senior WDF event, became the first Italian to reach the final of any WDF Cup after beating Turkey’s Zehra Gemi in the Girls Singles semis. She then made further history in the final, defeating England’s Amy Evans 5-1 to seal a maiden Gold for Italy.
She would head home with two medals to her credit after picking up a Bronze in the Girls Pairs alongside Elisa Bolzicco. The Pairs winners were the team that had beaten the Italians in the semis, Hungary’s Tamara Kovács and Krisztina Turai.
Despite not winning Gold in the Singles or the Pairs, consistent performances across both tournaments meant that England picked up overall Gold.
It was a different story in the Boys’ events, where England recorded a clean sweep.
Luke Littler added yet another title to his collection in Boys’ Singles, averaging just shy of 90 in a 5-1 win over teammate Archie Self.
The Pairs was won by Thomas Banks and Charlie Manby, who beat WDF Boys World Champion Bradly Roes and Dylan van Lierop in the final.
Littler, Self, Banks and Manby then carried their excellent form into the Team final, which they won 9-0 against the Republic of Ireland.
The pandemic meant that a number of players missed out on the opportunity to represent their countries. As such, some were given a window to do so this time in a one-off Under-21 event.
The Boys tournaments were dominated by the Czech Republic and specifically Tomas Houdek - he won the Singles, Pairs and hit the winning double to complete a comeback win in the Team final against Hungary.
Denmark were the force to be reckoned with in the Girls Under-21 events, with Anick Sonnichsen winning the Singles after earlier partnering Mathilde Kjær to Pairs glory.
Veronika Ihász needed a big weekend in Serbia to keep her hopes of return to the World Championships alive and she managed it, winning the Apatin Open and Serbian Open.
She extended her Apatin Open winning run to seven successive editions with a 4-1 win over the Czech Republic’s former player Jitka Císarová. It was a little closer the following day in the Serbian Open but Ihász won that one 4-3 to seal her 22nd career WDF title.
The Hungarian now trails Císarová by 40 points in the regional rankings with three more events to go before the end of season cut-off.
The Men’s titles ended up being split. Patrik Kovács maintained the momentum from his Romanian Open triumph by picking up his third title of the year in the Serbian Open. ‘The Planer’ had to survive a last-leg decider against Oliver Ferenc en route to the final, where he beat Laszlo Kadar 5-3.
The previous day, soft tip standout Dean Biškupić won the Apatin Open. A surprise winner to some, the Croat showed his quality in beating Patrik Kovács in the quarters, Iceland and Swiss Open champion Gabor Takács in the semis and then Benjamin Pratnemer in the final.
A number of the WDF’s biggest names will be off to Australia in the coming days for the third Platinum-graded event of the year, the Australian Darts Open. Among those already confirmed to be in action are World Champions Neil Duff and Beau Greaves, Dutch Open champion Jelle Klaasen, Lisa Ashton, Mikuru Suzuki, Kirsty Hutchinson, Haupai Puha and Raymond Smith.
In addition to that blockbuster event, Australia will also play host to two more senior ranking events before August is done - the Silver-graded Pacific Masters on August 7th and the Bronze-graded Murray Bridge Classic at the end of the month. They’ll also be running the Silver-graded Junior Pacific Masters during the Australian Open week.
The New Zealand ranking race continues with another event, the Silver-graded John Wilkie Memorial, while there are also two popular double-headers taking place in Europe.
On the same weekend as the Australian Darts Open, the Antwerp and Belgian Opens are set to take place. Two weeks later, the tour heads to Sweden for the first time in three years for the Swedish Open and Classic.