Gerwyn Price shares his thoughts on Fallon Sherrock, his chief rivals for World Championship glory, the returning Ally Pally fans and much more in our exclusive interview ahead of the biggest showpiece in darts.
Gerwyn Price admits the level of Fallon Sherrock’s history-making performances and results took him by surprise at the Grand Slam of Darts but maintains she will have to reach the William Hill World Championship final to earn a Premier League spot as early as next year.
During the Wolverhampton major, which he went on to win for a third time in four years by beating Sherrock’s conqueror Peter Wright in the final, the world champion initially laughed off Wayne Mardle’s claims that she deserves a call-up to the lucrative event and some felt he'd been unfairly dismissive.
Price's reaction came after the Queen of the Palace dismantled Mike de Dekker 5-0 with the highest TV average for a woman of 101.55, hit 'that' 170 checkout against Gabriel Clemens and then thrashed Mensur Suljovic 10-4 to reach the quarter-finals.
However, the manner of her display against Wright in the longest match of her career under intense pressure was nothing short of world class, averaging 99 over 29 legs of major tournament televised darts, and even Snakebite added his name to the list of those calling for her Premier League inclusion.
Price said: "Everyone can see she’s a fantastic player but I’ll be honest, I didn’t think she had that standard of game in her over that distance, so fair play.
"To run Peter so close, to beat Mensur again and to blow Mike de Dekker away 5-0 proves she’s got the game. It’s just whether she can do it week in, week out against all these great players on the Pro Tour if she earns her card – and then on stage regularly.
"She’s got no scars at the moment and just playing freely. She’s definitely got the game and if she earns her spot on the Tour then I’m sure she’ll do really well. I hope she does get her Tour Card and I hope she does play with us week in, week out because she’s got the game."
But as for next year’s Premier League, if it was down to Price, he’d set her a lofty target to ‘earn it’.
The Iceman said: "She still needs to earn it and to do that she’d definitely have to reach the world final or even win it, in my opinion. But it’s not up to me to decide that, I’m sure the PDC know exactly what they’re doing and if she’s included then they’ll have done it for the right reasons."
The draw for the World Championship, which will be screened live by Sky Sports, was made just hours after this interview and if the glass ceiling smasher is to reach the final, she’d have to beat Price as early as the third round.
The 27-year-old got that far when making Ally Pally history against Ted Evetts and Suljovic two years ago prior to defeat against Chris Dobey, but if she did manage to go one step further this year, the prize money earned would be enough to move into the top 64 on the Order of Merit and therefore win her a Tour Card without the need to go through qualifying school.
Now that would be some way to play the likes of Price week in, week out.
Price heads to the Ally Pally as the 10/3 favourite to defend his title ahead of his chief rivals Michael van Gerwen (4/1), Peter Wright (13/2) and Jonny Clayton (7/1).
This ‘big four’ have surged clear of the chasing pack in the eyes of the bookies – who price fifth favourite Dimitri Van den Bergh up at 18/1 - and there won’t be too many pundits or fans predicting an outsider to lift the Sid Waddell Trophy on January 3.
However, if the Iceman could price up the market, he’d make Clayton second favourite, Wright third and MVG down in fourth.
Whereas Grand Slam king Price won five tournaments this year, his fellow Welshman picked up four TV titles among his overall tally of six, including the Premier League, World Grand Prix, Masters and World Series in a career-launching 2021.
As for van Gerwen, this is the first calendar year since 2011 that he’s failed to win a major despite averaging higher than anyone across all competitions. He did pick up the televised Nordic Darts Masters against Sherrock and a single floor title in early November but he’s not producing his best when it really matters.
Price said: "He’s not playing badly but he’s not getting the results he perhaps sometimes deserves. In the past he’d come through some of those tight games but it’s just not happening for him recently.
"He did win the Nordic Darts Masters and a Pro Tour event but none of the big ranking events. I’d say me and Jonny are very close at the top, with Peter a bit of a distance behind us despite winning the Players Championship Finals and Michael in fourth.”
Price is fully aware it’s far from a four-horse race given the depth of talent and title-winning potential compared to the era when Phil Taylor and a prime van Gerwen hoovered up so many majors, but the Welshman feels he and Clayton have a higher ceiling of standard they can reach in the coming seasons compared to the other members of the star quartet.
He said: "The standard in the game as a whole is ridiculous and you could pick at least eight other players that could seriously challenge for the big titles. In the past Michael and Phil Taylor were so dominant but I can’t see that kind of thing happening again in the very near future.
"Hopefully I can find another level because I don’t think I’m anywhere near the finished article, so maybe in a few years’ time I can be more dominant.
"Michael and Peter have perhaps reached their peaks and there’s only two ways they can go now – stay the same or drop off. But as far as me and Jonny are concerned, we’ve got a lot more in the tank."
Price is relishing the return of crowds having won the world title without the pantomime boos at an empty Alexandra Palace back in January.
He said: "I’ve won plenty of majors and stage events with crowds there – and nine times out of 10 they’re on my back - so it’s not as if they stop me winning. I prefer fans there and I think I play better with them there.
"I was sad that I didn’t win it in front of fans last year so hopefully I can back it up this time with the crowds and there’s no reason why I won't.
"Even if they are on my back I’ll play well but I just hope they let me get on with my game so I can play even better.
"I do get thousands of positive messages on social media and I know there’s lots of supporters out there in the crowds who outshine those who are against me. I appreciate every one of them.
"But for all those in your favour, it only takes one or two against you that stick in your head and the boos stand out."
The 36-year-old from Markham could so easily have been put off his stride by booing during tense deciding sets in three of his early-round matches last year against Jamie Lewis, Brendan Dolan and Daryl Gurney, but he survived those scares before going on to find his A-game towards the closing stages of the tournament.
Price has regularly demonstrated this ability to peak at the business end of the big events and he said: "Sometimes it takes playing against a better player to kick you into gear. If I play someone in the early rounds who is firing on all cylinders, I’m sure I’ll find that extra gear but for me, the worse someone players against me, the worse I play. Especially in early rounds when everyone is a bit more tense.
"As the tournament goes on and you play against better players in better form, I can find that extra 10%.
"You do need those tight games to kick you up the backside but if I play well then hopefully I won’t find myself in those situations again. I’m more than prepared to battle it out if those situations arise."
Despite being favourite for glory, Price admits he’d have expected to win more this season but is happy with his recent form.
He said: "I was expecting to play in more events and I had to miss a lot early on, including the Premier League (due to Covid) and some Pro Tours which meant I wasn’t as sharp as I should have been.
"I did win both of the European Tour events this season and I’m obviously proud of how I won the Grand Slam of Darts again and played so well towards the end of it.
"The event that frustrates me the most was the World Series of Darts Finals when Jonny Clayton came back to beat me 10-9 in the quarters and also losing to Brendan Dolan at the Players Championship Finals which I should have won.
"Overall the back end of the year has been better than the start so I’m now really looking forward to the worlds."