A year is a long time in darts, considering what Nathan Aspinall has packed into the previous 12 months.
Last December, the fresh-faced 500/1 outsider trotted into the Ally Pally without much expected of him. Two weeks later, nobody was doubting him – as he became a World Championship semi-finalist on his debut.
It was undoubtedly a remarkable achievement, but bolts from the blue haven’t exactly been uncommon in darts’ showpiece event.
The next step is to back it up, and Aspinall did exactly that just two months later, claiming his first PDC major title at the UK Open.
That was my big aim after the Worlds, he told Sky Sports.
My big target was to not become one of these one-hit wonders.
People have had good runs in the World Championships before and, where are they now? They’re not even on the tour now, some people.
I wanted to back it up. The perfect way to back that up was to win the UK Open, which was the dream come true.
I never expected to win a major so early in my career, but I did.
I’ve got to take that and build from it. Since then, I’ve had finals of Pro Tours, I won in America. I think I’ve definitely proved that I’m not a one-hit wonder, and I just hope now that I’ll keep adding more titles to my name, and hopefully one day become the world champion.
From outsider to contender
As the year progressed, the Asp has debuted at various tournaments, with his stock soaring in the PDC. However, as he heads for Wolverhampton this weekend, he has experience upon which to draw.
A runner-up spot in the 2015 World Youth Championship earned him a Grand Slam berth for the following year, and he took to the Wolverhampton oche to face off against some of the world’s best – Raymond van Barneveld, Mensur Suljovic and Danny Noppert. Ultimately, it came too soon for the then-25-year-old.
But this time it’s different.
Different circumstances this time, I’m going in a more established player [than] back in 2016, he smiled.
It was different back then. I was going in to enjoy it. The first game I played was against Barney. It was an amazing experience. The crowd was chanting his name. It was a memory that I’ll always have in darts. But this time is different. I’m going up there and people will be chanting my name.
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He wasn’t given a favourable draw three years ago, and it hasn’t been much kinder to him this time around either, as he is grouped with Michael Smith, Glen Durrant and Martin Schindler.
It’s the group of death, as they call it, and I knew for a fact I’d be in it, he laughed. But you know, every player in the tournament is quality.
There are going to be tough games, and the two players that will get through will certainly deserve.
I’ve got quite a tough group, but I fancy the job this week.
Michael Smith has become a familiar adversary for the Stockport native in recent months, after the ‘Bully Boy’ beat him in both the World Championship and also the Premier League, when Aspinall featured as a ‘contender’.
Mike was my bogey player. I’d never really beaten him for four or five games, he recounted. Then I beat him in the World Series final. Since then, I’ve played him twice and beat him both times. I’m good mates with Mike as well, so that’ll be a tough game. But hopefully, by then I’ll be already through so it doesn’t matter!
His breakthrough season has had the darting world sitting up and taking notice, and the rest of the circuit know they will not get anything easy when they are drawn against him.
I’ve noticed over the last few months, I think people are going into matches against me, knowing they’ve got to play their best game, he noted.
If they don’t play their best game, they know they’re getting beaten. We’ve seen over the last month or so, where I’ve been playing out of my skin and I’ve been getting beat.
[At the World Series of Darts Finals] in Amsterdam, I threw an average of 104 and got beaten.
Everyone knows they have to go up there and play well, otherwise it’s game over.
And so, now that he has the taste of major success, he is coming back for more.
I’m not one of those people who play to make the numbers up, he warned. I’m a confident guy, and every tournament I go into, I want to win.
Unfortunately, in the last couple, it hasn’t gone to plan. But this week, I’m here to win. If I play my game, I can win it.
So just how far can he rise?
It’s every darts player’s dream to become a world champion, to become world number one, and to play in the Premier League. It’s the pinnacle of our sport. I’d love to be in the Premier League next year.
Rankings – I’m currently number 12. I’ve got nothing to defend for another 14, 15 months. So everything I’m winning is a bonus. So this time next year, why can’t I be top five, top six in the world?
That’s a big aim of mine. So hopefully by, not this worlds, but the one after, I’ll be a top-four player in the world. I believe if I keep going, keep working hard, I can get to that goal.
Watch the Grand Slam of Darts live on Sky Sports, starting at 1pm on Saturday.
(c) Sky Sports 2019: Nathan Aspinall: ‘I’ve proved I’m not a one-hit wonder’