Jonny Clayton admits he is ‘daring to dream’ ahead of Saturday’s Betfred World Matchplay semi-finals, as he bids to lift the coveted Phil Taylor Trophy for his ill father.
Clayton will take on sixth seed Luke Humphries in a fascinating last four showdown at the Winter Gardens tonight, after producing a finishing masterclass to see off Ryan Searle in the quarter-finals.
The Welshman landed six ton-plus checkouts in his 16-12 success against Searle – including three bullseye finishes – converting 62% of his attempts at double to cap off a stunning performance.
Clayton also produced 126, 156 and 170 finishes in his second round win over 2020 champion Dimitri Van den Bergh, having accounted for Germany’s number one Gabriel Clemens in round one.
However, ahead of his clash against Humphries, an emotional Clayton revealed that his dad is providing the inspiration for his title challenge in Blackpool this week.
“I’m doing this for my dad. He’s not very well at all,” revealed the 48-year-old. “It would mean everything for me to win this title.
"It means a lot to me for a lot of different reasons. My dad's my biggest fan and he's wishing me on, so I want to do this for him.
"I'm fighting until the end - it would mean everything to win; for my family, my friends and obviously my dad, so hopefully it's going to be my year."
Clayton helped steer Wales to a second World Cup of Darts title alongside Gerwyn Price in Frankfurt last month, and now he’s eyeing further silverware at the Empress Ballroom this weekend.
Following Wales’ maiden World Cup triumph in 2020, Clayton went on to lift four televised titles during a remarkable 12-month spell, including Premier League and World Grand Prix successes.
The Pontyberem ace is hoping that history repeats itself in 2023, starting with a maiden World Matchplay crown on Sunday evening.
“I am daring to dream!” admitted Clayton, who has won more televised titles than the other three semi-finalists combined.
“I think this is one of the most iconic venues, it’s one of the best tournaments alongside the World Championship, so to win this would mean so much.
“I’m very emotional. Jonny Clayton and Blackpool don’t usually get on, but I love this place. The crowd is phenomenal.
“This year things are going well for me. I’m feeling good, I’m playing good darts, and hopefully I can pick that trophy up.”
Humphries, meanwhile, is the highest-ranked player left in the competition, having followed up a first round demolition of Jose de Sousa with battling wins over Dirk van Duijvenbode and Damon Heta.
The 28-year-old survived a match dart against Van Duijvenbode, before defying a spirited comeback from Australian number one Heta to progress to his first World Matchplay semi-final.
“This is the biggest game of my career,” insisted Humphries, who will climb into the world’s top four if he claims the £200,000 top prize on Sunday.
“In my opinion, Jonny is one of the best finishers in the world. My scoring has got to improve, so if I can limit the opportunities he has, that can only help my cause.
“I enjoy the pressure on my shoulders. I enjoy the fact I've got to perform or I know it's game over, and I think I'm the underdog against Jonny.”
The evening’s opening semi-final will see Nathan Aspinall and Joe Cullen collide, after the pair overcame Chris Dobey and Daryl Gurney in their respective last eight tussles.
Aspinall has averaged over 98 in wins over Krzysztof Ratajski, Danny Noppert and Dobey this week, as he sets his sights on a first televised ranking title since his UK Open victory in March 2019.
“It’s my first time in the World Matchplay semi-finals – I’m buzzing,” claimed Aspinall, a runner-up at the World Grand Prix and Grand Slam of Darts in 2022.
“This week is probably the best I’ve ever felt in my darting career. I know that’s a big statement, but my 180s are flowing, I’m taking out big shots under pressure. I’m in a good place.
“The support I get here is amazing. Joe gets a lot of support too. It will be a battle of the walk-ons, and I think it will be a fantastic game of darts.”
Cullen dumped out the highly-fancied Gerwyn Price in a thrilling last 16 tie, and the former Masters champion then delivered a professional performance against Gurney to break new ground in Blackpool.
“Three down, two to go,” declared Cullen – featuring in his first televised semi-final since finishing runner-up on his Premier League debut last June.
“It feels great to be in the semi-finals. I feel like I can win this tournament, but it’s about producing it on the day.
“This sport has been my life over the last decade, so it would mean everything to win this title. I believe I’m good enough, and now I want to write my name into history.”
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 (2000 BST)
Nathan Aspinall v Joe Cullen
Jonny Clayton v Luke Humphries
Best of 33 Legs