Mensur Suljovic revealed that he was on the brink of retiring from darts three years ago, as he spoke exclusively to Josh’s Dartistry this week. The Austrian seriously considered retirement back in 2013, although he’s now reaping the rewards from committing to play the Pro Tour circuit on a full-time basis, a decision he made back in 2015.
In part two of this exclusive interview, Suljovic candidly discusses how he was contemplating retirement, before revealing his hopes for this year‘s World Championship and beyond. ‘The Gentle’ also provides an insight into his practice regime and highlights the importance that his Vienna based darts club ‘Darts Control‘ have had on his career.
Having climbed up to the dizzy heights of world number seven, you could forgive Suljovic for feeling bullish. The 44-year-old has enjoyed a stunning 2016 which saw him win his maiden PDC title at the International Darts Open, before reaching his first PDC TV major final at the European Championship just a month later.
Nevertheless, there is a refreshing level-headedness to Suljovic’s darting make-up. He has the self-belief and motivation required to suceed at the top level, but he still maintains a very humble exterior which has certainly endeared him to the darting crowds across the world.
Given the success Mensur has enjoyed over the last two years, it seems almost unthinkable that he was contemplating quitting the game back in 2013, although Suljovic insisted that the matter of retirement was under very serious consideration.
“In 2013 I was really down after years of failure and I couldn’t afford more of it – mentally and financially. I couldn’t see things getting any better for me than they were in 2000 or 2001, when I played in the WDF/BDO. These were the best times so far and I didn’t believe I could reach more, especially considering my age.
“I had to work hard; I had a family who needed me and to reach the required level in darts I had to train hard for hours and hours and there were no benefits for all of that. I lost all matches without reaching my goals or getting higher in the Order of Merit so then I lost hope.
“I’m so proud of my family who always supported me. My wife and my son gave me the encouragement to try it though and finally things began to change; slowly, but surely. You know the rest of the story!”
As Mensur aptly states, we know the rest of the story, and it certainly makes for quite a chapter. He’s broken into the world’s top eight and given that he’s not defending much prize money over the next few months, he has the opportunity to rise up the rankings further, although in typical Suljovic fashion, he’s not getting carried away.
“I’m a man who sets reachable goals and I’m always very happy when I can really reach one, so I always feel satisfied and I’m motivated. But now I have reached all my goals that I set for this year; even far beyond that, so everything happening at the moment is a wonderful bonus.
“Sure, to set the next goal it should be a major title, but I’m also aware that things could change in a different direction. That’s why I’m now quite conservative with my next goals. First of all I’m trying my best to stay in that form and within the top 16 of the Order of Merit. If I can hold this level, maybe the next goal is a major title, but first of all; consolidation.”
One of the catalysts behind Suljovic’s resurgence over the last few years has been his clinical finishing. The Austrian is an absolute menace when it comes to converting crucial shots under pressure and his unorthodox routes, including his preference for D14, makes for intriguing viewing.
Suljovic’s darting philosophy aligns with the old adage of ‘trebles for show, doubles for dough‘ by revealing that during his practice sessions he prioritises doubles over scoring. “I always try my best to be as good as possible in everything I do. Yet everybody knows the crux of darts is the final double.
“If you want to get further in darts you must train and train and train and train and train. If you don’t hit the double, everything else is worthless. So I focus on the doubles in my training sessions. I spend most of the time in my training on these. The rest is actually evolving around that.
“There is one piece of advice I always give to our youth players; Every dart is important; focus on each dart. The first one the same as the last one. Try to get into that special flow and once you’re in, try to stay in. Don’t mind your opponent, just focus on yourself and your darts. That’s it.”
The youth players that Suljovic refers to belong to a darts club he’s part of; Darts-Control, based in the Austrian capital of Vienna. They practice regularly in a pub called ‘The Gentle‘, a pub Suljovic formerly owned, before he sold it on to Rowby-John and Roxy-James Rodriguez.
Suljovic states that the camaraderie within ‘ Darts Control‘ inspires him to improve and enjoy further success, whilst he also references the conveyor belt of young Austrian talent coming through, in the shape of another Rodriguez!
“As everybody knows, darts is an individual sport and not a team sport like football or basketball, which I like very much to play in my leisure time. But in a club you can do things together with fellow club members who sometimes become real friends. You need similar- minded people, sharing your enthusiasm and aims in getting better and better.
“In Germany, Austria and Switzerland the club is the centre of organised darts. All fellow club members strengthen each other in training and playing together, forming teams to play weekly leagues, sharing experiences and improving together beyond anything you could reach alone.
“I met my best friends in darts clubs and it is really important to me to have friends like Rowby-John Rodriguez, Michael Rasztovits and other really good players in my club to train together at a high level. But the high-level of professional darts is just one section of our club.
“Dartsclub Darts-Control has more than 100 members, playing and training regularly in “The Gentle“ in Vienna. Everybody in the club gives me motivation and is cheering me on when I’m playing PDC tournaments. They watch my games together in the pub on big screens and send me messages after a match. This is emotionally quite important.
“Furthermore one of the most important things in a club is the search for youth talents. We try to get young boys and girls into darts; to support and train them physically and mentally, to give them opportunities to develop by offering regular youth trainings, joint trips to national and international tournaments and guiding them to better skills.
“So we’re really proud of our youth section with lots of young talents such as Rusty-Jake Rodriguez, the little Brother of Rowby-John. We will see more of him in the next few years, as he turns 16 this Christmas and is therefore allowed to play in the PDC.”
However, whilst Mensur can rely on his loyal supporters from ’Darts Control‘, he also acknowledges the importance of enjoying support from the PDC crowds. “For me it is really important to know that the crowd is cheering me on. It’s hard for me to play against the crowd, Suljovic admits.
“But even if the audience is cheering on my opponent, I know that my friends that are with me at the venue and those who are watching my game on TV at home, or in Vienna at the “The Gentle”; my fellow club members and friends are on my side.
“This is important to know and I try to keep that in mind, because being cheered on helps you stay in your flow, whilst fighting against the crowd destroys your concentration and wipes you out of your flow. If you don’t have such supporters you doubt everything. Nobody will be successful like this.”
Suljovic takes on five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld in the Players Championship Finals this Friday, although the real focus is on next month’s World Championships. The Austrian has failed to go beyond the last 16 at the Alexandra Palace, but he insists that he’s going to enjoy the ride this time around.
“I’m not sure whether I can go further this year. As I said before, I’ve reached everything that I planned to reach so I’m enjoying what’s coming. I just let it happen. With my recent success I’m more in the focus of the media and even the fans who have high expectations and that creates enormous pressure for me.
“I try not to let that affect me, but it’s hard not to be influenced by these expectations. Especially the World Championship is so important and in the focus of everybody, so it’s hard to stay cool.
If it works; perfect, but if not; what shall I do? You just can try your best and hope it will be sufficient. If so, I’ll be the happiest darts player all over the world and if not, I’ll at least be grateful for the opportunities life gave to me this year.”
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
NB: With thanks to Darts Control president Dietmar Schuhmann, for his assistance with translation!