CLINICAL CLAYTON CELEBRATES GRAZ GLORY AT AUSTRIAN DARTS OPEN
Jonny Clayton claimed his first European Tour title since 2018 after defeating Josh Rock 8-6 to clinch his second Interwetten Austrian Darts Open crown on a remarkable day of drama in Graz.
Clayton returned to the winner’s circle in spectacular style at the Steiermarkhalle, edging out Rock in a high-quality tussle to secure his first PDC ranking title since October 2021.
The Welshman had opened his challenge with a deciding-leg victory over Jelle Klaasen on Saturday, before averaging 106 in his last 16 clash against Damon Heta, sealing his progress with a sublime 161 checkout.
Clayton continued his charge with a 6-3 win over Joe Cullen in the quarter-finals, before recovering from a 6-3 deficit to deny Daryl Gurney in a dramatic semi-final – surviving two match darts in the penultimate leg.
The former Premier League champion capitalised on this reprieve to reclaim the Austrian Darts Open title, five years on from his victory over his World Cup partner Gerwyn Price at this venue.
Rock drew first blood in Sunday’s showpiece with a 14-dart hold, but Clayton soon established control with a blistering four-leg burst, following up a 121 checkout in leg three with a 12-dart break in the fifth.
The Northern Irishman responded by winning three of the next four legs to cut the deficit to 4-5, and a clinical 102 combination in leg 11 saw him continue to apply pressure on 2018 champion Clayton.
However, the Welshman replied with a convincing hold to move to the cusp of victory at 7-5, before following a fifth 180 by pinning double 13 to prevail in a breathless contest.
“I think Graz is very kind to me. I love this place,” reflected Clayton, who averaged over 101 to scoop the £30,000 top prize and the coveted green jacket - awarded to each year’s champion in Austria.
“The crowd have been fantastic. They’ve been behind me all tournament and now I’ve got another green jacket. What more can I ask for?
“There are no easy games. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be and obviously today was my day, so I’m going to appreciate this win.
“The support is unreal. I was a working man playing darts as a hobby. Now it’s my profession and with a crowd like this behind me, I can’t ask for anything more – it is absolutely fantastic.”
Rock, meanwhile, made history on his run to a maiden European Tour final, whitewashing reigning champion Michael van Gerwen to inflict the Dutchman’s first defeat at this event since 2016.
The 22-year-old converted 70% of his attempts at double to condemn Van Gerwen to a second whitewash defeat of his European Tour career, following in the footsteps of Luke Humphries in Munich last year.
The World Youth Champion also ended the hopes of home favourite Mensur Suljovic in the quarter-finals, having come through a last-leg decider against his compatriot Mickey Mansell earlier in the day.
“Well done to Jonny. He was the better player and he deserved the win,” reflected Rock, who performed superbly to advance to a second ranking final of 2023.
“Jonny took his chances when he had to, but I reached my first semi-final and final on the same night [on the European Tour], so I cannot complain. I’m happy.
“I was surprised that I whitewashed Michael. We have only played each other three times and that was my first time beating him and I beat him in style.
“I can’t take anything away from Jonny though. He was absolutely phenomenal, but I’m happy to get to the final, and thanks very much to the fans, they were fantastic.”
Van Gerwen was bidding to maintain his incredible unbeaten record at this venue, dispatching Simon Whitlock and Ryan Searle on Finals Day, prior to his chastening defeat against Rock.
Gurney was the day’s other losing semi-finalist, following up Saturday’s win over top seed Luke Humphries with victories against UK Open champion Andrew Gilding and last year’s runner-up Danny Noppert.
Noppert defeated Premier League duo Chris Dobey and Nathan Aspinall in reaching the last eight, while Cullen and Searle posted ton-topping averages in wins over Dirk van Duijvenbode and Rob Cross on Sunday afternoon.
Elsewhere, home hero Suljovic marked his big stage return with a memorable run to the quarter-finals, defeating the world’s top two to feature in his first quarter-final of 2023.
The Austrian icon celebrated 6-2 wins over world number two Peter Wright and World Champion Michael Smith at the Steiermarkhalle, before succumbing to eventual finalist Rock in the last eight.
The PDC European Tour continues from April 28-30 with the Dutch Darts Championship in Leeuwarden, which will see 48 players competing in the year's sixth £175,000 tournament.
The tournament will be broadcast live on Viaplay, DAZN and PDCTV (excluding Germany, Austria and Switzerland) and through bookmakers' websites worldwide.
2023 Interwetten Austrian Darts Open
Sunday April 23
Daryl Gurney 6-4 Andrew Gilding
Danny Noppert 6-5 Nathan Aspinall
Jonny Clayton 6-4 Damon Heta
Joe Cullen 6-2 Dirk van Duijvenbode
Josh Rock 6-5 Mickey Mansell
Mensur Suljovic 6-2 Michael Smith
Michael van Gerwen 6-2 Simon Whitlock
Ryan Searle 6-3 Rob Cross
Daryl Gurney 6-1 Danny Noppert
Jonny Clayton 6-3 Joe Cullen
Josh Rock 6-4 Mensur Suljovic
Michael van Gerwen 6-1 Ryan Searle
Jonny Clayton 7-6 Daryl Gurney
Josh Rock 7-0 Michael van Gerwen
Jonny Clayton 8-6 Josh Rock
Text credits : Josh Gorton/PDC