Dimitri Van den Bergh's future, Vincent van der Voort's underarm throw, Simon Whitlock's points and why the big three failed. All this and more in Paul Nicholson's World Matchplay review.
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The biggest darts event of the summer is now over after a dramatic week in Milton Keynes enjoyed a fittingly historic finale.
A star-studded field of 32 headed to the Marshall Arena around 200 miles from its spiritual home of the Winter Gardens for a behind-closed-doors edition of the PDC's second-longest running major, which was first staged in 1994.
There may have been no fans but the TV audience were treated to plenty of shocks as the big three of Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright and Gerwyn Price plus defending champion Rob Cross all departed before the quarter-finals.
One usual suspect in Gary Anderson did, however, avoid the wreckage to reach his 20th major final but he was unable to win his second World Matchplay title as debutant Dimitri Van den Bergh thrashed him 18-10 with the help of 170 checkout to win his first senior trophy crown in his maiden major final.
In this week’s column, Paul Nicholson discusses the key points from the tournament - including Simon Whitlock's controversial ones (!) - from the varying implications for the future.
Out of nowhere
Two weeks ago, how many people thought Dimitri Van den Bergh would win the World Matchplay and how many would wake up on Monday with he as number 12 in the world? Nobody.
Although he’d enjoyed a decent track record of reaching some televised quarter-finals in the past few years, his form during the Summer Series did not suggest a run like this was possible.
It’s just further proof how well he can handle the pressures and keep his cool on the big stages. He didn’t even celebrate or look overcome with emotion after hitting the final double! He was as cool as you like and mentally it was a masterclass.
This is why we’re getting excited about the next generation of dart players, who have come through the PDC feeder system. We are going to see a different breed of winner and Dimitri Van den Bergh is the king of them right now and is the inspiration going forward.
His job now is to go and win another one, because that’s what we’re all expecting with his stage prowess.
Whether that’s the Grand Prix, the World Championship or even the Premier League because let’s face it, he’ll definitely be selected in next year’s line-up.
On that champion’s wall, the one person you don’t want to be like, with all due respect, is Peter Evison. The forgotten World Matchplay champion. He was a very talented player but his triumph of 1997 has been somewhat lost in history, and we don’t want the same to happen to Dimitri.
The job starts now and everything he’s done to get to this point he must continue with and take to the next level.
He can’t afford to take his foot off the gas and I’m sure Peter Wright had already drilled that lesson home to him during lockdown considering how he’s never stopped his own pursuit of perfection.
Dimitri could well follow a similar path of Nathan Aspinall after he made his breakthrough at the UK Open last year. It takes away the money and rankings pressures for a couple of years and now he can unleash his proper game without mental anguish about qualification or needing to reach a certain round.
This is bad news for the rest of the world’s elite.
Flying Scotsman derailed
I’ve noticed for a while now that Gary Anderson’s darts have not been sitting prime. He’s still been playing some great stuff but it’s not the Gary Anderson from two years ago.
He knows his darts are kinking to the left of the point and not going in as straight as they used to. Personally I believe when he brings the dart towards his face I think he’s over twisting the dart and when he releases it, he’s throwing it with the flight towards the sky and the point towards the floor.
He’s never done that before and as a result of this release point he’s engaging his shoulder a little too much which means he’s letting go too late, hence why it’s going under the treble 20 bed.
He has been looking at his hand a lot and I wondered if he was getting any shooting pains. But with all this in mind, he still made the final, beating James Wade, Simon Whitlock and then Michael Smith over 34 legs!
It’s an astronomical achievement in the circumstances but ultimately in the final he fell well short against a much better player on the night.
Young at heart
Although there’s a lot of bright young talented stars coming through, we were of course very close to having a final between two 49-year-olds just seven months after Peter Wright won the world title at the same age.
That said, even if that did happen, it doesn’t change how the sport is changing at deeper levels.
I think it’s greater for the game to have the young stars winning big trophies because they’re also making the older players hungrier and sharper.
The likes of Glen Durrant will be inspired and excited to be a part of this right now. Even after defeat he’ll be itching to get back on that practice board and rise to the challenge.
Mental strength and scars
When I went into my first major final against Mervyn King, I was not only on a high from beating Phil Taylor earlier in the night, but I didn’t have a huge stigma of people waiting for me to win by first big one. At that time I’d only managed to win one PDC title of any kind.
Dimitri Van den Bergh hadn’t won any! It’s ludicrous that his first one is the World Matchplay!
Everyone expected the experienced Mervyn King to win and for me to fall flat. But back then, he was the player with the pressure of trying to win a long awaited PDC major, with all the pundits saying, “this is your chance to finally do it.”
I used it to my advantage on that occasion, but I do know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of mental scarring. When I lost the World Cup final with Simon Whitlock it scarred me for the rest of my career and cost me two European Tour titles and another couple of floor finals. I never won another title in the PDC after that.
That is why it seems easier for Dimitri to stroll into his first World Matchplay and win it whereas the likes of Michael Smith, Dave Chisnall and Ian White are finding it more difficult the longer their hyped-up waits go on.
Don’t forget, Dimitri had won those two World Youth titles on the big stage at Minehead and I think he was able to draw from those experiences at points against Gary Anderson.
What happened to the Big Three?
Michael van Gerwen didn’t look convincing against Brendan Dolan in the first round and it could have been a lot closer, so the warning signs were there.
Michael’s body language at the end told its own story and he looked mystified as to why he couldn’t perform to his best on that stage.
We all assumed he’d have plenty of time to gather himself for his next match but instead he was shellshocked by the start of Simon Whitlock, who came out like a bullet from a gun and put Michael under enormous pressure.
He was playing ultra-aggressive Whitlock darts of old and was using the opportunity to draw a line in the sand and say to the doubters “It doesn’t matter who I play, I still have the talent to take out the best players in the world.” He put his foot down from the off, which hasn’t been his usual style in recent times, and his pumped-up body language showed Michael that he wasn’t going to wilt.
This performance – in which he never even let Michael build a comeback that most were expecting – will have filled him with no end of confidence and will stand him in good stead for the rest of the season.
Not only that, but it was another lesson to everyone else about how to beat Michael. You need to get a really big start and stay aggressive until the very end. You can never coast at any stage and Simon knew this more than anyone having not beaten him on TV for many years.
As for Gerwyn Price, if you’d looked at the statistics that he and Danny Noppert had both put in during the Summer Series at the same venue, at no point would you have expected a shock.
Danny started very well in that game and immediately put pressure on Gerwyn, and every time it looked as though he might come roaring back he’d then slip off. It was a puzzling game to watch and to see him struggling in the Matchplay yet again but in a different arena was odd.
It was as strange as watching Rob Cross being so off the pace against Gabriel Clemens in the opening round, considering the encouraging form he’d shown at the Summer Series. He looked just as baffled about his own performance as everyone else watching.
A few players mentioned that the surreal atmosphere didn’t give them the adrenaline bursts that they’re used to getting on the big televised stage – and that can probably be said of both Cross and Price.
When it comes to Peter Wright, however, he was just beaten by one of the most mentally strong players around in Glen Durrant so we can’t count that as too big a shock.
The way the draw got blown open by all the early shocks, I think it’s safe to say that anyone who lost from the quarter-finals onwards will have been kicking themselves that they didn’t make the most of it, especially if they were watching the first few legs of the final!
The prime example of this is Glen Durrant. Time is ticking and he does have a shorter window than most to fulfil his dreams of winning one of the big majors in the PDC.
He’ll be licking his wounds but this will also make him hungrier to get it done in the next 18 months.
Vincent van der Voort will also be feeling gutted even though he played so well all week to get further than people expected. If he’d just managed to get over the line against Glen then there’s no reason why he couldn’t have gone on to win it.
The same can be said of Simon Whitlock, Krzysztof Ratajski and the man who beat him, Michael Smith.
Bully Boy is getting so much closer and I felt he definitely looked more impressive than ever when under duress.
Twice he clawed his way back from five-leg deficits against Gary Anderson and on both occasions I was convinced he’d go on and win and reach the final, where he’d have been the favourite. But as it turned out, Anderson’s experience told with some clinical finishing and he just wasn’t able to steal it at the very end.
Basically, they’ll all be thinking “it could have been me”.
However, the ‘happiest’ non-winner should probably be Adrian Lewis, who had a very encouraging week. If he can keep this trend going of losing weight and getting his self-esteem and energy levels up, then we could see him winning majors again.
Pointing the way
Simon Whitlock’s points on his darts got a lot of stick on social media but for me it’s a storm in a teacup!
Let’s instead give Simon some credit because he’s looked at a part of a dart that has been largely neglected for the 30-40 years, and only now because of televised darts, are we scrutinising every single detail on show.
Gary Anderson was the one who started with the groove point near the join of the barrel and the point, and he thought there was something in it. But he didn’t put grooves at the bottom.
Other players have put grooves at different parts of the dart including Kyle Anderson, who put them at the bottom of the point, and Ronnie Baxter, who had them in the middle so that when they hit the board, it wouldn’t waver.
That’s the main reason why Simon has been looking at hexagonal points and versions with huge amounts of knurling on them. These points specifically have taken the most criticism because they’re the most aggressive kinds he’s used.
Sport is littered with examples of equipment that is trying to gain an advantage within the rules – from the Predator football boot back in the day to Bryson DeChambeau who uses clubs of the same length. Controversial, but not illegal.
Simon believes these darts will get him extra grip in the board because they go in at a very upright angle and are not breaking any rules. He’s been in for way too much criticism and whether he’s shredding the boards or not doesn’t matter. His opponent can always request the boards be changed after every break if they really think it’s been damaged too much and Simon wouldn’t have any problem with that – he’s not trying to gain an advantage in this way.
If I’d have been his opponent I’d have picked some bits out of the board but it wouldn’t have bothered me – it’s no different to stamping down a spike mark on the green. Do you see anyone whingeing about that?
He’s allowed to use those points so leave him alone. However, if a rule is brought in by the PDC about points, I am sure he will adhere to it.
We’re all human
When you’ve been playing well but start to make mistakes in a match that long over two hours against a player made of granite like Glen Durrant, then frustration will start to set in as the pressure mounts.
With no crowd and his opponent showing no emotion either, he’s got nowhere to release his energy and that probably explains why Vincent van der Voort lost his cool with the underarm throw and the subsequent pointing at Kirk Bevins.
We all have moments we regret, and I have plenty of those such as when I’ve thrown darts on the floor of a stage or punched the wall after a defeat, so I know how he must be feeling right now.
Obviously he shouldn’t take it out on the referee in front of a camera, especially because we all know Kirk did the right thing. An underarm throw is dangerous and is not allowed.
But in the heat of battle, whether it’s in sport or another walk of life, we’ve all pointed the finger at someone we shouldn’t have and done something we wished we could take back.
Vincent had tried so hard over the past few years to get back to where he was so when that last dart hit the double from Glen he’d have been devastated. In those moments when you’re angry you look for someone to blame and usually the last person is yourself.
A lot of people who criticised him will have no idea how it feels to lose a match like that. My 2014 game with Wes Newton broke me in half. I did things in that game I shouldn’t have done but the crowd were vile towards me because I played the guy who lived ten minutes from the venue.
I handled it so badly yet could have still won the match. Wes didn’t win it, I lost it. I wish I could turn the clock back and handle it differently but I can’t.
As for Vincent, he’s only human, he knows he was in the wrong and he apologised for it the next day. We should all move on from this.
We need the fans back
The way the PDC organised the event with the visuals, wall of fame, walk-on graphics and the crowd noise was absolutely fantastic. They couldn’t have done a better job in the circumstances.
The players were very grateful and I liked how Dimitri Van den Bergh praised the PDC for keeping the prize structure the same despite there being no ticket sales, which is commendable when you compare it to what happened with the BDO.
It shows you can put on great events without the fans…but that doesn’t mean they’re not missed.
You can’t beat real fan interaction, and nobody can wait for them to return to the venues because they make the sport what it is.
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