Michael van Gerwen ended his UK Open hoodoo, beating his arch-rival Peter Wright 11-5 in Sunday’s showpiece final. Van Gerwen’s previous best run at the UK Open was a semi-final appearance last year, where he lost to Terry Jenkins, but he rectified this statistic and claimed glory with some phenomenal displays on the final day.
Both Wright and van Gerwen averaged around the 99 mark in the final, but the contest was essentially decided by a few missed doubles from Snakebite. Wright missed two darts at D8 and D16 in separate legs, which meant he trailed 10-5, rather than 8-7, which was ultimately too big a deficit to overcome against the rampant Dutchman.
The standard on the final day was astronomical. In his quarter-final, van Gerwen overcame a stern test posed by fans’ favourite Devon Petersen. At the first interval, the South African led 3-2 with a 106 average, but he struggled to maintain the consistency over the longer format, allowing MvG to close out a 10-5 victory.
The 25-year-old’s 10-8 semi-final victory against Andrew Gilding was arguably the game of the tournament. Gilding has been superb on the floor over the last 18 months and he recorded fine victories over Kevin Painter, Jelle Klaasen and James Wade on the outer boards. He beat Mensur Suljovic in a topsy-turvy quarter-final, before producing the performance of his career against van Gerwen, yet it still wasn’t enough.
Gilding Produced a Golden Performance.
Gilding averaged 108, hit ten 180’s and threw everything at van Gerwen, but the Dutchman showed great composure and belief, and capitalised on one or two missed shots at the bull to secure the victory. We all know that MvG possesses incredible raw talent, but this win exemplified the winner that he is.
Gilding’s phenomenal tournament has subsequently earned him a place in the Top 32 of the Order of Merit. He will be a regular fixture in the majors this year, and after acclimatising to the big stage, he will be a nightmare first-round draw for any opponent.
Peter Wright enjoyed a fantastic tournament at Minehead, reaching his second major final; the first since losing 7-4 to van Gerwen in the 2014 World Championships. En route to Sunday’s final, Wright beat four World Champions; Steve Beaton, Raymond van Barneveld, Phil Taylor and Stephen Bunting!
Wright beat van Barneveld 9-1 in the Last 32, which was his first ever televised victory over the legendary Dutchman, after hitting 10 180’s and beating Steve Beaton 9-5 in round three.
However, Wright’s quarter-final victory over Phil Taylor was remarkable. Taylor averaged 108.57, yet he lost 10-6. As Dutch dart commentator Jacques Nieuwlaat noted, this was Taylor’s highest ever losing average.
Taylor hit 8 180’s; particularly impressive given the fact that he is not notoriously a prolific maximum hitter, whilst his doubles percentage was a superb 67%. The 16 time World Champion didn’t make any notable errors, but Wright was so clinical, and if Taylor hit a rare mediocre score of 59 or 60, he pounced with a 140 or 180. He hit some fantastic finishes including 80, 96, 98 and 122; all with his last dart. Under such intense pressure from the Power’s unrelenting scoring, it was a phenomenal effort from Wright, emphasising just how strong he can be mentally.
I actually thought it was reminiscent of van Gerwen’s 10-5 victory over Taylor at the 2012 Grand Slam; the 16-times World Champion did very little wrong on that occasion, but MvG matched his scoring and took out some critical finishes of 91 and 130. Although van Gerwen had won the World Grand Prix one month earlier, this victory demonstrated that he was mentally ready to beat the best. It remains to be seen whether this win will have a similar impact for Wright.
Peter Gets it ‘Wright’
Wright did well to avert the ‘Taylor curse’. After beating Taylor, many players are on such a euphoric high, that they cannot then replicate their performance in the next round. However, Wright could. He completely decimated Premier League rival Stephen Bunting 10-0 in the semis; Snakebite averaging a brilliant 105, whilst nothing went right for the Bullet, who failed to hit a 140 in the entire match.
After the semi-final draw, there was a sense of inevitability about Wright and van Gerwen meeting in the final. Only three days earlier, they were involved in a heated war of words following their Premier League meeting in Exeter. At 4-3 up, Wright was on a 160 finish and after hitting two T20’s to leave D20, he turned to gee up the crowd, before missing the double, allowing the Dutchman to claim the leg. The match ended all-square, but van Gerwen was clearly unimpressed with Wright’s antics, branding him ‘not professional’.
However, they put their spat behind them and the final was conducted in a friendly yet competitive spirit. It was far closer than the score-line suggested, although Wright appeared to be running on empty during the closing stages. Wright actually averaged one point higher than the 2014 World Champion, but this tournament has dispelled the myth that averages win matches.
As Wright showed in his quarter-final win over Taylor, where he averaged over 5 points lower, it’s about timing, and hitting the right shots at the right time. That is exactly what van Gerwen did throughout the final day. The 64 checkout, where he hit D16 with one dart in his hand essentially won him the tournament, giving him a 10-5 advantage.
Whenever Wright missed, MvG hit. That is what champions do, and van Gerwen has this winning mentality in abundance. The similarities between Taylor and van Gerwen in this respect are startling; the regularity in which they manage to hit a vital double with their final dart illustrates why they are currently the best two players in World Darts. The standard continues to soar and fresh talent is constantly emerging; but it will take something extraordinary to stop ‘The Green Machine’.