Michael Smith is the new
In the end, the Darts World Cup turns into a show
By Kevin Schulte, London
01/05/2023, 11:29 (updated)
With a bit of a start, the 2023 World Darts Championship will remain a memorable tournament. This is due to new world champion Michael Smith, heavy favorite Michael van Gerwen, who lost in the final, and German darts sensation Gabriel Clemens.
The world of darts has a number one and a new world champion. Michael Smith wins the title for the first time at Alexandra Palace in London on the third attempt. The dry spell of big favorite Michael van Gerwen, on the other hand, continues. And darts Germany has finally made it to the top of the world, mainly thanks to Gabriel Clemens. After a rather slow start in the shadow of the World Cup, the highlight of the year at darts at London’s Alexandra Palace after Christmas reaches a new level of spectacle and drama. These are the lessons of the 2023 World Darts Championship.
The best make a mistake at the crucial moment: After four big titles last year, Michael van Gerwen came into the World Cup as heavy favorite for the first time in relatively mixed years. And the triple world champion has consolidated his newfound status as the best player in the world. In his five games until the final, the Dutchman averaged over 100 points, an exceptional figure. No one else has come through the tournament so consistently, so dominantly and confidently. In the quarter-finals and semi-finals, “Mighty Mike” even beat his unfortunate opponents Chris Dobey and Dimitri Van den Bergh 5-0 and 6-0. An impressive regularity which made van Gerwen the favorite against Smith even before the final.
But in the final, of all places, the 33-year-old’s points average slipped below 100 for the first and only time in the tournament. In the second half of the game, Michael van Gerwen was no longer able to play at the level of the previous rounds. Smith took the opportunity to turn a 2-3 deficit into a deserved 7-4 win. For van Gerwen, there is little consolation in dominating the 30th World Professional Darts Championship for long stretches. But at the decisive moment, “MvG” went through a phase of weakness. The Dutchman must therefore continue to wait for the title of world number four.
Michael Smith finally has a clear head: As the tournament approached, many pundits and competitors predicted that Michael Smith would go far at the World Cup. At least since winning the Darts Grand Slam title in November, Smith was the player with the best form after van Gerwen. And now also one of the strongest players mentally. Smith, who has lost the first eight major finals of his career, including two World Cup finals, has been absent throughout his career when he really only needs to cross the finish line. A barrier in his head that made it difficult for him to finally win his first title. The Grand Slam triumph solved the blockade. His opponent in the final at the time, Nathan Aspinall, already had a feeling. The ‘Bully Boy’ will now be even more dangerous, according to Aspinall, who should now feel confirmed.
For Michael Smith, the World Cup triumph means not only the second major victory after the Grand Slam, but also the biggest salary of his career. The 32-year-old Englishman pocketed the equivalent of just over 550,000 euros. In the World Rankings, which is based on prize money earned over the past two years, Smith now sits in first place. “I want to get more titles, prove that I’m not going to be a one-hit wonder,” Smith said at the winners’ press conference at Ally Pally.
The danger has already passed. Smith already had his MVP status before the tournament, and now he’s boosted it impressively. Also because the Englishman smashed a lot of 180 shots in the table as usual. His contribution to the new 180 tournament record is enormous. Smith contributed 66 of the 901 maximums. Two on the way to his nine darts in the spectacular World Cup final against van Gerwen.
The old greats disappoint: Peter Wright as the defending champion at the World Darts Championship. This shouldn’t bode well for “Snakebite” again. A year after his second title (in the final against Michael Smith), the Scot disappointed all along the line. Although Wright won easily against Mickey Mansell on the first day of the tournament, after Christmas the 52-year-old obviously ran out of target water. In the round of 16, Wright was beaten 4-1 by Belgium’s Kim Huybrechts. For Wright, a more than mixed year 2022 ended. In the summer he had to undergo an operation, and in the fall and winter his wife and manager Joanne was in poor health. Although she declared herself fit in time for the World Cup, Wright did not seem able to play freely. The early ending was therefore logical.
Scotland’s second darts legend also enjoyed a juicy slap. Gary Anderson was also knocked out in the third round of his favorite tournament. The “Flying Scotsman” beat his former protege Chris Dobey with the score of 1:4. After reaching a final in 2021 and a semi-final in 2022, Anderson has now lost a lot of ground in the world rankings. From 11th place to 22nd place.
Darts Germany has never been so good: Gabriel Clemens is in the top 20 for the first time in his career, ahead of legend Anderson. As the first German, the Saarlander reached the semi-finals quite surprisingly. Along the way, Clemens even survived a dart in a very dramatic third-round match against Jim Williams before he could turn the tide. The ‘German giant’ was the first German to reach a World Cup quarter-final by beating Scottish firefighter Alan Soutar.
But the record hunt went even further as Clemens won a crazy match against world number one Gerwyn Price. Clemens won 5:1 against the “Iceman”, who meanwhile played with earmuffs as if working on the runway of an airport. Alone against eventual world champion Smith was the last stop in the semi-finals.
The German number two, Martin Schindler, also had to admit defeat against the “Bully Boy” after a good fight. In the third round, Schindler was about to gild the match of his life with a sensational victory. World number 29 was 3:1. against Smith up front, one set away. But then Smith turned up the heat, winning three straight sets to make it 4-3. This is what the winners of subsequent tournaments are made of. Throughout the tournament, no player has come closer to beating Smith than Martin Schindler. However, he was happy with his performance as he had won a World Cup game for the first time in a convincing 3:1 win over Martin Lukeman in the previous round.
Florian Hempel takes nothing away from the good record of the three German participants. In his second appearance at “Ally Pally”, Hempel again proved that he felt comfortable on the big darts stages. The former handball player beat Keegan Brown 3-2 in a dramatic match. In the second round, Hempel sniffed the sensation against world number five Luke Humphries. In the end, however, the German scored 2:3.
On the sporting side, the World Cup will not convince until after Christmas: Hempel’s missed sensation fit into the picture of a World Championship that hadn’t had a single sensation in the first phase of the tournament until Christmas and at most a small surprise. Believe it or not, 29 of the 32 seeds have advanced to the third round. Never before have so many favorites prevailed in their opening matches. And the elimination of Callan Rydz to rising darts sensation Josh Rock came as no surprise as eventual KO 16 Alan Soutar beat Daryl Gurney. At best, James Wade, eighth in the world ranking, against the Welshman Jim Williams was a small surprise.
But because surprises and one or another sensation are as much a part of the first phase of a World Cup as salt in the soup, the tournament took a little longer this time to truly inspire. Touching stories like that of South African amateur darter Grant Sampson, who prepared for his World Cup debut in the pub next to his hotel and then survived a round, or the dance performances of the American Leonard Gates, 52, delayed the tournament. at the start on the water. Likewise the appearance of Vladyslav Omelchenko, the first Ukrainian in the history of the world darts championship. Or the debut of the best 18-year-old player, Beau Greaves. Gabriel Clemens only caused a stir later in the tournament, in his first games the “German Favorit” was still a favorite himself.
(This article was first published on Wednesday, January 04, 2023.)
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