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Mensur Suljovic: From the depths of dartitis to the world's elite top eight

Suljovic laps up the applause following his run to the final in Hasselt (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

Mensur Suljovic's meteoric rise to the top echelons of world darts has to be one of the most mystifying in the recent history of the sport.

Just how could a player with one of the most bamboozling throwing actions and unconventional methods of finishing go from virtual obscurity to occupying a place in the world's top eight within such a short space of time?

Suljovic is somewhat of an enigma in himself. Serbian-born, he moved to Vienna in 1993 and was first introduced to the art of a dart in his brother's café.

It was immediately clear that he had some natural talent, and with darts hardly at the top of the sporting spectrum in Austria, Suljovic quickly began to make inroads within the soft-tip system.

The transition to steel-tip in 1999 paid dividends as he picked up his first recognised title at the Czech Open before going on to feature in the BDO World Masters later that year.

A run to the Quarter-Finals of the World Masters 12 months later secured a debut in the 2002 Lakeside Championship, in which he announced himself with victory over Vincent van der Voort, before going down to eventual runner-up Mervyn King in the Second Round.

That, however, proved his last significant contribution in the BDO as he opted to return to his soft-tip roots, dominating the European circuit before seemingly falling off the darting radar between 2005 and 2007.

A constant struggle with dartitis hampered his progress and forced him to adopt a drastic alteration to his throwing action in a bid to aid the release of the dart.

That involved the vertical rotation of each dart in his hand prior to release, a pronounced lunge towards the board with his back leg off the ground, as well as chalking his fingers at the drinks table upon his return from the oche.

A re-invented Suljovic gained his first experience of a PDC stage in the 2007 German Championship, where he defeated a teenage Michael van Gerwen and veteran Dennis Priestley en route to the last 16 - a run which helped him to seal a place in the first World Championship to be staged at Alexandra Palace later that year via the German Darts Corporation Order of Merit.

His Ally Pally debut ended in a Second Round defeat to eventual World Champion John Part in Round Two, and though he returned the following year to knock out Peter Manley, Suljovic failed to qualify for any other televised majors until 2011.

Suljovic celebrates his win over Wade at the 2011 World Championship (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Even when incredibly dumping out an off-colour James Wade at the 2011 World Championship, Suljovic did not look as if he had what it takes to become a top level professional, more that his methodical style threw the opponent into a state of confusion and agitation and allowed him to slowly grind them down.

The 2013 season was when Suljovic began to appear more regularly on our screens, though his five televised tournament campaigns, including the UK Open and World Matchplay, all ended in First Round exits.

The introduction of the European Tour, however, undoubtedly helped 'The Gentle' bridge the gap between floor and stage and allowed him to become accustomed to taking on the top players in front of big crowds on a regular basis. 

A run to the Semi-Finals of the 2014 Austrian Open on home soil followed on from his groundbreaking Quarter-Final berth at the UK Open in Minehead and ultimately swayed him towards competing on the ProTour full-time with the aid of sponsorship.

Suljovic was now regarded as a serious threat in every competition he entered and very much a draw to avoid for the seeded stars. Winning bred confidence, and after stunning Gary Anderson in the 2015 World Matchplay en route to the Quarter-Finals, appearances at the business end of major tournaments became second nature.

Suljovic, whose nickname 'The Gentle' hails from the name of the darts pub he manages in Vienna, has not looked back. His International Open triumph in Riesa earlier this year quashed the notion that is simply a nearly man and culminated in that dream run to the final of the European Championship in October, justifying the revamped seeding structure for the event.

Now ranked world number seven and with the ability to add in the coming months, Suljovic has more than doubled his total career earnings over the past two years, underlining his consistency by picking up prize money in all but one of his tournament campaigns in 2016.

Germany, one of darts' biggest overseas hotbeds, has adopted Mensur as one of its own, easing some of the pressure on their most promising prospect Max Hopp and bolstering the bid for a Premier League night on German soil in the near future.

Few players in the modern era have divided the darting public quite like this unorthodox Austrian, but given the strides he has made, particularly over the past 12 months, he ought to feel extremely hard done by were he to be snubbed for a Premier League wildcard in 2017.

Yes, he may need to brush up on his English in order to fulfil media obligations and help promote the sport, and he may not tick every box in terms of his image and style of play, but few could deny he would almost certainly put the cat among the pigeons and make an honest fist of every fixture.

For now, though, the happy-go-lucky 44-year-old is simply enjoying the ride, with little regard for reputations and a lot of love for double 14.

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Mensur Suljovic: From the depths of dartitis to the world's elite top eight

Mensur Suljovic's meteoric rise to the top echelons of world darts has to be one of the most mystifying in the recent history of the sport.

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