There are dream finals, there are probable epics, and there is Gary Anderson versus Michael van Gerwen in the final of the PDC World Championship.
The two best players on earth will meet tonight after emphatic victories in the semi-finals. The reigning champion, Anderson, won his 17th consecutive match at the worlds, beating Peter Wright 6-3. The world No1 Van Gerwen’s response was to shatter the record for the highest average in this tournament during his 6-2 win over Raymond van Barneveld.
On the oche the two are very similar, rapid-fire geniuses who have taken darts to another level. Their contrasting backstories will add even greater spice. Anderson, champion in the past two years, says he does not need to win; Van Gerwen says a year in which he won 25 tournaments will be a disaster if he does not become world champion. “This means nothing,” he said after the semi-finals. “My hands are still empty. The final is all that counts. I made my goal very clear, and anyone in my path needs to get out of my way.”
Van Gerwen’s average of 114.05 was the highest in the history of the world championship, well ahead of Phil Taylor’s 111.21 against Shayne Burgess in 2002. Van Barneveld’s average of 109.34 was easily the highest in defeat at the worlds, beating the record set by Cristo Reyes against Van Gerwen in the tournament. He also hit 68% of his doubles, yet he was so shocked after the game that he said he was “no longer good enough” and talked about retiring in a couple of years.
Van Gerwen was inconsolable when he lost to Van Barneveld in the last 16 a year ago. After a poor first set he went looking for revenge with murderous purpose. Van Barneveld started brilliantly, with ton-plus finishes in the first two legs on the way to winning the first set. In the second set, he took out a mighty 160 to break the throw. It stirred the hornet’s nest.
An affronted Van Gerwen raised his already stratospheric level of performance. He assaulted the treble 20, and the treble 19, and the treble 18, and double 20, and double 16, and double 18. His performance was full of champagne moments: he hit 15 180s, missed double 12 for a nine-darter and finished the match by taking out two double 18s in one visit. “I showed tonight I was the boss on this stage,” he said. “It was a phenomenal performance from myself but also Raymond. I had to produce my A-game if I wanted to win. This is what I want to do all the time. Everyone thought the Chisnall-Anderson game [in the quarter-finals] was a stunner. Well what do you think about this?”
The Anderson-Van Gerwen final could be the best of the lot. Anderson’s match-winning average of 103.84 against Wright, exceptional in a sane world, was made to look modest by the end of the night. He was never behind in a contest that was both high-class and nervy: the scoring was relentless, with 25 180s, yet both players were unusually fragile on doubles. Wright came back from 3-1 to 3-3 before Anderson ran away with the match by taking the final eight legs. The timing of Anderson’s big scores and big finishes – particularly a 157 to stop Wright’s fightback and go 4-3 up – was decisive.
“There were some good darts and some terrible ones,” said Anderson, who continued the mantra that has served him so well in this tournament: that he has nothing to lose. “I never thought I’d win two on the trot. My job was done two years ago – winning it for the first time, playing Phil Taylor on the stage. To me that’s Phil Taylor’s stage. That meant everything to me.”
Van Gerwen and Anderson beat each other on the way to winning the trophy in 2014 and 2015 respectively but have never met in the final. “We have a lot of respect for each other,” said the Dutchman. “He’s a very good darts player and I probably have to play as well again to beat him. This tournament has been a pleasure for everyone to watch, with high averages and a phenomenal standard. Now we have the dream final.”
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