Phil Taylor toed the oche for the final time in his career at the Alexandra Palace on Monday evening, competing in his 21st World Championship final. Tournament favourite Michael van Gerwen had been beaten in the semi-finals and Taylor was odds-on with the bookmakers to win an astonishing 17th World Championship title.
The expectant fans poured into the Alexandra Palace in anticipation of seeing ‘The Power’ bow out in a final blaze of glory, which he almost did to a degree; agonisingly wiring D12 for a sensational nine-darter, which incredibly would have been his first ever nine-darter at the World Darts Championship.
Nevertheless, the fairy-tale followed a different script and it featured an imperious display from Rob Cross. It’s been an astonishing rise to prominence for ‘Voltage’ and it’s scarcely believable that this was his World Championship debut.
Considering the occasion and the vociferous crowd roaring on Taylor one final time, Cross would have been forgiven for being overawed by the enormity of the contest. Nevertheless, the Hastings-based ace was anything but, as he produced one of the greatest performances in the history of the World Darts Championship.
The 27-year-old averaged 107.67, landed eleven maximums and converted 60% of his attempts at double to record an emphatic 7-2 victory over the 16-time world champion, who averaged 102.26 and fired in twelve maximums himself. Taylor acknowledged Cross’ brilliance, even claiming it was a ‘mismatch’.
It was an evening reminiscent of Taylor’s first World Championship triumph back in 1990, ironically the year that Cross was born. On that occasion, ‘The Power’ recorded a 6-1 rout of his mentor Eric Bristow in what was dubbed as a passing of the baton, and on the evidence of last night’s display, Cross could be capable of now carrying that baton.
In trademark Taylor style, he won the bullseye in the practice room and opted to give Cross the darts in the opening set; he was unfazed, wrapping it up three legs to one with a ton-topping average. He then pegged a spectacular 167 outshot to double his lead in sets, before crashing in a majestic 153 finish to extend his cushion to 3-0.
The crowd were shell-shocked but the Stoke-on-Trent veteran rallied, winning the fourth set without reply with the aid of a 151 checkout. He then wired D12 for an unbelievable nine-darter in the opening stages of set five, but after missing three darts at double, Cross punished with a clinical 83 kill before going on to restore his three-set cushion.
The former electrician won the next two sets by a 3-1 scoreline to extend his lead to 6-1- requiring just one more set to seal world title glory. His average was still exceeding the 107 mark but Taylor wasn’t going down without a fight, winning the eighth set in three straight legs to reduce the arrears to 6-2.
Nevertheless, Cross followed up successive 13-dart legs by clinching victory in sensational style. Taylor landed his 12th maximum in an attempt to prolong matters, but the debutant posted a brilliant 162, which he followed up by taking out 140 (T18, T18, D16) to write his name into darting folklore.
It’s a fairy-tale story for ‘Voltage’, who just twelve months ago was preparing to turn professional after enjoying success on the Challenge Tour in 2016. This time last year, he was an unknown quantity to many darts fans, but now he’s a world champion and ranked 3rd in the world.
Cross also becomes the first player since Raymond van Barneveld back in 2007 to win the PDC World Championship on his debut, but it’s the manner of his victory that was most impressive.
He showed no signs of nerves and even his celebrations after winning were subdued and controlled – we’ve seen some memorable outpouring of emotions on the Alexandra Palace stage but Cross was immensely dignified in victory.
In the lead-up to the final he had spoken of his respect to the 16-time world champion, admitting that he was his darting inspiration. He was keen to share his moment with the retiring Taylor as the pair lifted the Sid Waddell Trophy aloft in a truly unique World Championship moment.
Although his farewell may not have culminated in fairy-tale fashion, ‘The Power’ was very magnanimous in defeat and was also serenaded by the adoring capacity crowd at the Alexandra Palace.
Taylor admitted: “I tried my best, I just didn’t have that push against him. He was like me 25 years ago. He was good. He was relentless, he just doesn’t stop putting you under pressure, and that’s the way I used to be.
“I don’t think the money with him will make a scrap of difference, I think it’s about winning and that’s the way I was. I’m at the end of my career and he’s at the beginning of his career and it was a young man versus an old man. It was a mismatch really, he was a brilliant player.”
Cross was thrilled to have become the eighth different PDC World Champion, but he was also full of admiration for the departing Taylor. He claimed: “I feel great, but I’ve got to say it’s Phil’s last year – I’ve won my first World Championship but it’s about him departing and that’s why I let him lift the trophy with me.
“He’s been phenomenal. It was my dream 15 years ago to play this guy and now I’ve played him. It’s absolute phenomenal. In the final today it was a dream to play Phil. Watching him with his dominance over the years he has been excellent and you won’t see another sportsman like him,” he added.
Taylor’s achievements in the sport are simply unparalleled. He’s enjoyed almost three decades of dominance, having claimed over 200 titles. He may be a subversive character but without his contribution and influence, darts arguably wouldn’t be in the rude health it’s in today and that will be just one aspect of Taylor’s legacy.
His astonishing haul of titles and longevity at the top level of darts will never be matched, but whilst this match will be remembered most as Taylor’s farewell, it could also spark a new era of dominance for former electrician Cross. Nobody could have predicted his meteoric rise which is truly the stuff of dreams.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC