The opening two months of the 2022 WDF season may have looked a little different than originally planned after the postponement of the World Championships but there were still seven senior events played across four nations and several of this year’s Lakeside qualifiers got important, morale-boosting title wins under their belts. Andrew Sinclair recaps the action.
Kadar, Duff and Turner prepare for Lakeside with event wins in Slovakia as Clements claims maiden title
Long-time Romanian international Laszlo Kadar is flying under the radar going into his Lakeside debut but he will be full of confidence after winning the Slovak Open.
More than 400 men lined up in Samorin to compete in the first European silver-graded event of 2022 and when all was said and done, the title decider was between Kadar and another man who’ll be debuting at the iconic Frimley Green venue in April – Scott Marsh.
Kadar, known as ‘The Teacher’, dropped just one leg through the point-scoring rounds, while Marsh was convincing in his victories over defending champion Chris Landman and Patrik Kovács. That set the stage for a good quality final and so it proved.
Marsh led 2-0 early on before Kadar won three legs on the spin to move ahead. A big 140 finish, Marsh’s second ton-plus out of the match, helped him retake the lead and go within one of the title at 4-3. Momentum was to swing again, though. Kadar’s excellent set-up shots put him in the drivers’ seat for the last two legs and he took his chances to win 5-4 and add this event win to the Apatin Open title he picked up last year.
In the Women’s Open, Jo Clements picked up her maiden career title. Reaching the semi-finals of two big Gold events in 2021, the England Open and the Irish Open, showed that the Lancastrian wasn’t far away from breaking through and in Slovakia, she realised that potential.
Clements had to come through consecutive last-leg deciders to overcome fast-rising Italian teenager Aurora Fochesato and Laura Turner to make the final. There she went up against top seed Suzanne Smith who’d looked in ominous form on the other side of the draw.
‘Twinkle’ started the final brightly, breaking the Smith throw as she opened a 2-0 lead. A scrappy fourth leg ultimately proved the decider – Clements finally hit double one to go 3-1 up. Had Smith levelled at 2-2 it could have been a different game but the two-leg lead gave Clements confidence and from there she pushed through to emerge a 5-2 winner.
Sunday saw the Bronze-graded Slovak Masters played. In the Men’s Masters, Northern Ireland’s Neil Duff picked up the second ranking title of his career.
Duff pipped Open champion Laszlo Kadar in the quarter-finals 4-3 and followed that up with a 4-2 semi-final win over Wales’ Mark Graham, whose two semi-final runs during the weekend bode well for his Lakeside tussle with Dave Prins. In the title decider, Duff just had too much quality and experience for young Dutchman Moreno Blom, who was playing in his first WDF senior final.
Laura Turner had been denied a place in the Slovak Open final by Jo Clements the day before but there was to be no repeat in the Masters. Turner won the rematch 4-2 before going one better in the final to defeat Lorraine Winstanley 5-2.
The weekend’s Youth competitions were won by Hungary’s Rajmund Papp and Czech thrower Matyáš Rejhon.
Gates and Murphy ramp up Lakeside prep in Sacramento
It wasn’t just the European players who were getting warmed up for the World Championships during the last weekend in February, with Leonard Gates and Paula Murphy both adding to their title collections at the Camellia Classic in California.
Gates, nicknamed ‘Soldier’, had won the last two editions of the Camellia Classic and looked set to make it a three-peat after making the final for the loss of just three legs. His opponent there was a surging Jeff Springer, who, after an opening two legs that went with throw, showed some clinical finishing to break and build a 3-1 lead in a race to five.
Gates broke back to 3-3 and from there his superior power scoring proved the difference as he ran out a 5-4 winner. The Texan has now won 21 career WDF titles and looks in great form heading into his Lakeside debut game against Johnny Haines.
Paula Murphy, meanwhile, had recorded two whitewash wins before being pushed hard by first-time event finalist Lisa Yee in a tight game. Yee even led the game at one stage, but Murphy put all her veteran experience to good use as she came back and overcame some double trouble to emerge a 5-3 victor.
Carson Buchmiller won the Camellia Youth event, defeating Richard Chism 3-1 in the final, but he wasn’t the only Youth winner in America last week.
Over in Maine, the Port City Open took place. Traditionally a senior ranked event, only the Youth competitions carried points in 2022. The bulk of those were claimed by Jim Fitzsimmons, who won the Boys’ event, and Aaja Jalbert, who continued her run of dominance on the US Girls’ scene.
It’s a Middlesex title double in Reykjavik
February began with the Bronze-graded Reykjavik International Games, a competition I was lucky enough to participate in.
Huge credit must go to the Icelandic federation for their running of the tournament. The venue was exceptional, very modern and spacious, and with DartConnect on every board it was run very smoothly. It was also great to see so many relative newcomers to the sport playing in the event – Iceland is very much a country on the up in the darts world.
I was one of only three English players in the competitions and the other two, John Scott and Margaret Sutton, came home with trophies in their possession.
John Scott came through a veritable list of Iceland’s best to win the Men’s competition, defeating Hallgrimur Egilsson and Matthías Örn Fridriksson in tight games en route to the final, where he met ‘The Grenade’ Vitor Charrua. ‘Gnasher’ made a strong start, only for Vitor to rally and level it up at 5-5. Over the last two legs, John re-located his scoring boots to emerge a 7-5 victor and pick up his third career title.
Margaret Sutton proved incredibly dominant in the Women’s competition as she picked up her first ranking title in almost 15 years.
After dropping just two legs in the knockout rounds, Sutton was matched up with Iceland’s top-ranked female player, Ingibjorg Magnusdottir. The home favourite fired in two 180s during the final but it was Sutton’s clutch finishing that prove the key difference between them as she won 7-2.
Widmayer and Kadochnikov among January winners
The ranking season began in January with what was a relatively quiet month containing just three events.
The first two were played in Russia, giving Aleksey Kadochnikov a chance to show off why he was a two-time event winner in 2021. ‘The Beard’ was in fine fettle in Izhevsk, winning the Udmurtia Open and Kalashnikov Open competitions with final wins over Aleksandr Basharin and Alexander Nagovitsyn respectively.
The women’s titles in Izhevsk were split between Lakeside qualifier Elena Shulgina and 15-year-old standout Yuliana Khityaeva. Natalia Aleksandrova proved a common opponent as she made both finals.
The Las Vegas Open always attracts one of the biggest crowds on the American circuit and that was no different in 2022. Three-time Lakeside qualifier Jim Widmayer, who has been battling cancer for much of the last two years, was back to somewhere near his best as he beat fellow veteran Gary Mawson to claim the 15th ranking title of his career.
After that event, Jim spoke about wanting to seal a place at Lakeside next year. With his Vegas win and the semi-final run he enjoyed at the Camellia Classic, that’s definitely on the cards.
In the women’s event, we got a first-time even winner as Julie Weger defeated Shea Cole in a last-leg decider.
A busy March on the road to Lakeside
The headline item in what is a busy March is the first Gold-graded event of 2022, the Isle of Man Open. That weekend also includes the Silver-graded Isle of Man Classic, while over in Budapest there’s a Bronze-graded double-header with the Budapest Classic and Masters.
The month begins with a first trip of the year to Australia for the Bronze-graded NSW Great Lakes Open and a third stop of the year in America for the Missouri St. Patrick’s Open.
The weekend of March 19th-20th is a busy one, with a Bronze double-header in the Faroe Islands, the Gibraltar Open and the International Youth Challenge in Austria.
March then concludes with the Virginia Beach Classic, one of the USA’s biggest events of the year.
All in all, there’s a lot of opportunities open to players ahead of the big showpiece, the World Championships at Lakeside, at the beginning of April.