- Van Gerwen prevails 7-3 after exploiting Smith’s nerves
• Defeat of Smith takes Dutchman to third world title
Paul MacInnes at Alexandra Palace- The Guardian
The eyes bulged, the fists pumped and Michael van Gerwen’s lips pursed as he let out a booming whoop. The Dutchman celebrated his third PDC World Championship title like a pantomime giant stomping on to the stage, as he brought this seasonal festival of darts to a fittingly colourful close.
Van Gerwen beat Michael Smith 7-3 in the best-of-13-sets final that, outside those who numbered among the raucous crowd here, is unlikely to be remembered as a classic. It was a contest characterised more by errors than good play and, bar a mid-match rally from the “Bully Boy” Smith, it was short of tension too. But MVG did not mind. He not only cemented his place as the world’s No1 player but also pocketed £500,000, the biggest prize money in darts.
“This is the best feeling you can have,” Van Gerwen said on collecting his hefty trophy. “I have worked for this so long and everyone knows I’ve had a difficult year. I’ve played good but I haven’t performed as well as I could have done – so to win this trophy it’s phenomenal. This means a lot to me.”
“I think I played well through the game. I didn’t play phenomenal but I think the way I played my experience helped me. I knew Mike was a little nervous and I used that against him. I did the right things at the right moments and he didn’t. It was messy for me but what more do you want? It was my third world title.”
Smith, for his part, was phlegmatic in defeat. “It will annoy me now for the next few hours but I made the final. There were 96 players here and tonight there were only two left and I got beat by the world No1. Putting the losing to one side I know I will do everything I can to come back next week.
“I tried everything to turn it around, I went backstage and hit a wall. I think I broke my hand. I was trying just that little bit too hard but Michael had a job to do and he has done it. He didn’t really do much, to be honest, but this one loss won’t define the rest of my life.”
The finalists took to the stage on a shorter walk-up than recent years but it was long enough for the crowd to show their preferences. Van Gerwen, dressed in his trademark Shrek green was roundly booed by the punters, while Smith was cheered as he raised his hands to give a heart-shaped salute from the stage.
If the Dutchman was cast as the villain, it was all just part of the show. They were singing his name by the end, to the tune of Seven Nation Army. Besides, it fits his on-stage persona, aggressive in his celebrations and likely to get furious with himself should he throw a bad set of sticks.
MVG set off at a romp, tearing through the first leg with a 129 checkout that caught the breath. Immediately the pressure was evident on the face of the 28-year-old Smith, who was making his first appearance in a final. But the Dutchman then missed opportunities to close out in both the second and the fourth legs, and a trend that would characterise the match was emerging. The Dutchman held on to claim the first set and then won the next two with something to spare.
Smith was failing to reach anything like his form from earlier in the tournament, seemingly both over-complicating his strategy in each game and also not giving himself enough time to compose himself between throws.
Having a crowd of 3,000 people whooping every time he hit a treble may not have helped in that regard. Neither would having had the soundbite “future world champion” looped on the PA system before the match.
Smith said there was “nothing psychological” about his bad play, adding “there’s nothing going on inside my head, just one brain cell looking for another”. For all the self-deprecation, though, Smith will be smarting as, by the time Van Gerwen had romped to a four-set lead, he finally started to play.
With MVG leading off in the fifth set, Smith broke in the fifth leg with a checkout of 124; treble 20, treble 14, and double 11. It was perhaps the best finish of the match – and all the more impressive given the darts Smith had thrown to that point. The “Bully Boy” went on to sweep the sixth set and the eighth was in the balance too, but with two chances to win the final and perhaps match-turning leg, Smith could not close out and Van Gerwen took a 6-2 lead.
The wobbles were not over and MVG struggled to drag himself over the line, playing awfully in the fifth leg of the ninth set to allow Smith the chance to get another score on the board. But by this point both men knew the jig was up.
The final set was the match in microcosm; Van Gerwen breaking to win the first leg, cruising to the second, blowing the third and then, in the fourth, spurning chances to kill the match. Finally, with his 14th dart, Van Gerwen found double 16 and the celebrations could begin.