Stephen Bunting targeting top-ten spot
"I believe I've got the game to do it, I believe I've still got more steps and I'm still learning."
By Josh Gorton
Last Updated: 31/07/19 4:35pm
Stephen Bunting is eyeing a spot in the world's top ten after continuing his resurgence with a first quarter-final appearance at the World Matchplay last week.
'The Bullet' arrived at the Winter Gardens on the back of four successive opening round defeats at this event, but he produced fine comeback victories over Gerwyn Price and Ian White to reach the last eight in Blackpool for the very first time.
This has seen Bunting secure a return to the world's top 16 and speaking on the Darts Show podcast, the St Helen's star believes he has the ability to progress further.
"I'm 15th in the world now. I've just pushed myself back into the top 16. I always give myself the aim of trying to push into the top 16, so now it will be pushing into the top 10," said Bunting.
"I believe I've got the game to do it, I believe I've still got more steps and I'm still learning. I'm still relatively young in the darts world so I'm really looking forward to what the future holds."
The former Lakeside world champion made a strong start to life in the PDC after making the switch in 2014, but his form began to dwindle and he went over three years without reaching a televised quarter-final.
Nevertheless, he halted that unwanted record with a quarter-final run at the Players Championship Finals last November and he's added a further two quarter-final appearances to his resume in 2019, which has come as very welcome relief.
"It's been a disappointing last few years to be honest," said Bunting.
"I feel like I'm better than what I've been producing on the TV and it's nice to actually have some really good games on the TV and give myself a bit more confidence."
Bunting reached the second round on his Blackpool debut in 2014, but he hadn't registered a single win since, suffering four consecutive first-round exits by the seaside.
The 34-year-old lists the World Matchplay as one of his favourite events and he was delighted to end his winless run at the Winter Gardens.
"Over the years the draws haven't been too kind to me," admitted Bunting.
"I've played [Michael] van Gerwen and [Gary] Anderson in the last couple of years and then Gerwyn Price who is probably one of the most in-form players at the moment, so I was just really happy to get that win.
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"Obviously it was a bit nervous going towards the end, but I got over that line. It was nice for me to just show that fight, to show that I have got that in the locker.
"It was the same again with the [Ian] White game and I was unlucky against Rob Cross. I think Rob probably played one of his best games of the tournament against me, so it's good that I showed that fight and it's given me a massive amount of confidence.
Bunting earned the tag of 'comeback king' throughout the Matchplay, producing a host of stirring fightbacks before his resistance was finally ended by eventual champion Cross in a quarter-final classic.
'The Bullet' fought back from 8-6 down to defeat seventh seed Price in a sudden-death thriller, before recovering from 9-4 down to stun White in round two, winning 10 of the last 13 legs.
The former Lakeside champion also levelled from 9-4 down against Cross before losing out 16-14, although he joked that his slow starts were far from intentional.
"I didn't plan to be so far behind and have to claw back but it does show that the game is never over until you hit the winning double. There was even a time in the Ian White game where I put my darts in my pocket, I thought the game was done. He missed a dart and I took it out.
"You're always taught as a youngster to never put your darts away. It's never over until it's over. I did show a sign of weakness there but I still picked them out, I hit the winning double and it was just sheer jubilation to be honest, to be in the quarter-finals - the furthest I've been in the tournament.
"Everybody talks about the World Championships but I love Blackpool. It's down the road from where I live - it is my favourite tournament."
It's been a remarkable turnaround for Bunting, who was on the brink of quitting the game 18 months ago and he believes seeking the help of a sports psychologist sparked his revival.
"Even in defeat I'm taking all the positives out of the game. I think that's really important - that's where I was going wrong in the past," he admitted.
"I'm looking forward to turning up and feeling like I can win the event so the whole mindset has changed with the sports psychology I did last year."
Bunting on his revival
"I was losing games that I didn't think I should have been losing but I was getting myself down over it. I was coming home depressed and it was a horrible place to be in.
"Now it's so different. I'm really looking forward to going to events again. I'm looking forward to turning up and feeling like I can win the event so the whole mindset has changed with the sports psychology I did last year, it really helped change my view on things."
Bunting admitted he was dreading going to events a couple of years ago, but now he's relishing the prospect of rubbing shoulders with the world's best and with the business-end of the season approaching, the former Premier League star is in positive spirits.
"I just want to consolidate my form on the TV, try and pick a couple of Pro Tour titles up and a European event," he added.
"I love the European Tour, I think it's pivotal in pushing forward. Obviously this weekend we go to Hildesheim for a Pro Tour which will be different. We're not used to going to Germany for Pro Tours but I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season."
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