The darts fan will see big names in trouble in 2023. Adrian Lewis has already taken a sabbatical, while barring a miracle, Mervyn King will not be seen at a World Championship for the first time in a very long time.
With dark clouds over the heads of Suljovic and Van der Voort, there is extra reason to look back 21 years ago this summer. Vincent van der Voort was just 26 at the time, and Mensur Suljovic was 29.
The Austrian reached the quarterfinals a month earlier at the 2001 World Masters, only to be eliminated 3-1 by Van Barneveld.
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At the drop of Van der Voort's first three darts this evening, BBC commentator Tony Green sipped, "And unfortunately there is an international tinge to this match." It marks the difference with the sport of darts today, where players of many nationalities compete with each other for honors. But even in 2002, Suljovic and Van der Voort showed at times on their World Championship debut where their peaks would be in the future.
Same old Suljovic?
Suljovic is in terms of personality not a bit changed from today: even then he had a lot of facial expressions and delaying tactics. Back then he did have an eccentric shirt and especially a faster throw. Dartitis is at the root of this. Back then he had no trouble at all throwing his darts, now his whole body goes along with it. And Van der Voort? A little balder, and some different darts. Everything else is the same.
The first three legs of the match are promising. Suljovic immediately breaks Van der Voort in fourteen darts, after which the tall man from Purmerend takes control of the set with two twelve darts (121- and 104-finish). These would immediately be the two best legs of the match. After this, the game became very inconsistent, which is no shame for debutants. Scoring-wise the Gentle fell silent. Van der Voort holds his own set 3-2.
Van der Voort immediately steams through in the second set and breaks Suljovic to 0-1. Statistics show after six legs that Van der Voort throws 95 average, and Suljovic only 81. Coincidentally, Suljovic then wakes up: he breaks back with a 13-darter and then holds the set quite easily without effort: 1-1.
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Third set is the best example of the volatility, especially with Suljovic. He breaks Van der Voort with a great 14-darter, but Van der Voort wins the next two legs in only 20 darts. Van der Voort can then dock for a 2-1 lead in sets, but Suljovic fights back. Immediately 15-darter to 2-2 in the set, to break Van der Voort via a fine 140 and subsequent83 finish: 2-1 in sets for Suljovic.
Suljovic's peaks are high, but in the fourth set Van der Voort wakes up again. He breaks Suljovic with a 103-finish in 15 darts, and steams through to a 0-2 lead in the set. Then it is Suljovic who responds again with seven perfect darts. Quite easily he comes back to 2-2 in the set and can then self-tie for the match. But then there is Van der Voort who breaks him again in 15 darts.
In the fifth and deciding set, however, Van der Voort cannot hold on, and although Suljovic does not throw much better, he keeps his nerves in check on his doubles. The Austrian breaks Van der Voort in 19 darts while missing a handful of darts. After that, Suljovic easily holds his own legs in six overs. Suljovic wins 3-2 over Van der Voort.
Suljovic ended up throwing an average of 87.15 and Van der Voort 87.03.
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End of an era?
This first World Championship match had the course of Van der Voort's darts career predicted: high peaks, but also deep troughs. Suljovic would be eliminated the next round by later-finalist Mervyn King, (who was throwing a Netherlands shirt in that match!). Remarkably, we did not see Suljovic again until the PDC World Championship in 2008, while Van der Voort would play a World Championship every year. Does that streak stop after 22 participations in a row?