Former major winner and leading darts pundit and commentator Paul Nicholson is back with the third instalment of his new Sporting Life column as the 2020 season gathers pace.
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This week, the Asset looks back on the incredible achievements of Ryan Searle, who picked up his maiden PDC title despite his blurred vision condition, and winning machine Krzysztof Ratajski while he also discusses darting rivalries - including his own with Phil Taylor - in light of Glen Durrant and Matthew Edgar taking centre stage this past weekend.
Paul concludes with his predictions for Thursday night's Premier League action in Cardiff and an eye-catching treble which comes in at nearly 11/1.
I was delighted to see Ryan Searle win his maiden PDC title at the weekend and his success shouldn't come as too much of a surprise even though his blurred vision is so bad he can hardly see the dart board with any sort of clarity!
When Ryan Searle played Nathan Aspinall in his first Pro Tour final back in September 2018 we all thought whoever wins has a great chance of kicking on. Ryan had actually just won the Red Dragon Champion of Champions event which tends to produce successful winners.
Even though Nathan triumphed and has obviously gone on to bigger and better things, Ryan also had a good run after that and he’s been teetering under the surface ever since.
He had a couple of decent World Championships and he’s been getting closer to reaching the other big majors so he's getting more used to being talked about as a threat.
Ryan did incredibly well to reach the final, beating the likes of Gerwyn Price, Michael Smith, Glen Durrant, Josh Payne and Jeffrey de Zwaan, but I don’t think many expected him to fend off Michael van Gerwen as well as he did with the title on the line.
He’s a calm, nice guy away from the oche and one of the most likeable players on the circuit but he’s a secret demon when he’s on it and on Saturday he proved it again. Maybe now he’ll have a target on his back, however,
TREBLE 20 VISION?
I think Ryan treats his condition of astigmatism from the point of view of ‘ignorance is bliss’.
Yes, he has to check with the ref or marker on many occasions to check where his dart has landed but I think he feels he’d be one of those people whose game would suffer if they wore glasses.
I don’t see it as a disability – he just gets on with it and the fact he doesn’t put pressure on himself to get his vision sorted is just another example of the way he thinks about the game.
Generally, I do think it’s harder for players to adapt to having glasses even though their vision is improved.
I started wearing them aged 12 well before becoming a professional but even that was a nightmare because in the early 1990s they were these big fat NHS specials that weren’t very fashionable! All of a sudden the flights were hitting the glasses and I had to change my throw completely.
So I can sympathise with Ryan Searle for not wanting to go through that.
With Dave Chisnall, who has started wearing glasses to improve his vision, you could see on stage at the Masters that he had genuine problems with them slipping down his nose and not sitting properly. Even a little imperfection in front of your vision like a smudge or glare can really distract you if you’re not used to it.
As a pro I went from having glasses to not having them due to laser eye surgery and that was a much easier transition. All of a sudden you can see 20/20 and nothing is in the way.
So maybe Ryan thinks he doesn’t need any treatment now – after all, why change a winning formula - but in the next few years it might be something he looks into.
POLISH EAGLE FLYING HIGH
Even though Krzysztof Ratajski was starting to make waves in 2017 when winning the BDO World Masters and constantly qualifying for European Tour events on the PDC Tour, I don’t think any analyst or expert could have predicted how well he’d do in such a short space of time.
The averages he’s putting in are world class and on Sunday he averaged over 103 on four occasions before playing a winning role in what will go down in one of the best Players Championship finals of the year against Ian White. If there’s a better one I’ll be flabbergasted.
Ratajski was sitting on tops at 7-6 up when White popped in a 155 checkout – one of the hardest on the board – to save his tournament skin and will be gutted to have been pipped in the decider.
I don’t think the fact neither White nor Ratajski showing their best in the big televised events despite all their success on the floor is as big a deal as many make out, particularly with Ian.
Don’t forget Ratajski did win on the PDC stage in the Gibraltar Darts Trophy last season – albeit a smaller venue than most – and his career in this organisation is far too early for anyone to put a question mark against it.
Ian obviously has a lot more experience in the PDC and hasn’t reached the level he would have wanted in the past few seasons as far as the big televised majors are concerned.
He is constantly knocking on the door and I’m not sure the constant questioning of his stage form should be a big thing. He just players better on the floor. Whether that’s something in his head or nerves – it’s just the way it is.
Until Ian makes a TV final or wins one then it’ll always get brought up but I don’t tend to because he’s continually proved he’s one of the best players in world. Hopefully they’ll meet each other on TV and produce a match like Sunday’s final.
DARTS STARS TO SOAP OPERA STARS
As soon as the draw for Saturday's Players Championship event came out at 11am, the clash between social media rivals Glen Durrant and Matthew Edgar was all over Twitter.
Edgar used to be a part-time wrestler and is very creative with his Edgar TV channel on YouTube, which is delightfully naff!
He’s found a niche for himself that nobody else does and I applaud it because in this era of social media - that has caused a lot of hatred - we need something to laugh at.
I don’t think there’s any kind of hatred behind this rivalry with Glen Durrant. They’re just trying to wind each other up and it’s almost like a soap opera that is entertaining a lot of people out there.
Matthew is also picking up a lot of new followers on various platforms off the back of it and Glen indulging him makes it even more believable. The fact they played each other in at the weekend was great for this little story but Glen is a far better player and unsurprisingly won the match so Matthew will need to raise his game if he's ever to trouble the top guys.
RIVALRIES: INSPIRING OR DISTRACTING?
Another example of a ‘manufactured’ rivalry to create some headlines was Justin Pipe and Wes Newton after an incident at the 2012 World Championship. Wes gesticulated that he was tired due to Justin’s slow play but ended up losing the match.
It continued until the following season’s World Matchplay and they felt that having a few crossed words in interviews would create a little bit of a hum around when they played and to a certain extent it did.
However, when a rivalry comes around for genuine reasons it can be really off-putting.
I’ve had them with Kim Huybrechts, Phil Taylor and even Gary Anderson in the early parts of my career as we kept bumping into one another in tournaments, although there wasn’t any nastiness with him.
There wasn’t any animosity with Kim either, we just wanted to create a medieval darts match and tear each other up.
But Phil and I, it was a genuine rivalry.
He went to the press about something he had a gripe about after I beat him at the 2011 UK Open, but my reply on live TV at the World Matchplay, when I said, "if he didn't bring his A game next time, I'll put him to bed" was taken out of all context.
What’s forgotten about the Taylor incident is that he was trying to get in my head before we even started the game – so he thought it was OK for him to get into my head but it wasn't OK for me to have a right for reply.
I didn’t like what he did and it was all a distraction. I didn’t want it all to unravel like he did but he forced my hand when I was full of adrenaline.
There are all sorts of mind games that happen backstage and it can affect personal relationships and mutual respect you have for some players.
People will say remarks to put you off or do petty little things like move your drink on the table and your spare flights – all these small type of tricks were born out of the era of Bristow, Taylor and other old school players to try and get in your head.
Nowadays players are more savvy to things like that and not broken down as easily but there’s still banter between some of them and even some genuine nastiness. I won’t name names but you can probably guess a few of them!
Rivalries do tend to ignite at the heat of battle such as Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright at the World Championships, although that lasted for about a day!
It was all handbags on the oche during the adrenaline phase but afterwards it was fine. That’s just how it works in sport.
As far as Gerwyn Price and Gary Anderson are concerned, they will never be on each other's Christmas card list. They are just different kinds of people. But ultimately they know they will be spending a lot of time together at the same tournaments and playing one another a lot so there’s no point having a bitter feud that leads to another incident like at the Grand Slam of Darts.
Gary isn’t the sort of person who’ll want to part with any money to the Darts Regulatory Authority and Gerwyn certainly won’t want to give them any excuse to write him another letter!
Peter Wright and Gary may not be the best of friends and they’ve also had social media spats - whether it’s been directly from them or members of their respective entourages - but they clearly have the utmost respect for each other's careers.
At one time they didn’t get along and they didn’t look particularly cohesive when they had to play together for Scotland at the World Cup of Darts, even losing to Singapore in 2017.
But finally they managed to win it last year - 12 months after being runners-up - and maybe that shared moment is what they needed to really respect each other going forward.
CROSSING PARTY LINES
Darts is full of cliques. All you have to do is go to a Players Championship event and see the regular tables that there are.
When I used to play in them, I’d always sit on a table with Mervyn King, Steve West, Keegan Brown and Robert Thornton all the time. I’ve sat with Mervyn and Robert for over 10 years.
Steve used to sit with someone else then decided to move to our table. If anyone moves tables it’s almost the equivalent of moving parties in the House of Commons!
Everyone has their own friends and favourites but I’m sure it’s the same in other sports like golf. It’s an individual sport, yes, but we all have our own cliques.
BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
I preferred playing the people I didn’t have a clue about! They always say "better the devil you know", but I didn’t subscribe to that.
That said I did always focus 100% no matter who my opponent was, whether it’s someone close to like Mervyn, someone I didn’t like or someone had I had no feeling towards.
If you play someone you get on with then you know there won’t be any gamesmanship, over celebrating or shenanigans to put you off – but there’s lots of anticipation when you do get match-ups between people who don’t get along.
When Michael van Gerwen plays Jelle Klaasen, for example, it’s going to be extra spicy and just another reason why darts is so fascinating.
Beau Greaves played supremely well at the BDO World Championships last month and was only just pipped to the post by Mikuru Suzuki in the semi-finals.
This past weekend she won the Scottish Open singles by beating Fallon Sherrock in the final and also the pairs event with Deta Hedman.
This is no accident. She wins a lot of the tournaments she enters and goes about her business without much in the way of words or social media presence. She wants her talent to do the talking and boy is that happening right now.
At just 16, she’s taken out one of the best female players in the world and I wouldn’t back against her making her Ally Pally debut at the end of this year, especially if she keeps this going.
By contrast, with what Fallon has done I think social media was very necessary for her to take her career to the next level.
If it wasn’t for her profile growing so steeply in such a short space of time we wouldn’t have had the other stories that helped darts transcend other walks of like – such as Billie Jean King and Sarah Jessica Parker getting in touch – and also more media outlets coming to events like her Premier League debut.
If Beau Greaves was to have similar success you’d think her presence would have to increase but at this moment in time at her age it’s probable best for her to stay away from it as we all know just how toxic it can be.
Rob Cross 7-5 Nathan Aspinall
Everyone on my social media timelines were saying "here’s a reason why not to bet on darts" after this match! All the signs pointed towards Nathan but as the commentators so brilliantly put it, Rob Cross is finding a way to win at the moment. His game is nowhere near its best and there’s so much scope for improvement but every time Nathan game back at him, Rob had the answers and also made me eat my words for the second week running!
Gerwyn Price 6-6 Michael Smith
Michael Smith produced the best darts of the season in the first six legs of this match but when he won his sixth leg to guarantee a point, he erupted with a bit of emotion. He should have kept that inside and waited until he got the seventh because losing that tension inside him allowed Gerwyn to come back at him. Price would have gone to bed that night thinking "how on earth did I get a point there, Michael had me on toast."
Gary Anderson 6-6 Peter Wright
Not many people knew about Peter Wright’s injury sustained by his wife’s suitcase before this match and it’s not very wise to dance across the stage when you don’t have nimble feet! I always knew this match would go 12 legs and although Gary suffered a few unfortunate bounce-outs and Peter wasn't very mobile, it was a fair result. The way Peter held his nerve to snatch that ‘point gained’ was very world champion-like and who knows how important that will turn out to be.
Glen Durrant 6-6 Fallon Sherrock
There’s been a lot of discussion about the large Premier League crowd booing and whistling when Glen was going for doubles, particularly at the end, but he understood that was going to happen with Fallon Sherrock on that stage. That can't take anything away from how well Fallon played to get herself in position to win the match and her stock continues to rise as a big stage performer despite her young age and inexperience.
Daryl Gurney 1-7 Michael van Gerwen
Daryl Gurney almost deserves some credit it for just getting a leg because I haven’t seen Michael van Gerwen looking that fierce for quite some time. It’s almost like he went up on stage with the intention of taking him out 7-0. Michael played so well and it felt as if the match took about five minutes.
WEEK THREE PREDICTIONS: CARDIFF
- Peter Wright (10/11) v Rob Cross (2/1), (draw 3/1)
I’ve backed against Rob Cross for the past two weeks and I’ve been wrong on both occasions so I’m feeling conflicted as to whether to do it again. Statistically you have to go with Peter Wright because of how well he’s been playing since winning the World Championship. At the weekend he reached two Players Championship semi-finals and on Sunday had a stunning 112 average in the quarters. He’s playing more consistently at a higher level than Rob at the moment and I just feel he’s ready to get his first two-pointer of the season. I don’t think it’ll be a hammering but his consistency will come through for a 7-5 or 7-4 victory.
- Jonny Clayton (5/2) v Michael Smith (8/11) (draw 7/2)
If you look back on Jonny Clayton’s career, when he starts well he tends to keep it going but if he gets a poor start then he finds it tough to turn it around. He therefore needs to stay with Michael Smith early on to stand a chance in front of his home fans. If Bully Boy blasts out of the blocks like he did last Thursday then he should go on to complete his first win – and I think he’ll do so by two or three legs.
- Michael van Gerwen (4/11) v Nathan Aspinall (5/1) (draw 4/1)
I think Michael van Gerwen not winning a title this season is a good thing because it’s keeping him hungry and that will help when he faces a player who has won a title in the shape of Nathan Aspinall. It’ll be a difficult game but Nathan hasn’t yet managed to perform as well on stage as he has done off it in recent weeks whereas the Premier League is proving to be very fruitful for MVG once again.
- Daryl Gurney (11/4) v Gerwyn Price (8/11) (draw 3/1)
It’s a nightmare draw for Daryl Gurney after last week’s 7-1 defeat against Michael van Gerwen to then face Gerwyn Price on the only night he’ll be treated as an Olympic gold medallist! Apart from the crowd factor, Gerwyn is playing a lot better darts than Daryl, who didn’t win a match in either of the Players Championship events at the weekend. Gerwyn has been looking forward to this match for a long time and I think he’ll go full on Hulk mode to get as big a win as possible.
- Glen Durrant (15/8) v Gary Anderson (1/1) (draw 3/1)
Two veterans of similar age with majestic CVs and this is the kind of match I like to watch more than most. I’ve been watching Glen for 20 years – I met him at a local tournament in the late 1990s – and I’ve known Gary for a similar amount of time. So who would have thought this match would finally be taking place with them both in the same organisation at the age of 50! This is a great advert for where you can go if you work hard enough. As far as predicting a winner is concerned, both are in similar recent form in terms of the stats and I think this has draw written all over it. Gary is the heavier scorer but Glen has just been so clinical on his doubles.