I’m going to go out on a limb with a prediction for this preview. A Michael will win the 2019 PDC World Championship.
For the first time since John Thomas Wilson – Jocky to you and me – beat John Lowe to take the World Championship title, two players by the same name hope to add their own surname to the Sid Waddell Trophy. Michael van Gerwen has done it before; in fact, he’s done it twice. Michael Smith, meanwhile, has yet to win a PDC major. The first and 10th seeds do battle at the Alexandra Palace, with one of them taking a £500,000 prize and a place in darting folklore.
Van Gerwen’s route
All eyes were on the world number one going into the 2019 PDC World Championship. Could he handle the pressure? When seeds started falling, would the Green Machine fail to hit top gear?
His critics have been well and truly silenced on a run that has banished the ghost of failures in other majors this year. Van Gerwen started with a soaking but eventually came out high and dry against Alan Tabern, averaging 102.59 in a convincing 3-1 victory.
Max Hopp also took a set, but joined Tabern in being dismissed by van Gerwen, who also piled in a 170. Adrian Lewis averaged three figures but got the same treatment as the German, with Mighty Mike putting on a show to win 4-1 with a three-dart average of 108.08 – the highest of the tournament thus far. Ryan Joyce, who until the quarter-finals hadn’t been forced to muster up significant streaks of scoring power, just couldn’t handle the two-time world champion. Van Gerwen won 5-1, again averaging three figures – not since a paltry 99 average on December 18, 2015 has he fell short of the 100 mark.
We were poised for an all-time classic between van Gerwen and Gary Anderson in the semi-finals. Pundits harked back to stunning ties between the two. Viewers mused on MVG’s semi-final spectacular last year against Rob Cross, and if this one could top it. In the end, van Gerwen just wasn’t having it. He won 15 of the opening 18 legs to blitz the Flying Scotsman. Although Anderson clawed back a leg, it was too little, too late. The seventh set went van Gerwen’s way, and with it came a fourth World Championship final.
Michael Smith had a surprisingly easy route to the final, on paper. He didn’t have to beat a single top 16 seed to make it through. But to suggest that Bully Boy had an easy run would be disrespectful to his opponents, and to him.
Ron Meulenkamp was no pushover, but Smith eventually saw the Dutchman off for a 3-1 win in round two. Then came John Henderson, who was looking to rock the 10th seed’s world. The big Scot went 1-0 up and kept threatening his English rival but Smith, averaging three figures, claimed a 4-2 triumph. Ryan Searle, who had shocked Mensur Suljovic earlier, was next. Averaging just a whisker shy of 100, Smith turned on the magic when he needed it and powered to a 4-1 success.
He may have been expecting to play Rob Cross, and then Peter Wright or Gerwyn Price. Instead he faced two surprise friends-turned-foes in Luke Humphries and Nathan Aspinall. Humphries, Cross’ conqueror, had designs on meeting Aspinall in what would’ve been the first ever PDC World Championship semi-final contested between two non-seeds. Smith crashed that particular party by averaging 103 to thrash Humphries 5-1.
Aspinall, a shock semi-finalist, put in a scintillating semi-final showing on debut. Smith won the first two sets without dropping a leg but the Stockport ace bounced back, and at 3-3 it was anyone’s game. Vital breaks saw Smith break clear, and the 28-year-old closed out a 6-3 win with a 105.22 average and a record 17 maximums to seal a World Championship final berth.
Battle of the Michaels
The ever-excellent statistician Christopher Kempf outlined the historical chasm between the pair. Michael Smith, Kempf explained, has won six times against van Gerwen. They have met in 31 competitive matches. Counting the rivalry in legs, the Dutchman is 188-100 up.
When considering meetings between the two, thoughts instantly go back to the Premier League final in May. Smith had stunned Gary Anderson to make it to the final. Van Gerwen, as ever the favourite, simply roared into life. He almost averaged a big stage record, but dipped towards the end. Even still, it was a comprehensive win.
Smith will be aware that van Gerwen is the favourite, and that Mighty Mike’s A-game is unrivaled in the sport. But we don’t know that van Gerwen will be able to produce that game, especially if the match pushes the limits of its best-of-13 format.
There’s a real chance that Smith could be celebrating his maiden world title – and what a story it would be. Then again, so too would be van Gerwen claiming a third world title, notching another significant milestone en route to legend status.
Whatever happens, this should be a PDC World Championship final to remember.
Author: Ed McCosh