Nathan Aspinall and Jonny Clayton will lock horns in Sunday’s Betfred World Matchplay final, as the pair prepare for arguably the biggest night of their respective careers.
Following a thrilling eight days of action in Blackpool, two of the sport’s most popular characters are left standing at the Empress Ballroom, as they dream of lifting the coveted Phil Taylor Trophy.
Local favourite Aspinall is riding the crest of a wave, having dumped out Krzysztof Ratajski, Danny Noppert, Chris Dobey and Joe Cullen to move through to Sunday’s showpiece.
The 32-year-old swept aside a profligate Cullen in the semi-finals, to move through to his third televised ranking final in the space of nine months.
However, having succumbed to Michael van Gerwen and Michael Smith in World Grand Prix and Grand Slam deciders last year, Aspinall has vowed to cross the winning line at the Winter Gardens.
“I have lost my last three [televised] finals. I’m not going to do it again. I’m so confident,” insisted Aspinall, who is eyeing his first TV ranking title since his 2019 UK Open success.
“I’ve had that buzz before and I want that buzz again! It’s been a long, long time since that UK Open win. It’s been four years and I’m a better dart player than that, so it’s time to kick-start my career.
“Anything in life that I do, I want to succeed at. I am not happy with second best. I want Smithy’s title, I want his world number one spot.
“I want what they’ve got and they all know that. That is what gives me the hunger.”
Aspinall returned from a serious wrist injury 18 months ago - having feared for his future in the sport – while he’s also had to overcome technical issues with his throw in 2023.
Nevertheless, the Stockport star believes he’s now playing better than ever, as he sets his sights on lifting one of the sport’s biggest prizes.
“I’m a completely different person to the one I was last year. This week is probably the best I’ve ever felt in my darting career,” added Aspinall.
“I feel so mentally strong and I believe I can deal with any situation, but the stakes are huge tonight.
“Jonny is the nicest guy on the tour. He’s had his problems this week and I wish his Dad all the best.
“How he’s even getting on that stage and performing – fair play to the guy, because he’s playing absolutely fantastic darts.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for each other, we’ll both give it everything and may the best man win!”
Clayton has been magnificent in moving through to his maiden World Matchplay final, defeating Gabriel Clemens, Dimitri Van den Bergh, Ryan Searle and Luke Humphries in the process.
The 48-year-old was below-par in his opening round win over Clemens, but he averaged 102 to dump out 2020 champion Van den Bergh, before landing an incredible six ton-plus checkouts to see off Searle.
Clayton then came through an epic semi-final encounter against sixth seed Humphries, to move to the cusp of clinching his eighth – and arguably biggest – televised crown.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” said Clayton, who revealed earlier this week that his ill father is providing the inspiration for his Blackpool title tilt.
“Blackpool has not been very kind to me in the past. I’m usually out in the first round and watching the final at home, but this year I’m in it!
“This means a lot to me. There’s a lot of emotion. I’m doing this for Dad. He’s my number one fan.”
Clayton has already broken new ground in Blackpool, and he’s now bidding to become the first Welshman to lift the title in the tournament’s 30-year history.
Richie Burnett was beaten by Phil Taylor in the 2001 decider, while Price lost out to an inspired Michael van Gerwen 12 months ago, although Clayton is hopeful of going one step better.
“It would be fantastic [to be the first Welsh winner]," continued Clayton, who will climb to a career-high of fifth on the PDC Order of Merit if he scoops the £200,000 top prize on Sunday night.
“It would mean everything to me to win this. I’m going to go out and give it everything I’ve got, and I’m sure Nathan will too.
“I’m big friends with Nathan, and we’re just going to go up there and play darts. I know how good Nathan is, and he knows how well I can play. I think it will be a belter.
“I’m going to enjoy it. I know I can beat anyone. It’s just about putting it all together on the night, and maybe it’s my time.”
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
Sunday July 23 (2000 BST)
Nathan Aspinall v Jonny Clayton
Best of 35 legs