Recently, the Champions League of darts occurred, signalling a key focal point in the season, with players able to solely compete versus the most accomplished players in the sport. With world number one Michael Van Gerwen having already amassed six tournament victories in 2017, including three major triumphs from three finals, he seemed to be well-equipped to continue his run of consistent form. Yet, with the Dutchman claiming the focus, Mensur Suljovic seemed to thrive, with his billing as the underdog perhaps enabling him to play at his peak capabilities, ultimately succeeding in his quest to claim the trophy. With all of these victories occurring versus superiorly ranked opposition, Suljovic may have proven his credentials, and with Taylor’s retirement imminent, the win may act as the catalyst in him taking the reins and ultimately replacing the Englishman.
Upon the tournament’s creation in 2016, the organisers showcased their desire to renovate the sport, and provide opportunities for the most proficient players on the circuit to contest amongst themselves in order to both hone their capabilities and simultaneously provide fans with intriguing and competitive encounters. As such, the Champions League claimed a position on the calendar, and with Phil Taylor triumphing, the tournament seemed to gain further exposure and credibility, with Taylor’s status perhaps playing an integral role in this. With the tournament occurring at a pivotal point in the calendar, enabling players to both utilise experiences from throughout the season and also assisting them in continuing to adapt their tactics, and with £100,000 available for the victor, other players may strive to attain a high ranking in order to involve themselves at Cardiff.
With Group A ultimately claiming the focus, due to all four competitors boasting a World Championship victory, the players in Group B may have thrived, as their counterparts may have been in increasingly challenging circumstances. Suljovic seemed to utilise this tactic, successfully implementing his nonchalant philosophy to conclude his group in first. Upon reaching the final, he faced a rematch versus second seed Gary Anderson, who he had emerged victorious versus the day prior, and with Anderson boasting superior experience, and perhaps highly motivated to improve the aforementioned result, he may have been regarded as the favourite. Yet, Suljovic seemed to continue to utilise his billing as the underdog to his advantage, with his consistent alteration of his throwing speed and his composure when checking-out ultimately resulting in him expanding his repertoire.
With Suljovic therefore claiming his maiden televised victory, he may have proven his credentials at the top level, as with a checkout of 160, and his flexibility to ensure he won the final on his favoured double, suggesting he possesses key traits required to amass further accomplishments. Whilst this may therefore be his crowning glory, he may have also motivated a fresh set of players to strive to involve themselves in the sport. With darts repeatedly dominated by players from England, and more recently the Netherlands, an Austrian victory may lead to players from different backgrounds aiming to replicate his achievements, and if darts may continue to bypass geographical boundaries, and ultimately achieve unity, it may advance the sports credibility further.
With multiple tournaments forthcoming, there seems to be ample opportunities for both Suljovic to utilise this experience as the catalyst in further victories, and for his rivals to aim to improve their results. Whilst Suljovic may naturally claim the plaudits for his maiden televised victory, it may also be important to focus on the benefits of the tournament itself, as in being broadcast on the BBC, one of the most viewed channels in the country, it may have provided an opportunity for Suljovic to achieve one of his overarching goals, whilst also attaining a wider scope of viewers, leading to both an influx of new players and increased recognition for those already competing. Thus, the tournament seems to have provided dividends for the entirety of the sport, as with its utilisation of a differing format, with round-robins in the earlier rounds, it may prove the success of prioritising innovation, ultimately ensuring the sport may have a fruitful future after Taylor.
How may Suljovic’s victory hold him in superior stead to overtake Taylor after his retirement?