INTERVIEW: Hunger remains for Gray to regain Tour Card ahead of Q-School - "I want to be back and do what I know I can"
A new year means a new batch of Tour Card holders on the PDC Tour coming through Q-School but unlike previous years, the yearly event is looking different with a new format as well as uncertainty on its dates due to Covid-19 restrictions.
One player who will be looking to regain his Tour Card is former World Grand Prix Quarter-Finalist, ‘The Conqueror’ Adrian Gray who is looking ahead and is prepared but is similarly apprehensive.
“I’m excited but also not sure if it’s going ahead or if they’re going to move it back. They’ve only just released the date today (Wednesday) to say they’re moving it back one more day so I’m preparing myself. I’m ready, it’s just whether or not it’s going to go ahead,” said Gray to DartsNews.
But despite the uncertainty, Gray is pleased that it is planned for February due to the usual short turnaround between Christmas and Q-School.
“I’m quite happy it’s in February, it’s given me a good chance to get Christmas out the way, really focus this month and then start of February, you know the days are counting down and you’re ready to go.”
Like alluded to, a new format comes in during 2021 PDC Q-School due to Coronavirus restrictions with the Hastings thrower among fellow former Tour Card holders and Challenge/Development Tour players through to Phase Two automatically. But there are mixed emotions when it comes to it.
“I’ve been in situations like that, I wouldn’t say it benefits me, but I also do prefer it. The only reason why I’d say it doesn’t benefit me is that obviously the people in Phase One are also getting warmed up, getting those first round nerves out the way and getting to find their feet and then obviously I’m coming in fresh. But at the same time, I could be in Phase One and sort of not be ready and not get through to Phase Two.”
The drive and hunger remains though for Gray who while by his own admission, he hasn’t been at his best, he knows he has played well in patches which he hopes to replicate.
“The hunger’s back there. Last year was weird for everyone not just me. It took me longer than everyone else and it cost me in the end but I want to be back on there and do what I know I can.
“First sort of few years, I was going there not expecting to win but just trying to go there with a clear mind and not putting too much pressure on myself and try and enjoy it for what it is.
“This time I’m going with a different approach. I know how I can play, I know the last two years haven’t been good but I know over those last two years I have had good days, good weekends.”
During the past year also, the Series events have been introduced and ascertaining his point of view on the topic, Gray believes it is good but only for those who are playing well and he also discussed his view on online darts having played in the PDC Home Tour.
“I think the bubble system and blocks of five days back to back, it’s a great idea if you’re playing well and it’s a bad idea if you’re not finding your form. It’s really how you prepared for that and if you’ve prepared right and get a good start to the week, you’re more likely to have a successful week.”
“Online darts a whole for me, I really don’t like it. I just can’t settle down, it doesn’t seem real to me.”
“I like going down the pub with my mates once a week running a competition that sort of thing, I like a bit of routine to keep my arm in, not just meet up with any player and go he can give you a game because there’s sort of no meaning to practicing when it doesn’t mean anything. Honestly match practice for me, it doesn’t matter what’s on the table so I don’t have to chalk, it’s a challenge. That sort of practice is what I like and it’s the main thing I’ve missed.”
Successful soft-tip career
Before regaining his Tour Card once again in 2019, Gray has mostly been known for his successful soft-tip career as one of the leading players on the Darts The World circuit ran by DartsLive which features the likes of Paul Lim, Lourence Ilagan, Leonard Gates and Boris Krcmar winning two events in 2014 and 2015.
“I lost my Tour Card and saw an opening. A way to enjoy darts playing soft tip, the less pressures were there. I was able to enjoy darts like I used to years ago and be able to do what I like doing. I was able to approach Q-School knowing that if I don’t get through Q-School, I’ve always got this to play and enjoy,” he continued.
“That might have been the reason why I wasn’t successful in the early years of qualifying, but I just go with this mentality that if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
He echoed the point about being less pressure to the game but believes that the financial rewards in steel tip have driven it the opposite way.
“It’s such an enjoyable game. Being able to just relax and like I say less pressures. People on the outside may think there is massive pressure for me to perform. Soft-tip is such a game of hitting, if you miss you lose. I understand why steel tip is so competitive as there is so much money to be won which I think has also taken the element of fun out of it.”
But one aspect of soft-tip he doesn’t like are the views towards it and while admitting there are differences, he says both games remain the same in terms of a target.
“One thing that does wind me up is people saying soft-tip is like toy darts, I do understand where people come from in that situation but at the same time, they are throwing at a target and they are throwing with their chosen dart with what weight they decide, stem and flight. To a certain degree, it’s no different.”
“When I relate it to people I say, steel tip is like snooker and soft-tip is like pool and I’ve always said that. You get good soft tip players who can perform under pressures, hit targets and there is no reason why they can’t do well in steel tip.”
The success of this market in Asia has led to the PDC Asian Tour and Gray sees soft-tip as the route in before they take steel tip even more seriously.
“The soft-tip side of darts in Asia is so enjoyable. That’s where people of lots of different levels start and they find their feet and when they get really good they go to the steel tip side of it and I do think that’s what is happening.”