Adrian Lewis won the inaugural Auckland Darts Masters title in a pulsating last-leg decider, surviving 5 match darts from Raymond van Barneveld in the final leg.
Lewis and van Barneveld undoubtedly contested the best final in World Series history. It had everything; high scoring, brilliant finishing and incredible drama. Van Barneveld fought back from 10-8 down to restore parity and was in command of the 21st leg, but he was unable to convert his opportunity.
Lewis had missed a shot at 68 to secure victory, after van Barneveld earlier failed to take out 56, but Jackpot capitalised eventually, sealing a remarkable 11-10 victory on D1.
This sloppiness on the doubles wasn’t reflective of the overall standard however; Lewis averaged 103 and was averaging 108 for long periods, whilst van Barneveld’s average just dipped below the 100 mark late on, with the Dutchman hitting 11 180’s.
Barney surged into a 2-0 lead early on, punishing a mediocre leg from Lewis in the 2nd leg, but his response was emphatic and immediate. He raced into a 4-2 lead, with a tremendous 123 finish in the fifth leg to break throw, but the veteran Dutchman reduced the arrears to 4-3 at the interval, with a clean 76 checkout and 12-darter.
Van Barneveld was looking relatively assured on throw, nevertheless he was struggling to pressure Lewis’s throw. Adrian began virtually every leg on his throw superbly, hitting 140’s and 180’s with unerring regularity. After Barney nailed a vital 67 finish for 5-4, Lewis delivered a classy 102 finish for 6-4, bumping his average to over the 105 mark.
Both players were performing at an extremely high-level and van Barneveld refused to go away; hitting successive 180’s for an 11-darter to reduce the deficit to 6-5. Lewis produced an identical riposte, with an 11-darter of his own for 7-5.
Van Barneveld made it three 11-darters in succession after a stunning scoring leg, before a two-dart 65 kill for Lewis gave him an 8-6 advantage at the second interval; his average exceeding 108. You always felt it was going to take something majestic from van Barneveld to break Lewis’s throw and he delivered just that in leg 16.
Barney hit back-to-back 180’s to leave 86 after 9 darts and with Lewis poised on a two-dart finish, he hit the bullseye with his last dart to restore parity at 8-8, with the advantage of throw in his favour.
Despite this, the momentum shifted instantly, as van Barneveld produced an untimely mediocre leg, with Lewis regaining the lead on D20. He hit the very same target in the following leg to move 10-8 ahead; Barney was on the brink.
However, you don’t become Five-Time World Champion unless you possess tenacity and determination and van Barneveld showed his Champion qualities, with a commanding leg reducing the arrears to 10-9. With Lewis throwing for the match, the 48-year-old from Den Haag hit his 11th 180 to hand himself a break opportunity.
Barney wired darts at D18 and D9 respectively, but after Lewis failed to take out 104 for the title, van Barneveld was nerveless in posting D9 for 10-10. History was repeating itself; as van Barneveld and Lewis’ semi-final in Sydney also went to a last-leg decider.
Barney appeared on the verge of his first World Series title after back-to-back 140’s left him 116 after 9 darts, with Lewis cut adrift on 303. However, Jackpot displayed his enigmatic brilliance with a 171 to set up 132. Barney left 56 after 12 darts, but the Stokie couldn’t threaten the 132 finish.
Barney attempted to go single 20 to leave his preferred D18, but his first dart was rather overpitched and landed in the D20 segment. This visibly affected the Dutchman, who missed darts at D8 and D4. Lewis was lying on 68, but also missed the D4 target and his disappointment was tangible. The Auckland crowd were on tenterhooks and both men were feeling the tension.
Barney was agonisingly close with his next two darts at D4, before his final dart at D2 was pulled. Lewis settled himself after some light-hearted humour with the crowd, before returning to hit D1 to seal an epic victory.
It was an absolutely incredible final between two fantastic ambassadors of the sport. The respect between both men was evidenced throughout the contest; if either player produced a moment of magic, the other would acknowledge it. That was absolutely fantastic to see; even in the heat of battle, they were able to appreciate each other’s efforts.
Earlier in the day, van Barneveld had defeated James Wade in the semis to reach his first World Series final since May 2013. Van Barneveld trailed 3-2 early on, before reeling off seven successive legs for a 9-3 advantage. Wade threatened an unlikely comeback after RvB missed match-darts, but he eventually closed out victory on D16 for a 10-6 win.
Adrian Lewis reached his second successive final down-under, by ending Phil Taylor’s World Series monopoly in another last-leg decider. Taylor missed four match darts at D20 in the final leg, before Lewis finished 48 with his final dart. The two-time World Champion has won his last five last-leg deciders in the Southern Hemisphere, which underlines his mental strength and ability to produce the goods under the most intense pressure.
No one deserved to be a loser in that final. Van Barneveld admitted he was extremely disappointed to lose in such cruel circumstances, but was in positive mood due to his performance and the spectacle as a whole. Lewis was inevitably jubilant, after following up victories over Gary Anderson and Taylor by beating van Barneveld.
Both men have been under the microscope in recent months for various reasons, but their respective displays down-under have been hugely encouraging. They’ve thrown tremendous darts and played with a real sense of freedom. Hopefully, they can transfer this form to the ranking events in the coming months!