Mensur Suljovic begins his response with a charm offensive. You shouldn’t assume anything about it. He always does that. For many years. “My friend,” he says, adding after a short pause: “It’s hard to believe. But it’s really been like this for a year and a half now.”
A year and a half, 18 months. That’s how long ago Mensur Suljovic received his first vaccination against the corona virus. And since then, as he describes it, he has not been able to get back on his feet in terms of health. While many people suffer from Long Covid, he is extremely affected by the long-term effects of the vaccination: “It cost me a lot of money.” And almost his existence as a darts professional.
After the past few months, not many people believed that the 50-year-old would meet Michael van Gerwen in the third round of the World Championships in London on Wednesday evening. He himself had thought about quitting. Because he no longer had motivation, anger about his physical condition dominated his days. “Several times I was very close to giving up. I even told my wife that I would do it,” he says, giving the reasons for his decision: “What should I do if I can’t train?”
He’s just not a player who can live off his talent, he’s always had to train more than others. When it comes to the information about the scope, his numbers fluctuate, sometimes the Serb, who is starting for Austria, has given seven hours, sometimes eight, sometimes twelve that he spends on average on the board in the past few months. But a lot, one can be sure, has always been there.
In any case, the decisive factor is that almost nothing has worked since his vaccination. He felt listless, was tired and could hardly get out of bed. His whole body hurt. Sometimes he couldn’t stand on the board at all, other days it was over after a few minutes. There were only noticeable fluctuations in his pulse, in rare cases it was much too high, but often much too low. During one of his doctor’s visits, a 49 was measured.
Suljovic missed many tournaments and when he did, it was usually over early. “My corona vaccination has destroyed my career in the past year and a half,” he believes. In fact, his performances did not have much in common with the player who stood at the oche in the Premier League, won the Champions League in 2017 or reached the final of the European Darts Championship in 2016 and the World Matchplay in 2018. He threatened to drop out of the top 32, but just managed to make it into the Alexandra Palace in 30th place.
“It is so hard. There are so many strong young players. New, better players join the tour every year. But my best time is three years and more back. The pressure on me has increased,” he reports, probably also referring to his expired supplier contract. He had asked for more money with a view to younger colleagues who are under contract in the same stable. No agreement was reached.
He himself knows that his star has been falling for several years. But the vaccination simply made a turnaround impossible: “If I can’t train, I hardly have a chance. I got vaccinated three times, but it hasn’t gotten any better. Not after the second and not the third time either.” Until a few weeks ago.
Since then, there have been small steps towards improvement, Suljovic said in an interview after his 3-0 opening win against Mike De Decker. He was able to train regularly again. The success at the World Cup is the result of that.
He has set himself new goals, and when he talks about the future, you can tell that he is happy about his ongoing recovery. He sees the match against van Gerwen as a bonus. But it shouldn’t really start until the new year: “Next year I’ll play more than ever, I won’t go on vacation, the holidays will be cancelled. I will play every tournament, take everything with me. Reaching the top 16 again will be incredibly difficult, but the top 32 is my goal. I’m far from done, my friend.”
3rd round (from 1.45 p.m.):
Ryan Searle (ENG/16) – Jose de Sousa (ENG/17)
Danny Noppert (NED/9) – Alan Soutar (SCO)
Gary Anderson (SCO/11) – Chris Dobey (ENG/22)
from 8.15 p.m.:
Joe Cullen (ENG/13) – Damon Heta (AUS/20)
Michael van Gerwen (NED/3) – Mensur Suljovic (AUT/30)
Michael Smith (ENG/4) – Martin Schindler (D/29)