The start of the £460,000 event saw 32 first round clashes at the Butlin’s Minehead Resort in Somerset, and new Grand Slam of Darts champion Price made a brilliant start to his bid for successive TV titles by taking out 121 and 113 in the opening two legs, moving 4-0 up without missing a dart at a double.
He also led 5-1 before Ratajski strung together a stunning run of five legs to deny Price a match dart – with legs of 13, 11, 14, 12 and 13 darts earning the Polish number one a memorable victory.
“It was brilliant for me, one of my biggest wins,” said Ratajski, who was making Players Championship Finals debut, after winning the last two Players Championship events in October.
“It’s not the first time I have been 5-1 down and won 6-5, and I never thought it was finished.
“At the start I didn’t play badly but Gerwyn played perfect darts at the start of the match. In the last few legs I was perfect – it’s incredible.”
Ratajski now takes on Adrian Lewis in Saturday afternoon’s second round, after the two-time finalist defeated Adam Hunt 6-2 in the opening game of the day on the Main Stage.
Reigning champion Michael van Gerwen averaged 103 as he cruised past Matthew Edgar, hitting a ten-darter and six doubles from ten attempts to begin his bid for a fourth successive Players Championship Finals title.
Van Gerwen now plays Keegan Brown, who was a 6-3 winner against Benito van de Pas, and the Dutchman said: “It would be nice to win this tournament again but I can do better than I showed tonight.
“There’s more in the tank and it will be a good game against Keegan. He’s been playing well lately and I’ve got to be sharp from the beginning,” said Van Gerwen.
World Champion Rob Cross was dumped out of the tournament by Spain’s Cristo Reyes, who was in clinical form as he punished the world number three for five missed doubles in a memorable win.
There were no such problems for 2014 champion Gary Anderson, who returned to winning ways following his loss in the Grand Slam of Darts final, averaging 108 in a 6-2 win over Alan Tabern.
The leading performer on the opening day was top seed Ian White, who produced a sensational 111.12 average – the second highest in the history of the Players Championship Finals – as he swept past Scott Taylor, hitting six doubles from nine attempts.
A similarly strong performance came from Premier League and World Series Finals runner-up Michael Smith, who secured the only 6-0 whitewash of the day against Vincent van der Voort.
One of the matches of the day saw Stephen Bunting edge out Richard North 6-5 in a dramatic clash which saw which saw eight 180s and four ton-plus checkouts, including a 164 from the St Helens man.
“I’m delighted with that win against a great player and I feel I am playing better than I ever have in my life,” said Bunting.
“I’m enjoying a second lease of life at the moment and I truly believe the best years of my career are ahead of me, I’d love to go far this weekend.”
Evergreen fans’ favourite Steve Beaton also edged an 11-leg thriller, raising the Stage Two roof in the final game of the opening round as he saw off former runner-up Kim Huybrechts.
Germany’s number one Max Hopp came from 3-1 down to defeat Steve West 6-4, while his countryman Gabriel Clemens also progressed thanks to a 6-3 win over Andrew Gilding, however there was less good news for Hopp’s World Cup partner Martin Schindler who went down to Nathan Aspinall.
Schindler will face Dimitri Van den Bergh in Sunday’s PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship Final, and the young Belgian also suffered an early exit, losing out 6-2 to World Grand Prix quarter-finalist James Wilson.
Simon Whitlock was a 6-4 winner of his all-Australian tie with Kyle Anderson, who battled back from 5-1 down with three successive legs before the former European Champion sealed the win, while world number two Peter Wright eased past Spanish ace Toni Alcinas.
Daryl Gurney ended the hopes of 2009 finalist Robert Thornton with a 6-3 victory, coming from 2-1 down to win five of the next six legs, and James Wade began his bid to win a third TV title of the autumn with a 6-4 defeat of Ross Smith.
Dave Chisnall, the 2016 finalist, landed six 180s and averaged over 97 in his 6-4 win over Jamie Lewis as he came from 3-2 down, while last year’s runner-up Jonny Clayton got the better of fellow-Welshman Mark Webster 6-3.
Jeffrey de Zwaan won the all-Dutch clash with Jelle Klaasen 6-4, European Championship semi-finalist Joe Cullen landed a 110 finish under pressure to win 6-5 in a tense battle with John Henderson and former semi-finalist Darren Webster cruised to a 6-3 win over Dutch youngster Jeffrey de Graaf.
There were dream debuts for Stephen Burton, Danny Noppert and Latvia’s Madars Razma who recorded victories over Jermaine Wattimena, Rowby-John Rodriguez and Mickey Mansell respectively.
Northern Ireland’s Brendan Dolan fought his way to a 6-4 win over Michael Barnard, Irish World Cup star Steve Lennon produced an impressive display to see off Ryan Joyce 6-2 and Chris Dobey fought off a comeback from Ron Meulenkamp to win 6-3.
Former Players Championship Finals runner-up Mervyn King found a way past Simon Stevenson 6-4, Ryan Searle reeled off four successive legs to see off Josh Payne 6-2, while Ricky Evans secured his first Players Championship Finals win with a 6-3 defeat of Jan Dekker.
Day Two will again see play split across two stages, with round two in the afternoon and round three in the evening, followed by Finals Day on the Main Stage on Sunday.
Televised coverage of the Ladbrokes Players Championship Finals will focus on the Main Stage, while play on Saturday on Stage Two will be available on PDCTV-HD for all subscribers worldwide.
2018 Ladbrokes Players Championship Finals
Schedule of Play
Friday, November 23
Jeffrey de Zwaan 6-4 Jelle Klaasen
Max Hopp 6-4 Steve West
Keegan Brown 6-3 Benito van de Pas
Adrian Lewis 6-2 Adam Hunt
Simon Whitlock 6-4 Kyle Anderson
Daryl Gurney 6-3 Robert Thornton
James Wade 6-4 Ross Smith
Dave Chisnall 6-4 Jamie Lewis
Brendan Dolan 6-4 Michael Barnard
Ryan Searle 6-2 Josh Payne
Nathan Aspinall 6-1 Martin Schindler
Gabriel Clemens 6-3 Andrew Gilding
Steve Lennon 6-2 Ryan Joyce
Mervyn King 6-4 Simon Stevenson
Stephen Bunting 6-5 Richard North
Madars Razma 6-4 Mickey Mansell
Ian White 6-2 Scott Taylor
Gary Anderson 6-2 Alan Tabern
Cristo Reyes 6-1 Rob Cross
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-5 Gerwyn Price
Peter Wright 6-2 Toni Alcinas
Michael van Gerwen 6-1 Matthew Edgar
Michael Smith 6-0 Vincent van der Voort
Stephen Burton 6-5 Jermaine Wattimena
Joe Cullen 6-5 John Henderson
Jonny Clayton 6-3 Mark Webster
Ricky Evans 6-3 Jan Dekker
James Wilson 6-2 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Danny Noppert 6-3 Rowby-John Rodriguez
Chris Dobey 6-3 Ron Meulenkamp
Darren Webster 6-3 Jeffrey de Graaf
Steve Beaton 6-5 Kim Huybrechts
Saturday, November 24
Afternoon Session (1245 GMT)
Daryl Gurney v Ryan Searle
James Wade v Nathan Aspinall
Dave Chisnall v Chris Dobey
Cristo Reyes v Steve Lennon
Gary Anderson v Simon Whitlock
Michael van Gerwen v Keegan Brown
Peter Wright v Max Hopp
Stephen Bunting v Madars Razma
James Wilson v Gabriel Clemens
Jeffrey de Zwaan v Ricky Evans
Stephen Burton v Darren Webster
Ian White v Brendan Dolan
Danny Noppert v Mervyn King
Michael Smith v Jonny Clayton
Steve Beaton v Joe Cullen
Adrian Lewis v Krzysztof Ratajski
Evening Session (1900 GMT)
All images Courtesy PDC/Lawrence Lustig