The most open world championship that the PDC has staged ended at London’s Alexandra Palace on New Year’s Day in the most predictable of fashions. Number 1 seed and tournament favourite Phil Taylor secured his 16th title, defeating second favourite and the form player of 2012, Michael van Gerwen, in a final that excited initially, before The Power surged to a 7v4 victory.
The only thing unpredictable about the early rounds was their predictability. The lowest ranked player remaining in the last 16 was Colin ‘Jaws’ Lloyd – world number 23 – and the quarter-finals were contested by 7 of the top 8 seeds. The other, Gary Anderson, lost out to the man who has since replaced him in the world’s top 8, Raymond van Barneveld.
Hindsight, of course, is a dangerous noun (and a bookies’ friend – betting is never that easy!). Taylor’s form coming in to the tournament was by no means poor, but it was patchy. It was therefore questionable as to whether he would be able to string together a run of performances against top quality players. Whereas previously ‘The Power’ was only vulnerable to defeat on an off-day, in 2012 there were several players who could probably beat Taylor when was throwing well.
With minimum fuss, of course, Taylor reminded us why there is no doubt that he is darts best-ever player, losing just one set on the way to the semi-final, with both Robert Thornton – who had beaten him twice on TV since June – and last year’s finalist Andy Hamilton failing to trouble the scorers (the margins of defeat emphasised by leg scores of 12v3 and 15v2 respectively).
The semi-final, against an in-form Raymond van Barneveld, seemed to be going the same way, as Taylor rushed into a 5v1 lead in sets. Barney has found an extra gear in recent months, however, and his fight back to 5v4, although ultimately not enough to prevent a defeat, was adequate to rile Taylor into some unpleasant scenes at the conclusion of the match.
The scenes, a little pushing and a lot of swearing, were unnecessary and ugly, and shouldn’t have happened. Whilst they were by no means the worst thing that has happened on an oche, the extent of anti-Taylor feeling visible on social media was surprising, and his immediate avoidance of the subject and subsequent apology the next day smacked of good PR advice rather than coming from the heart.
In the final, Taylor faced Michael van Gerwen, the young Dutchman who had so nearly thrown two consecutive 9-darters in his semi-final. ‘Mighty Mike’ will rue two missed darts to take a 5v2 final lead, but was the star of the tournament. His darting brilliance is complemented by the speed of his play and his warm personality, as well as a walk-on song that gets the crowd jumping (The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army).
Peculiarly, the predictability throughout ensured that the tournament was a memorable one littered, in the final days, with mouth-watering fixtures (Anderson v van Barneveld, Taylor v Hamilton), high quality performances (van Barneveld against Whitlock, van Gerwen against Wade, Taylor against van Gerwen), and final set thrillers (Chisnall v Whitlock, Wade v Newton).
Atop them all was the quarter final clash between MvG and double-defending champion Adrian Lewis, one of the finest games of darts ever seen on Sky Sports. That the match reached a final set is testament to the fighting quality of Lewis – van Gerwen seemed dominant throughout, with Lewis battling to keep up with the rampant Dutchman thanks to vital ton-plus checkouts and third dart doubles. Finally, having given himself two darts at double top for victory, Lewis wavered – marginally – and that was enough for MvG to inflict a first defeat on ‘Jackpot’ at Ally Pally since 2009.
Lewis’s generous words about his opponent just seconds after his defeat showed some of his fellow darters exactly how a champion should behave. Indeed, he left the tournament a loser, but with his reputation much enhanced, whilst Taylor left as champion, with a little more tarnish – not something that anyone could have predicted.