Lisa Ashton and Mikuru Suzuki became the first women to feature at the Grand Slam since 2010 this week and although the duo left Wolverhampton winless, they won the hearts of the darting public – showcasing their ability and the growth within the women’s game.
Ashton and Suzuki will be hoping that this isn’t their last taste of PDC major action in 2019, as they set their sights on a place at the Alexandra Palace next month.
Two more female representatives will fly the flag for ladies darts at the Alexandra Palace next month and on current evidence, the battle to grow the women’s game is certainly being won.
Ashton was heading straight for Prague after her week’s efforts at the Aldersley Leisure Village while Suzuki’s focus is immediately on this weekend when she heads to Hildesheim for the women’s Rest of the World Qualifier for the upcoming PDC World Championship.
Suzuki missed out last year, while Ashton came through the UK Qualifier in Milton Keynes to take her place and will bid to replicate that success on November 25, although the 49-year-old is well aware of the tasking facing her.
I think Mikuru has just won the hearts of people this weekend. She’s so endearing – I loved seeing her up there dancing with Dimitri. There is personality within the women’s game. Lisa when she wins – she gives it everything too.”
Laura Turner on the BDO duo…
Women’s darts is certainly in rude health, with a conveyor belt of talent continuing to come through the system. 16-year-old Beau Greaves is the latest youngster to emerge and she will feature at the BDO World Championship in January 2020.
Ashton says it’s an exciting time for the women’s game, particularly in the UK.
“You’ve got Deta [Hedman], you’ve got Fallon [Sherrock], you’ve got Maria [O’Brien], you’ve got Beau [Greaves] who’s coming through, who’s in the World Championships. Laura [Turner] who was commentating too,” she tells Sky Sports.
“There’s loads of other ladies coming through. We’re all stepping our levels up, so if we keep stepping them up, we’ll keep getting these opportunities.”
Didn’t manage to get a win on the board but loved every minute at the Grand SlamThank you @BDOdarts and @OfficialPDC for the opportunity and to all my sponsors, family and friends for your support#GSOD19 #HereComeTheGirls
— Lisa Ashton ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (@LisaAshton180) November 13, 2019
The women’s game is also growing considerably in Asia and Suzuki’s remarkable emergence is the catalyst for this development.
At the recent World Masters, Suzuki’s compatriots Kasumi Sato and Mayoumi Ouchi reached the semi-finals and quarter-finals respectively, with Ashton accounting for both en route to glory.
Suzuki – a semi-finalist in last year’s Rest of the World qualifier, confirmed that she will be competing in Hildesheim this weekend but she also teased an appearance at Qualifying School in 2020 somewhere Ashton will be returning having missed out on a Tour card by one point in January
“I have entered the [World Championship] qualifier, hopefully I can make it this year – that would be massive for me,” said Suzuki, the women’s BDO world champion.
“Darts is amazing in Japan, it is growing massively, hopefully there will be more steel tip in time.
“I am talking to Jon & Jacqui at Nevada Sports Management, they look after me in Europe, with their backing and the massive help from SAP I think it is very possible I will be at Q School.”
It’s certainly been a week of progress for the women’s game. Major champions such as Price, Cross and Thornton were given stern examinations by the duo and that’s testament to the growth of the women’s game.
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The gulf in class is rapidly eroding and that pattern will only continue with the women’s game receiving greater exposure and opportunity. Ashton and Suzuki may not have registered victories in Wolverhampton, but the impact of their performances cannot be underestimated.
Just four women had featured in the cross-code major prior to 2019, with Anastasia Dobromyslova making back-to-back appearances in 2008 and 2009. Francis Hoenselaar also made her debut in the 2009 edition, with Stacy Bromberg and Tricia Wright flying the flag for ladies darts 12 months later.
Dobromyslova became the first and only woman to register a victory at the Grand Slam in 2009, defeating former UK Open finalist Vincent van der Voort 5-4 in the group stages.
The Russian’s record remains intact after Ashton and Suzuki suffered three group stage defeats at the Aldersley Leisure Village, although there were positives to take for two of women’s darts’ chief trailblazers.
Suzuki gave a very good account of herself in Group C. She claimed three legs against reigning champion Gerwyn Price in her opener, before also giving former finalist Robert Thornton a major fright on Tuesday night, sharing the opening six legs before ‘The Thorn’ sealed his progression.
Suzuki stars at Grand Slam
Mikuru Suzuki’s tournament average of 84.83 is the highest of any female representative in the history of the Grand Slam of Darts.
The Japanese star displayed remarkable consistency in terms of her averages. She didn’t fall below 84 in any of the games, recording an 85.60 average against Thornton – her highest of the tournament.
Her tournament average also exceeded that of BDO No 2 Richard Veenstra and the 37-year-old admitted that she relished her first taste of big-stage PDC action.
‘When I won the World Championship this year, that was the biggest achievement, this is special too,” Suzuki told Sky Sports.
“I love the support of the crowd, they make playing enjoyable; I think it helps. It has been an amazing year, I’ve met loads of people since winning. I always have confidence.”
Ashton also insists her Grand Slam debut was a great learning curve, as she appeared in her second major PDC event, having qualified for last year’s PDC World Championship.
‘The Lancashire Rose’ averaged 107 as she claimed the first set against Jan Dekker last year, although she was unable to replicate those heroics against the decorated trio of Rob Cross, Dave Chisnall and Jamie Hughes in Group E.
Nevertheless, the four-time women’s world champion showed glimpses of her undoubted class, claiming two legs against world No 2 Cross and averaging just shy of 87 against local lad Hughes.
“I’ve enjoyed the week. It’s a new experience, for two ladies being in it. It gives us a chance to play against the top people in the world,” Ashton added.
“Hopefully, it’s about raising standards and saying ‘we’ll have a go’. No matter who it is, or what we’ve put in and hopefully we’ll get another chance.
“I know I can play well, I can do it in the World Championships. I think I just tried a bit too hard. But it’s learning, it’s all learning for us.
“It’s hard for the ladies to get into the men’s sport. This is a big chance for us. We’re enjoying it, and hopefully it puts ladies darts a step forward.
“Me and Mikuru are good friends, we get on really, really well. I had a chat with her, she says she enjoyed it. It’s new for her, because she plays a lot with soft tip and she’s in the steel tip now.