There will have been much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the embalming fluid in Leamington Spa last night, as Adrian Lewis retained the PDC darts world championship on Sky Sports HD and 3D, defeating Andy ‘The Hammer’ Hamilton 7-3 in sets. Funeral director Nigel ‘The Undertaker’ Heydon will not have slept well in his Warwickshire home, remembering with anguish the two set lead he held over the defending champion on the opening night of the tournament – as well as those three missed darts to move 2-0 up in the decider.
Heydon versus Lewis was just the fourth of seventy-one matches that made up the nineteenth iteration of darts’ most valuable tournament. The third, a high quality encounter between Welshmen Richie Burnett and Mark Webster, had already set the tone for what soon became the finest tournament that pretty much anyone could remember.
The event was littered with memorable games (Hamilton v Whitlock, Lewis v Jenkins, Anderson v Artut, Hamilton v Alcinas), shock early exits (Van Barneveld, Taylor), rushes of blood (Newton, Nicholson), and sights that many won’t forget (a topless Colin Lloyd, a bemused Ms Kim Huybrechts). From wasp stings in December to crosswinds in the Palace, each day brought further excitement, to such an extent that even Sky Sports could afford to go steady with the hyperbole knob.
Amongst it all were two of the most fantastic games since darts became a regular TV feature in the UK in the 1970s, both involving James ‘The Machine’ Wade: his capitulation from 5-1 up against Lewis in the wind-affected semi-final, and, prior to that, his thrilling last-leg victory in the topsy-turvy last eight match with former champion John Part.
Part leaves the tournament with his reputation further enhanced, ready to replace soon-to-retire Dennis Priestley as the principled leader of the game. Such grace after defeat is typical of the Canadian, but his pleasure at having played in such a thriller, despite the loss, hopefully taught some of the younger players a lesson about what sport really means.
For this tournament was sport at its’ very best – unpredictable, thrilling, compulsive, and played by men who grew in status as the tournament developed: Hamilton, Simon Whitlock, Kim Huybrechts, Michael Van Gerwen, Dave Chisnall, Justin Pipe, Antonio Alcinas, and several more rightly leave the tournament with statuses (and followers) boosted. Wade, Gary Anderson, Paul Nicholson, Wes Newton, Raymond Van Barneveld and Phil Taylor may have departed north London with questions about their performances, but all bar Nicholson remain ranked in the world’s top ten, and each will have several chances for redemption in 2012.
All of which leaves Lewis as a double world champion. Following Taylor and Part, ‘Jackpot’ is only the third person to win the PDC title more than once, and the only player other than Taylor to succesfully defend it. His claim to be the best in the world at the moment was wrongly criticised in some quarters, and his performances here amongst a hostile crowd illustrated a remarkable fighting spirit to go alongside his unquestionable talent. That his final victory over Hamilton was a comfortable one should not detract from the splendour of the tournament – and at least it leaves something that could be improved upon in 2013.
Darts is alive and well, and the name Adrian Lewis goes into the record books as the champion of what was probably the greatest tournament ever – for which Nigel Heydon is still, no doubt, cursing his caskets.