Jonny Clayton will take on Nathan Aspinall in Sunday’s Betfred World Matchplay final, after the pair overcame Luke Humphries and Joe Cullen on a thrilling night of semi-final action at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens.
Clayton came through an epic encounter against Humphries to seal his spot in Sunday’s showpiece, recovering from 10-7 down to triumph 17-15 in another World Matchplay marathon.
Aspinall, meanwhile, ran out a convincing 17-9 winner against Cullen in the evening’s opener, punishing a profligate display from the Yorkshireman to keep his title tilt alive.
Clayton and Aspinall were embroiled in a fascinating battle for Play-Off qualification in this year’s Premier League, and now they will renew their rivalry as they compete for the £200,000 top prize and the Phil Taylor Trophy tomorrow night.
Wales’ World Cup winner Clayton landed nine ton-plus checkouts during his previous wins over Dimitri Van den Bergh and Ryan Searle, and he was indebted to another devastating display of doubling at the Empress Ballroom on Saturday.
Humphries - eyeing a place in his second televised ranking final - stole an early march with a run of three consecutive legs, keeping Clayton at arm’s length in the opening exchanges.
The 28-year-old squandered two darts for a 9-5 advantage, although he made amends by following up a 78 combination with a 14-darter to regain his three-leg cushion at 10-7.
Clayton responded with a brilliant tops-tops finish to break throw in 12 darts, which he followed with a 13-dart hold to reduce the arrears to a solitary leg at 9-10.
Humphries edged back ahead with a clutch 80 checkout in leg 20, but Clayton continued to plug away and eventually got his reward, reeling off three straight leg to hit the front.
Sixth seed Humphries stopped the rot to restore parity at 13-13, and he was afforded a reprieve in the closing stages when Clayton uncharacteristically missed two darts at doubles to move 16-14 ahead.
Nevertheless, Clayton regained his poise to move to the brink of victory with a 14-dart hold, before sealing his progress with a nerveless 80 kill on tops, after Humphries had missed the single 18 to deny himself a shot at a 118 skin-saver.
“This means a lot to me,” reflected the Welshman, who averaged just under 99 and pinned 61% of his attempts at double to end the hopes of Humphries, who crashed in ten maximums in defeat.
“To get over the line against one of the best players in the world is an amazing feeling. Luke Humphries is going to go on and pick up majors time after time!
“I had to dig deep, but you’ve got to take your chances and that’s what I did, and I really hope I can pick this trophy up tomorrow.
“Me and Nathan were involved in a scrap for the Premier League [Play-Offs] this year and Gezzy Price helped me out. I’ve got no help tomorrow night. I have to do the job, and fingers crossed I can do it."
Aspinall moved through to his third televised final in the space of nine months with a comprehensive victory against Cullen, who was left to rue 28 missed darts at double.
Aspinall was the aggressor in the opening exchanges, defying a superb 148 checkout from Cullen in leg seven to establish a three-leg buffer, converting a clinical 116 checkout on tops to lead 7-4.
The Stockport star stretched his lead during a decisive spell midway through the match, punishing a host of missed opportunities from Cullen to extend his cushion to 13-6.
Cullen threatened to rally after firing in an 11-dart break to reduce the arrears to 8-13, although his revival was short-lived, as Aspinall won back-to-back legs to cement his advantage.
The 32-year-old then made a sprint for the finish in the latter stages, defying a 124 checkout on the bull from Cullen with successive legs of 11 and 14 darts to seal his spot in Sunday’s showpiece.
“We’ve got such a great opportunity to win one of the biggest tournaments in the sport, and I think it told in our performance,” conceded Aspinall, who averaged 95 and landed 11 maximums to progress.
“Joe didn’t play well and I was nowhere near my best, but I think I was just a little bit more clinical and that’s why I got over the line.
“I have lost my last three [televised] finals. I’m not going to do it again. I’m so confident.
“I have had a poor game tonight but I got over the line. I’m one happy guy right now, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Sunday’s showdown between Clayton and Aspinall will be preceded by the Betfred Women’s World Matchplay in the afternoon, as Fallon Sherrock bids to retain her title at the Empress Ballroom.
Clayton is the 4/6 favourite with sponsors Betfred to take the title, with Aspinall rated as the 6/5 outsider to claim glory in Blackpool.
The Betfred World Matchplay is being broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK, through the PDC's worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV (excluding UK, Germany, Austria & Switzerland based subscribers).
2023 Betfred World Matchplay
Saturday July 22
Nathan Aspinall 17-9 Joe Cullen
Jonny Clayton 17-15 Luke Humphries
Sunday July 23 (2000 BST)
Nathan Aspinall v Jonny Clayton
Best of 35 legs