EXCLUSIVE: Krzysztof Ratajski determined to enjoy "honour" of PDC World Matchplay debut
The long road to PDC World Matchplay glory, for Krzysztof Ratajski, starts with a single step.
The Polish number one has had a whirlwind year. Winning three PDC Pro Tour events without even holding a Tour Card propelled Ratajski into the limelight. He has since won another event, and sealed a World Matchplay debut. Even as a 66/1 outside shot in some places, the Polish Eagle is being backed as a genuine dark horse for the title.
Ratajski is keeping his feet firmly on the ground, however. Speaking exclusively to dartsnews.com, the former World Master revealed his delight at making it to the famous Winter Gardens.
"Each major tournament is a great event, so I'm very happy that I'll be able to participate in it," said Ratajski.
"This is a great honour, for which I've had to work hard in the last 12 months.
"I'll do what I can to get the best out of myself."
If he can crack that particular code, Ratajski has the tools to see off his first round opponent. Darren Webster has been blighted by injury, and his form has suffered badly in recent times. Marked as one of the most vulnerable seeds before the draw was made, Webster could be seen as the ideal first opponent for the debutant. Ratajski was keen to show respect to his counterpart.
"The tournament is played by 32 players who have earned enough money to be there. Darren is among them, which means he deserves his place," the 42-year-old pointed out.
"Everyone is able to play a sensational match; therefore every opponent must be approached with the same concentration.
"It doesn't matter in the tournament if a player is seeded one or 16, or isn't seeded at all."
His route to the title is littered with challenges. Rob Cross is a potential second round opponent, with Gerwyn Price and Ian White among the possible quarter-final foes. Peter Wright and Daryl Gurney are also in his half of the draw. Ratajski wants to outdo them all, but refuses to look beyond Webster.
"Starting a tournament, I always think about winning the entire tournament. But I concentrate on the current match.
"There's no point in wondering who I'll play if I win," he said.
It wasn't all that long ago that Ratajski was in the winners' circle. An 8-3 win over Nathan Aspinall was enough to seal the Players Championship 17 title.
"For sure, the win adds confidence," Ratajski observed. "But even if that win wasn't there, I know I'm in good shape.
"Even in losing matches, my form is good, or even very good at times."
Sweeping up the majors
Looking beyond the World Matchplay, Ratajski is keen to keep building on his impressive early Pro Tour successes. World Matchplay and World Grand Prix spots are wrapped up; the Pole wants to be at them all, if possible.
"The important thing for me is to keep my place in the Pro Tour top 16.
"That gives me the opportunity to play European Tours without qualification events, which can be very tough," Ratajski explained.
"The end of the season is where all the major tournaments accumulate.
"It would be nice to do well at them!
"I would love to play in them all, but I still have to qualify for the European Championship and Grand Slam of Darts.
"For sure, I will also try to get to the World Series final. But it is not so important to me because it's not a ranking tournament."
Ratajski's bid to make the season-ending majors would be dealt a huge boost if he can have the same impact at the World Matchplay that he has had on the floor since switching to the PDC. It'll be a surprise if he goes the distance - but not too big a surprise.