Tag Archives: PDC World Championship

Michael van Gerwen fires fantasy darts in performance for the ages

Picking the correct adjectives is essential when describing sport – labelling every significant moment “fantastic” or “great” just serves to devalue your lexicon. Very rarely do we see the stuff of fantasy that would equate to being fantastic, or an act of true greatness. We have to find ways of separating the highest tiers of brilliance in sport, or we cannot do them justice.

Last night Michael van Gerwen was fantastic. Last night Michael van Gerwen was great. Raymond van Barneveld fell barely short of both descriptors, yet he was still hammered 6-2 in the PDC World Championship semi-final by his ruthless Dutch counterpart.

Yes, van Gerwen’s romp was nearly 10 points shy of his imperfect – yes, imperfect – 123.40 world record average, but you cannot compare eight exhibition legs with eight of the hugest sets in darts. This semi-final showing was the best performance of all-time, beating a subjective honour previously bestowed upon Phil Taylor for his 7-1 thrashing of van Barneveld in the 2009 world final, where his average nudged 111.

Here comes the van Gerwen stats barrage: the highest ever average in a World Championship match 114.05 – almost three points superior to Taylor’s destruction of Shayne Burgess in 2002 –15 180s, 29 140s and a further cluster of big scores utilising the treble 19. Compared to van Barneveld’s two-out-of-three doubling, the 26-year-old was found wanting, but he still nailed more than half of his attempts. Oh, and he missed double 12 for a nine-darter too.

Barring Barney, the least enchanted by this darting wizardry was van Gerwen himself, who espoused the same brutal and commendable honesty he has for weeks. Some call it arrogance, that it may be, but we all know it’s what he’s thinking, and we’re thinking it too. Should he not win seven sets before Gary Anderson does and lift the Sid Waddell Trophy on Monday evening, the year will go down as a failure for Mighty Mike. Beating van Barneveld was another step towards that goal, the manner of it was just a happy little bonus, and something he won’t dwell on or coo over – the rest of us can do that.

Van Gerwen’s stunning second-half assault makes it easy to forget that for the first four sets this match was looking like a classic to end all classics. One constant of this famous rivalry has been van Barneveld’s feisty fight, a trait he has invariably brought to this contest even if it’s been sorely missing elsewhere – last year’s World Championship scalp is well-documented, but the less-talked about 2012 Grand Slam of Darts final is an exquisite example too.

Van Barneveld, seeking a first TV title in more than five years ran into a rampant young protagonist finally finding his feet in the PDC. Van Gerwen had blown away the field, including Phil Taylor, and was seeking a second PDC major to go with his first at the World Grand Prix a month prior, and he was the undeniable favourite to claim it.

But the elder Dutch boss hadn’t read the script. Clutch 180s and key finishes tormented a van Gerwen who just wanted to bulldoze, but he was unable too. Nerves crept in for van Barneveld near the end, but he banished them with a match-winning 11-darter against the throw to pinch the tournament 16-14. For four sets on Sunday we were seeing that same resolve, but in overload.

It was the best van Barneveld, a veteran of more than two decades and a winner of five world championships, had ever played on television, and it came because van Gerwen is the only man able to extract such darts from him. Not even Taylor could inspire Barney to this standard – in fact, after a while, he would rather quit than battle.

In terms of this match, van Gerwen started like a sloth, as van Barneveld cruised to the opening set 3-0 with a settling 107 and a gorgeous 131. All doubts surrounding which RvB would turn up following his long overdue scalp of tormenter Taylor 48 hours earlier diminished.

Red-hot Ray was in an even meaner mood after the break, sinking a never-in-doubt 160 to break – van Gerwen, who was waiting on 25, cast a slightly stunned look but was unperturbed. Then came the most crucial leg of the match, and had van Barneveld won it, he would have taken a commanding two-set lead. But he was never winning it, despite being on double 12 after 12 darts thrown.

Bish, bash, bosh. Triple 20, single 14, double 20 for MvG. A 12-darter, a break, a set back on throw and a dagger in the heart of his opponent. Van Barneveld positioned himself on the same double in the deciding fifth leg after four visits – once again, he never got a shot.

The bizarre was happening at Alexandra Palace. The averages were north of 110, the crowd were watching darts, and ‘Chase the Sun’ had been shunned for ‘Freed from Desire’.

Van Gerwen whizzed to the third set flinging yet more fire, but he was kept honest by his adversary, who pinned a routine 127 effortlessly on his way to levelling the scores after the Green Machine missed tops for a 94 that was, in the context of this match, a blink.

With no precedent for such mastery, one wondered whether the pummelling would eventually tell on somebody. It surely had to, and it did. Van Gerwen, somehow, got better while van Barneveld lost a couple of percentage points – but it was no more than that. MvG didn’t run riot for fun in the latter sets, he did so because he had to. The ageing Dutch master was nipping at his heels throughout, and even flirted at a comeback in the eighth set, before being savagely snuffed out.

A gutted van Barneveld oozed class in a beautifully miserable interview in the backroom after. He was devastated, not in awe. He couldn’t give a jot that he averaged 109 or played in the most mind-boggling match of all-time. Why give a valiant loss the time of the day when you’ve been crowned five times? Van Barneveld and van Gerwen have the same champion brain – there’s no substitute to this tournament and being successful in it.

It’s why van Barneveld has reached the semi-final at this event four times in the last five while generally being a pale shadow elsewhere. He doesn’t care about the rest. Victory in the Premier League was nice but it’s a mere career footnote.

For van Gerwen, oodles of expectation will be on him versus Anderson, who has staved off 11 World Championship challenges as the hunted – however, the 12th will be the Scot’s toughest by far. If van Gerwen has an outing remotely similar to the semi-final, Anderson will have to be more powerful and clinical than ever before. A rubbish cliché, granted, but it is true: if anyone can do it, he can.

The third and possibly deciding part of the Michael van Gerwen-Gary Anderson World Championship saga promises everything. The former won the first but invigorated the latter’s career in doing so, and Anderson repaid the favour 12 months’ later on his way to his first world title.

The darting world awaits a showdown usually only sports entertainment can provide. Buckle up.

Now Taylor has survived Huybrechts scare it could be too late to stop him

It was out of his hands. Kim Huybrechts had 15 darts to knock Phil Taylor out of the World Championship in the last 16. He couldn’t do it, he failed to even get a dart for the match.  He never recovered, and like a thief in the night, The Power was gone. Now Taylor has survived a huge scare – he eventually triumphed 4-3 in sets – it’s hard to see past the 54-year-old notching a 17th world crown on Sunday night.

For most, a tournament gets tougher as it goes on, that isn’t the case with Taylor. He thrives on the longer format, able to maintain a staggering consistency while the rest wilt. His ability to build leg-on-leg pressure without relent, makes him fiendishly difficult to beat. Unlike a Michael van Gerwen, or an Adrian Lewis, Taylor rarely has poor legs, ensuring his opponents are nearly always under tremendous pressure to hit their checkouts. There is no respite.

His dominance of the set-play format hasn’t been quite as strong as that of his leg-play – he hasn’t lost a match in excess of 25 legs since his 16-14 loss at the 2010 Grand Slam to Steve Beaton – but it is still unprecedented.

On the 19 occasions where he progressed to the last four of the world championships, only three times has he not gone on to lift the title. Those blots on the CV came courtesy of a  6-1 smashing by Dennis Priestley at the first WDC World Championship in 1994, and defeats in final-set epics against John Part and Raymond van  Barneveld in 2003 and 2007 respectively. The Power has also never lost a world semi-final.

So with the knowledge of Taylor’s supremacy in the latter rounds, if he is going to be beaten, the quarter-finals may be the last good chance to do it – a round which has brought his demise three times, most recently to Mark Webster in 2011.

Realistically, despite  a successful season for Vincent van der Voort, there is little to suggest he can threaten to beat Taylor over a nine-set contest. The Dutchman’s power scoring may create chances, but his frailties on the doubles and lack of experience at the business end of TV tournaments, do little to convince me he can upstage The Power on the grandest stage. A set, possibly two, but a win would require an effort unlike any he has produced before. It’s hard to envisage a vulnerable Taylor – especially considering any concerns with his new darts would have been quelled after the Huybrechts match.

Of course, the calibre of the remaining participants will hopefully – in the interests of competition – prevent a cruise to the title, seen so often in many PDC World Championships in the late 90s and early 2000s. Since van Barneveld’s switch of codes in 2006, which sparked a mass exodus of players from the BDO, Taylor has won the title just three times out of eight. Age, of course plays a part, but the increase of serious challengers is undeniably the main factor.

Providing he beats van der Voort, a semi-final match with either van Barneveld or reigning BDO world champion Stephen Bunting will await. A clash with van Barneveld would see a battle of titans, but the striking truth is, despite his win over Taylor in this year’s Premier League, that has been his only TV victory over his adversary in the last six-and-a-half years. – a period which has seen his mental strength battered through, a result of countless defeats against Taylor. In addition, van Barneveld has not shown form capable of triumphing over 11 sets. He may have possessed bottle in spades to dump out Adrian Lewis on Tuesday evening, but his scoring inconsistency would surely be punished more severely by Taylor. Past scars and current indicators point firmly to the Stoke-on-Trent master prevailing in a match between the two.

Bunting is the dark horse in this event and the BDO world champion is three games away from becoming the first undisputed world darts champion in over 20 years – if only for a week. The 29-year-old has moved swiftly through, dispatching James Wade in the last 32 and then Michael Smith in the third round with a ton-topping average. Bunting has secured a TV win against Taylor this year, in a deciding leg at the European Championship. While he would still be an outsider if a contest between them arises, Bunting has the game, and is in the form to beat Taylor if he is not at his best. It would be a fresh and intriguing semi-final.

Gary Anderson and van Gerwen are favourites to win their quarter-final matches against Peter Wright and Robert Thornton, and the two have an edgy rivalry, stemming from van Gerwen’s victory here against Anderson 12 months ago. The Dutchman has had the best of their matches in 2014, with key wins from 3-1 down at Alexandra Palace last year, along with another close win in the Premier League semi-final. Both have achieved success against Taylor and either would pose a strong test over 13 sets.

Defending champion van Gerwen lost the 2013 final to Taylor 7-4 in sets, but could have assumed total control at 5-2 if not for a missed double. Taylor has also had the best of their most recent battles, bouncing back from van Gerwen’s wins in two TV finals in 2013, handing out a pummeling at the 2014 World Matchplay, almost reducing his opponent to tears. The Dutchman is playing himself into the tournament, with a convincing win over Terry Jenkins on Monday. Set-play helps his up-and-down game, allowing him peaks and troughs without causing irreversible damage. If he can tighten up on the doubles, he could topple Taylor, but judging on his patchy year he would be the underdog over a 13-set marathon.

Could Anderson be best placed to take the title from Taylor? His Players Championship win in Minehead, and improving play at Ally Pally puts him in with a genuine chance. He overpowered Taylor in the quarter-finals in Minehead, and his 7-3 sets win over The Power in the 2007 World Trophy is testament to his credentials over the long format. That match may have been seven years ago, but Anderson’s current consistency and temperament, is arguably as great as it has ever been. However, in 2011 where he looked primed to win the tournament, he fell at the final hurdle to Lewis. The glut of 180s and strong double-hitting the Scotsman is showing at the moment will make him tough to overcome. If he doesn’t buckle and produces at his very best, the match is in his hands. His scoring prowess will offer up enough chances, it is whether he can take them.

Much is telling in that the quest to make an impermeable case for someone to defeat Taylor is so tough. His improvements round-on-round are ominous, and his character to fight back against Huybrechts was a far cry from his loss to Michael Smith in the second round 12 months ago. The Power looks assured and composed, in contrast to the edgy and uneasy version we saw earlier in the year.

Few chances come to knock Phil Taylor out of a World Championship and if not noticed when they present themselves, like that they’re gone. We may only be at the quarter-finals, but it might already be too late…