As the 2016 PDC World Darts Championship kicks off tonight, I assess the chances of a man who has dominated the world of darts in 2015. Can he maintain his dominance to seal World Championship glory?
- Michael van Gerwen
Michael van Gerwen’s darting dominance over the last 12 months has only been matched or replicated by a certain Phil Taylor. The World Number One has won an astonishing 18 titles in this calendar year, and he has his sights firmly set on a second World Championship title in 2016.
The Dutchman has an ominous air of invincibility at present, having won the last four televised tournaments, so it will take a considerable effort to thwart the World Number One.
The catalyst for Van Gerwen’s incredible 2015 was arguably last year’s World Championship, where he was beaten 6-3 in the semi-finals by eventual winner Gary Anderson. MvG was desperate to retain his World title and this loss was a crushing blow to the ‘Green Machine’.
Nevertheless, this defeat appeared to galvanise the Dutchman, who has an extra-edge to his game this year. Even when players have van Gerwen under serious pressure, MvG seems completely unperturbed and manages to consistently produce the goods when necessary.
He began his year with victory at the Unibet Darts Masters, beating his compatriot Raymond van Barneveld in the final. He followed this up in March with his first UK Open title; defeating Peter Wright 11-5 in Minehead.
For the third year in succession, van Gerwen finished top of the group-phase in the Premier League. This is an admirable achievement considering the quality of the field; it’s testament to MvG’s quality and consistency.
He edged through a thrilling semi-final against van Barneveld 10-8, although he was denied his second Premier League title, after he was beaten 11-7 by World-Champ Gary Anderson in the final.
This will have been painful for van Gerwen, particularly given that he had only lost 2 matches in the league phase. However, he bounced back emphatically from this disappointment, by winning his maiden World Matchplay crown.
In 2014, The 26-year-old from Boxtel was beaten by Phil Taylor in the final. He was visibly dejected and was in tears on stage. Nevertheless, fast-forward 12 months, and he defeated Benito van de Pas, Jamie Lewis, Ian White, Peter Wright and James Wade to clinch the famous Blackpool crown.
He suffered a surprise defeat to Robert Thornton in the World Grand-Prix final in October. Van Gerwen has won this event twice previously, but Thornton was the 5-4 victor, as the partisan Dublin crowd turned against MvG.
Van Gerwen usually has the luxury of unanimous crowd support, although the Irish contingent were firmly backing the underdog. The jeers understandably affected van Gerwen, although it was a gripping battle regardless. He hit an incredible 18 maximums, although missed doubles proved costly.
Irrespective of this, Michael van Gerwen responded in the only way he can; by regaining the winning formula. Since this moment, he has won the last four TV titles, all in November.
He won the European Championships by getting the better of old adversary Gary Anderson. Anderson led 10-7 in the final, but the World Number One reeled off four consecutive legs to seal victory.
Just two weeks later, van Gerwen secured success at the Grand Slam of Darts in Wolverhampton. This was the only remaining ranking major MvG had yet to win, so this was a significant triumph for him.
He completed the ‘Grand Slam’ at the Grand Slam, by defeating Phil Taylor in an enthralling final. Taylor led 7-3, but van Gerwen fought back valiantly to claim a 16-13 victory. This just reaffirmed the class he possesses. Not only does he throw world-class darts, his mental fortitude is also mightily impressive.
Van Gerwen won the inaugural World Series of Darts Finals in Glasgow, beating home favourite Peter Wright in a thrilling final. Wright trailed 5-0 at one stage, but fought back to lead 10-9, and was just one leg away from his first PDC TV title.
Despite this, Michael produced two extraordinary legs to snatch away Wright’s chance of glory. He took out 129 for a 12-darter to force the contest into a last-leg decider, although Snakebite had the advantage of throw in the decider. This proved irrelevant however, as MvG hit two maximums and produced an 11-darter to seal the triumph.
This was the third major final in succession that van Gerwen had won, by coming from behind. This is no mean feat, particularly when considering that the likes of Anderson and Taylor are tremendous front-runners.
Van Gerwen’s last competitive tournament came at the Players Championship Finals in Minehead, where he defeated Adrian Lewis 11-6 in the final. Interestingly, in the last three years, the winner of the Players Championship Finals has gone on to lift the World Championship crown. Will history repeat itself in 2016?
Van Gerwen begins his pursuit of a second World Title against either Thanawat Gaweenuntawong of Thailand, or Rene Eidams, from Germany. In the second-round, he will face either John Henderson or Darren Webster.
MvG could face his compatriot Raymond van Barneveld in the last 16. Although Michael has the better head-to-head record this year, Raymond has beaten Michael three times on TV in 2015, more than any other player.
However, van Barneveld will have to overcome the challenges of Dirk van Duijvenbode and Stephen Bunting before even contemplating taking on MvG.
If van Gerwen progresses to the quarter-finals, he could face Michael Smith, in a repeat of their Grand-Slam semi-final last month. However, MvG could also face Ian White, who pushed him all the way in the World Matchplay quarter-finals.
Adrian Lewis or Peter Wright would be van Gerwen’s likely last-four opponents. Both men are in a rich vein of form and capable of toppling the Dutchman, although van Gerwen boasts a dominant head-to-head record against both men.
Michael is 5/4 with title sponsor William Hill to win his second World Championship title, and it would cap off an incredible year for the World Number One. He has won 18 titles overall and has completely dominated the PDC in 2o15. But will he win the biggest one of all at the Ally Pally?