Between them, they’ve claimed 19 of the 24 PDC World Championship titles won so far. They’ve notched up 28 final appearances. Only two finals have not featured any of them. They can lay claim to four of the nine PDC World Championship nine-darters. All of the best ten World Championship averages in history have been recorded by these four tungsten titans. Michael van Gerwen. Raymond van Barneveld. Phil Taylor. Gary Anderson. Only two may progress.
Incredibly, they’ll join Rob Cross and Jamie Lewis in the semi-finals. Van Gerwen or van Barneveld will take on Cross, while Taylor or Anderson will face off against the first ever player to go from the preliminary round all the way to the last four. There is no way that this session could be anything but incredible.
Michael van Gerwen vs Raymond van Barneveld
When Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Barneveld go head-to-head at the World Championship, it’s a classic. Last year, the pair traded blows in one of the greatest games ever seen on the sport’s biggest stage – despite a slightly one-sided scoreline of 6-2. For Barney to average 109.34, yet still pale in comparison with van Gerwen’s 114.05, defied all belief. The year before that was a classic, with the only caveat that it was a third round tie, and lasted a mere seven sets. The van Gerwen 135, and the van Barneveld 96 to win it, will never be forgotten. The two Dutch masters, the World Cup team-mates, normally conspire to put on a show.
Mighty Mike doesn’t dip below a 100 average at the Ally Pally, yet it seemed likely when his form took a dive against Gerwyn Price. A late burst kept the Welshman at bay and gave him a 100.06 average to cling on to his unprecedented run. But van Gerwen’s control slipped for the first time in this tournament. Price knew it. With every lung-busting celebration, the defending world champion’s seemingly unshakeable confidence was chipped away. Yet Price did not take his chance to take the game all the way, and van Gerwen always knows how to force a match over the line. That is the mark of a champion, after all.
Van Barneveld’s best hope is to be the cool, effortless finishing machine that squeezes the life out of games. Yet with van Gerwen’s average likely to be around 10 points ahead, he may need to call back to the last two years, in which massive ton-plus checkouts under severe pressure constantly clawed him back from the brink. It’s worth noting that when Barney beat van Gerwen in 2015, the former averaged 100 and the latter was at 105. Averages mean nothing without the finishing to boot. Vincent van der Voort’s game dropped significantly in the last 16 clash, but the 2007 PDC world champion still showed the sort of class that will make things tough for van Gerwen. Both are ready for a battle. Van Gerwen believes his A-game is something van Barneveld could not hope to match, but can he post another of the all-time best showings? We’ll only know when they take to the oche.
Phil Taylor vs Gary Anderson
It is strange to think that two titans in Phil Taylor and Gary Anderson have not taken all of the headlines in this World Championship. In the second round, the amazing exploits of Paul Lim put the Scot in the shade. And the Ally Pally crowd were much more interested in Justin Pipe than Taylor. But now, they’re in the spotlight. There’s Anderson, looking for a fourth consecutive final appearance. There’s Taylor, trying to make it 17 and out. The winner meets another scene-stealer in Jamie Lewis.
It was never likely that Taylor’s last World Championship would be his best. There have been too many incredible performances for that to happen. But what he has done is improve game-on-game. A 96.33 average against Chris Dobey became 99.37 against Pipe. The 101.34 in the defeat of Keegan Brown was a result of Brown finding his feet late in the match – though too late, it must be said. In the early stages, Taylor’s darts were sometimes erratic, and had him looking to the heavens in frustration. But so far he has played, with all due respect, very inferior players. Taylor has always raised his game when he plays the big names.
That’s also true of Gary Anderson – very true, in fact. Few top players become as complacent against weaker opponents than Anderson. His averages have in fact become worse as he has gone through the tournament. Yet what gets Anderson through to finals consistently is the ability to hit a new gear at important moments. Steve West eked a way back into the last 16 game, but Anderson powered through. Memorably, Michael Smith rattled into a 4-1 lead at the Grand Slam. The Scot, as he does, found another level. The main issue could be the back problem that bothered the Flying Scotsman at the end of his tie against West. Hopefully, it isn’t a problem, and we’ll see a classic in the repeat of the 2015 final.
The big question, as ever, is this. Is this the final time that Phil Taylor takes to the stage in his career? Only time will tell.
Author: Ed McCosh