Phil Taylor v Michael van Gerwen
After Saturday night’s quarter-finals, where James Wade and Michael van Gerwen won epic final-set deciders, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’d seen the best of this year’s World Championships. And maybe we had in certain aspects. Yet Sunday night’s semi-finals were every bit as enthralling and jam-packed with quality, with an added sprinkling of controversy thrown in for good measure.
In the first match of the night Van Gerwen came within centimetres of historical back-to-back nine-darters, a feat which no player in the history of darts has ever even come close to achieving, and it’s questionable whether we will ever see the likes again. 2-0 down in the set, the young Dutchman threw nine perfect darts to reduce his arrears, then he kicked off the very next leg with eight perfect darts before narrowly missing double 12 for consecutive perfect legs. Remarkably he still lost the set as Wade checked out on 120 in the deciding leg.
The main event, however, was still to come. With such hype surrounding the clash between Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld, there was always a danger that it might not live up to expectations. And Taylor appeared to be cruising towards the finishing line, taking a 5-1 lead in no time at all. Barney looked broken, battered, finished. But the five-time world champion found something from nowhere, dragged himself up by his bootlaces and proceeded to turn the match on its head. He got it back to 5-4 and looked as if he could take the match into a decider, but Taylor showed great resillience in the face of adversity and hauled himself over the line.
What happened next is still a little unclear, largely due to the fact that The Power refused to talk about it. But there was more than a little bad blood between the two greats of the game afterwards, most of which looked to be initiated by Taylor. What made the spat most surprising is that Taylor and Barney have always shown each other the utmost respect, on the oche and away from it. It was completely out of character for their relationship.
The upshot of it all is that we’ve got the box office final that we all wanted to see, as the world number one takes on the pretender to the throne.
This will be the fourth time this year that Taylor and Van Gerwen have met – it would be meaningless to look back any further than the past 12 months as this is a completely different MVG to the one of years gone by – with the Dutchman winning two of the three clashes to date. Van Gerwen also won the only televised dual, at the last 16 stage of the Grand Slam.
It should also be noted that this is a much improved Taylor from the one that lost 10-5 in that Grand Slam second round. This could and should be every bit as close as the odds suggest. The Power is a 1.85 chance and Van Gerwen is 1.90. In all my time watching, writing about and betting on darts I’ve never seen such big odds on The Power to win a single match.
Without any outside factors I’d be happy to back Van Gerwen at the odds. He’s consistently played the better darts this past fortnight, shown that he also has the mental fortitude to win close matches, and isn’t scared to beat Taylor of the big stage. What completely tips the scales in his favour, for me, is the possibility that the crowd may turn on Taylor following Sunday night’s antics.
There were already signs of it happening as he was booed when he left the stage on Sunday, then in the press box after his spat with Barney. And if that hostility is maintained it could have a profound effect on the outcome of this year’s world championships.
Finally, if you fancy that we’ll see another nine-darter in the final, then you can have odds of 5.50. It’s a little short for my liking, but it’s hard to think that you won’t at least get a run for your money. After all, MVG nearly hit two in consecutive legs a couple of nights ago and Taylor has hit more in front of the cameras than any other player in the game’s history.
Van Gerwen to win @ 1.90