This year's Grand Slam of Darts will see two women compete in the cross-code event for the first time since 2010 and the inclusion of Lisa Ashton and Mikuru Suzuki underlines the continued growth of the women's game, writes Josh Gorton...
Ashton and Suzuki are among five debutants representing the British Darts Organisation this year, although Ashton possesses previous big stage PDC experience having featured at last year's World Championship at Alexandra Palace.
'The Lancashire Rose' was beaten 3-1 by Jan Dekker despite clinching the opening set with a sensational 107 average, before she was denied a fifth Lakeside crown in January after losing to eventual champion Suzuki in round one.
The Japanese sensation - who didn't drop a set en route to her debut triumph at Lakeside, has been a trailblazer for Asian darts and this year's event could be a ground-breaking moment for women's darts - both domestically and globally.
"It's massive for ladies darts," Ashton told Sky Sports. "We've not had any female representation since 2010 so to have two this year is absolutely brilliant for the ladies, just to show that we're going from strength-to-strength.
"I'm absolutely chuffed - to be one of the ladies selected is a massive opportunity and to be picked myself, I'm so over the moon."
Anastasia Dobromyslova was the first woman to compete in the Grand Slam in 2008 and 2009, Francis Hoenselaar also debuted in 2009 while Stacy Bromberg and Tricia Wright featured in the 2010 edition, although the involvement of Ashton and Suzuki has generated unprecedented anticipation.
Nevertheless, both have been handed extremely difficult groups. Suzuki begins her campaign against defending champion Gerwyn Price, while former finalist Robert Thornton and World Youth champion Dimitri Van den Bergh also await 'The Miracle' in Group C.
Ashton faces world No 2 Rob Cross on Saturday afternoon and the women's world No 1 has also been pitted against former BDO colleague Jamie Hughes and stablemate Dave Chisnall - a finalist at this event in 2014.
"It looks like a group of death for me," Ashton joked.
"I'm going to give it everything I've got. I've started hitting form and they've hit form so hopefully we can all have good games and I might actually win one.
"They've got to play for their ranking money and we're just in to represent the BDO, so the pressure is on them. I've got no pressure, I'm going to go in and enjoy it and hopefully I play like I can."
Sky Sports expert Wayne Mardle admits that the duo couldn't have had it much tougher, although 'Hawaii 501' believes both players are capable of producing upsets - particularly over the best of nine legs format.
"They are tough groups but I believe both Mikuru and Lisa are good enough to win games. I do believe that. They've both averaged 90+ in World Championship games so if they can do that and pick their spots right, it might be good enough," Mardle said.
"What they've got to do is pop those finishes. The 68's, the 81's, they've got to go because they're not going to have the luxury of being able to miss two or three and then coming back.
"Not in this field. Not in those groups. They've got to hit their combination finishes. If they do, they've got chances to cause upsets."
Dobromyslova famously defeated Vincent van der Voort in the group phase a decade ago, yet none of the three women who have competed in the Grand Slam have progressed through to the knockout stages. However, over the short format, Ashton believes anything is possible.
"It could be possible [to reach the knockout stages] because it's a short format," she said. "Mikuru and I are going to try our best, if one of us or both of us get through it would be massive for ladies darts, just to show that the level of the ladies game is growing.
"As ladies we always play the short format, we're used to having to kick off straight away, whereas the PDC boys usually get a bit of time to get into their rhythm.
"Hopefully we kick off well and by time they realise we've got a few legs and we can get over the line."
The female representation at the Grand Slam will also be in the commentary box, as BDO world No 9 Laura Turner joins the Sky Sports team this weekend.
Turner, who is set to make her second consecutive BDO World Championship appearance in January 2020, is relishing her media commitments and is intrigued to see how her colleagues fare.
"It is a fantastic tournament. I am super excited to be part of it. It's great because it is that one tournament that brings both the PDC and the BDO players together. It just has that different kind of competitive edge," Turner told the Darts Show Podcast.
"I'm so excited obviously to see women back in it with Mikuru and Lisa - we saw Lisa back at the PDC World Championship where she played Jan Dekker and she was fantastic there, so hopefully she can continue that and get a few points on the board.
"Mikuru - what can we say? She won the World Championship without dropping a set, so I'm excited about them both."
Ashton shares Turner's excitement and having scooped two major titles over recent months, the 13-time major champion heads into this weekend full of confidence.
"After losing my Lakeside title I think it actually gave me a kick, just to wake up," the four-time world champion said.
"My form is coming back and to win the World Masters and World Trophy, I couldn't ask for any better preparation to get me ready for this tournament.
"I've been speaking to Mikuru and giving her advice. The crowd we have in the BDO are completely different to what the PDC guys have.
"With playing in the World Championship, I know what to expect more. It's different. People tell what you to expect but you have to experience it yourself.
"For me it's just one game at a time. My target is to get a win. If I get one win then I'll know I will get a bit of confidence from that and then try and get a second win. I'm just going to go up there, enjoy it and play my game as best I can."
Ashton and Suzuki have irrefutably played an instrumental role in the growth of the women's game over recent years and their inclusions are a testament to their performances.
They will both adopt the underdog tag in their respective groups, although they've proven their big-match pedigree on countless occasions. If they're able to produce the goods over the coming days, women's darts could be the big winner in Wolverhampton.
Check out daily Darts news on skysports.com/darts, our app for mobile devices and our Twitter account @skysportsdarts - the action is back on your Sky Sports screens next month with the Grand Slam of Darts, nine days of coverage from the Aldersley Leisure Village gets underway on Saturday, November 9.