Luke Littler continued his stunning rise by following up a nine-dart finish with victory on his Players Championship debut on Monday.
Teenage sensation Littler generated further headlines with a memorable victory in the opening Players Championship event of 2024, defying a staggering 111.71 average from Ryan Searle to triumph in an epic final.
The 17-year-old produced a quartet of ton-topping averages on his way to victory in Wigan, as he became only the third player to win a title on his Players Championship debut.
Littler kicked off proceedings with a crushing 6-1 win over Jim Williams, averaging 105.48 and posting seven maximums to send out a statement to the 128-player field at the Robin Park Tennis Centre.
The Warrington wonderkid then followed up victory over Luke Woodhouse with a comprehensive 6-1 success against Italy’s Michele Turetta, wrapping up proceedings with a magical nine-darter.
It was the second nine-darter in the space of a month for Littler, who also achieved perfection in his title winning campaign at the Bahrain Darts Masters.
Littler came agonisingly close to another nine-darter in his last 16 clash against Cameron Menzies, missing double 12 for perfection in leg five, before closing out victory with a 109 average.
The World Youth Champion posted another ton-plus average to defeat James Hurrell in the quarter-finals, although he survived a scare in his semi-final win over Alan Soutar, eventually winning through in a decider.
This set up a tantalising showdown against Searle, and the pair combined to produce one of the greatest finals in Players Championship history.
Littler stole an early march with back-to-back 13-darters, only for Searle to reduce the arrears with an unconventional 103 finish in leg three.
Both players continued to trade holds in a contest littered with quality, as a spectacular 136 checkout in leg eight powered Littler into a 5-3 advantage.
Searle responded with consecutive 11 and 12-dart holds to reduce the arrears, but Littler was undeterred, conjuring up an effortless 85 finish on the bull to move a leg away from victory at 7-5.
The drama continued as Searle rattled in his second 11-darter of the contest to force a decider, but Littler wasn’t to be denied, replying with a 13-dart break on tops to scoop the £15,000 winner’s prize.
“I know my game is there, I know I can beat anyone, and I’m really happy to have won,” reflected Littler, who already has his sights set on World Matchplay qualification.
“Me and my manager know what I have to do to qualify for the World Matchplay and the World Grand Prix.
“I’ve got about 13 or 14 ProTours before the World Matchplay, but it’s always good to get off to a good start.
“I want to try and qualify for everything, and I’ve just got to play my game. I’m taking it in my stride.
“It takes huge pressure off me, and now hopefully I can settle and enjoy it.”
Searle was bidding to win the year’s opening Players Championship event for a second straight season, and the Somerset star performed magnificently in Wigan, relinquishing just seven legs in his first six matches.
The 36-year-old swept aside Australian veteran Simon Whitlock in his opener, before registering back-to-back 104 averages to dispatch Jeffrey Sparidaans and Dom Taylor.
Searle then whitewashed Mike De Decker to book his place in the last eight, and he continued the procession with convincing wins over Jose de Sousa and Gian van Veen in the latter stages.
World Youth Championship runner-up Van Veen won four deciding-leg ties in his run to the last four, overcoming Benjamin Reus, Ross Smith, Kim Huybrechts and Brendan Dolan to reach his third ProTour semi-final in the space of five events.
Scottish star Soutar also enjoyed a strong start to the new season, dumping out the likes of Damon Heta and Chris Dobey, while later forcing Littler to a last-leg shoot-out in the semi-finals.
Littler was one of three players to achieve perfection on an astonishing afternoon in Wigan, with 18-year-old Leighton Bennett crashing in a nine-darter in his first event as a Tour Card Holder.
Bennett produced the perfect leg in his second round win over Germany’s Lukas Wenig, before Mickey Mansell repeated the feat moments later to see off Poland’s number one Krzysztof Ratajski.
The 2024 PDC ProTour season continues with Players Championship 2 in Wigan on Tuesday, and coverage will be broadcast live through PDCTV and bookmakers’ websites worldwide.
Leighton Bennett hits a nine-darter in his second round tie against Lukas Wenig.
Mickey Mansell hits a nine-darter in his second round tie against Krzysztof Ratajski.
Luke Littler hits a nine-darter in his third round tie against Michele Turetta.
2024 Players Championship 1
Robin Park Tennis Centre, Wigan
Monday February 12
Luke Littler 6-2 Cameron Menzies
James Hurrell 6-3 Jamie Hughes
Alan Soutar 6-1 Lee Evans
Nick Kenny 6-5 Mickey Mansell
Ryan Searle 6-0 Mike De Decker
Jose de Sousa 6-5 Nathan Aspinall
Brendan Dolan 6-4 Ricardo Pietreczko
Gian van Veen 6-5 Kim Huybrechts
Luke Littler 6-3 James Hurrell
Alan Soutar 6-5 Nick Kenny
Ryan Searle 6-2 Jose de Sousa
Gian van Veen 6-5 Brendan Dolan
Luke Littler 7-6 Alan Soutar
Ryan Searle 7-3 Gian van Veen
Luke Littler 8-7 Ryan Searle