Darts World Cup 2023: Michael Smith crowns himself in a memorable final

Darts World Cup 2023: Michael Smith crowns himself in a memorable final

Again, Michael Smith pressed his head against the back wall of the podium, like last year after the Defeat in the World Cup final against Peter Wright. But this time Smith did not do it out of disappointment, but out of bewilderment that he had actually managed to become world champion in the third attempt for the first time darts to become. After his match dart on the double 8 to make it 7: 4 after sets against Michael van Gerwen, he jumped in the air and stormed to his family. He hugged his wife and children and gave them a kiss on the cheek. He then accepted the Sid Waddell trophy he had been waiting for for so long.

The Englishman has lost eight major finals in a row since 2018, including the 2019 and 2022 World Cup finals. Now he has been rewarded twice – because winning the World Cup also makes him the new number 1 in the world. In the interview with the winner, he said success “didn’t feel real”: “I think I’m dreaming!” It will probably take “weeks” before he really understands his coup. The fans at Alexandra Palace in London celebrated Smith with chants.

Even in the early stages, in the third leg of the second set, the spectators got their money’s worth. They experienced a period of play that had never existed in darts before. One throw was better than the other, van Gerwen and Smith were on their way to a perfect game at the same time.

For such a game, the initial value “501” must be played down to exactly “0” with exactly nine darts. Van Gerwen started with three darts to triple-20, which Smith matched. The Dutchman continued the brilliant series, which was like a show, with two more throws at triple 20 and one at triple 19. Smith’s counter: the next “180” with three arrows into the triple 20 field. Now van Gerwen was the first to have the chance to win the historic leg after only nine arrows. This requires: Triple-20, Triple-20, Double-12. The first two darts were on target – but the favorite missed the throw into the doubles segment by millimeters. Disappointed murmurs in the audience.

Then Smith went to the disk. First Arrow: Triple-20. Second Arrow: Triple-19. The third arrow? Double 12! The 9 darter was perfect! – only the second at a World Cup final. Smith clenched his left fist, but only briefly savored the unique moment because his real goal wasn’t this historic feat, but the title. The fans, on the other hand, couldn’t control themselves, they hugged each other and freaked out. Beer splashed through the air everywhere.

Former darts pro and Sky expert Wayne Mardle stammered on TV: “I can’t speak. I can’t speak.”

Former darts pro Wayne Mardle was speechless at the microphone of the Sky Sports television station broadcasting in England. “I can’t speak. I can’t speak,” he stammered. You have to know that Mardle is one of those experts who are otherwise almost always talking. The clip immediately went viral on the internet. The tournament organizer, the Professional Darts Corporation, wrote euphorically in capital letters on Twitter: This was “the best leg in history”. The PDC even found it to be one of the “greatest performances that one would ever have seen in sport”.

It was expected in advance that the meeting between van Gerwen and Smith could have the potential for an outstanding match. But not that the game can actually compete with the 2007 final in terms of quality and excitement. At the time, Raymond van Barneveld sensationally won the Sudden Death Leg against old master Phil Taylor. Their duel is still considered the highlight in the history of the darts world championship.

The careers of van Gerwen, 33, and Smith, 32, who were almost the same age, were quite different up to the final. The Dutchman made his debut at the 2008 World Championships at the age of 18. Six years later he was crowned the youngest PDC World Champion. Two more titles in this category followed. Between 2014 and 2021, van Gerwen consistently led the world rankings. His career is as successful as if he had planned it on the drawing board – and he lets his arrows fly out of his hand, or rather shoot, with a similar precision. Because hardly any other player throws the darts faster and with such force on the disc as he does. His nickname “Mighty Mike” is therefore appropriate for his style of play, also at this World Cup.

As the game progressed, van Gerwen seemed impressed by the opponent’s scoring power

Right at the beginning of the final, Michael van Gerwen built on his strong previous performances and won the first set despite being thrown by his competitor. Unlike in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, when he dispatched his opponents without losing a set, he had to accept the equalizer against Smith immediately. As the game progressed, van Gerwen seemed impressed by the opponent’s scoring power. In the seventh set, the score was 3:3 after sets and 2:2 after legs, he packed his arrows early – because he wrongly thought he had lost the set. Shortly afterwards, when the game entered the decisive phase, he lost the ninth set without even winning a leg himself. That hadn’t happened to him in any game at this World Cup. The circumstance had an effect, he could not recover from it.

He had himself in front of the Game shown so sure of victory. Nobody will stop him, not even Smith, said van Gerwen – after the Englishman announced “revenge” for the bankruptcy in the 2019 World Cup final. At that time, Smith lost 7-3.

Second place over and over again, this spike stuck in Smith’s sense of honor like the darts in the dartboard – until he finally won his first major title in November 2022 at the Grand Slam of Darts against compatriot Nathan Aspinall. He illustrated how much this recent triumph means to him by saying that no one can call him a “failure” anymore. The tearful 2022 defeat against Wright particularly affected him.

Smith fought back tears as he walked on to the stands. Again and again he wiped his wet eyes. He was so touched by the fact that he made it to the final again. But from the moment he stepped onto the podium, he didn’t change his face. Even the early break to 2:3 after sets didn’t let the bad memories come up again. He countered by winning three sets in a row – so that with the score of 5: 3 he was suddenly close to the title again like in 2022. At that time he led 5: 4 against Wright, but then didn’t win a set and lost 5: 7.

This time, however, he got the two missing sentences – and crowned himself the new world champion.

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