Michael van Gerwen recovered from 4-1 and 8-5 behind to defeat his fellow countryman Raymond van Barneveld and clinch a fourth consecutive Unibet Masters crown in a thrilling final at the Arena MK in Milton Keynes on Sunday evening.
‘The Green Machine’ had reigned supreme in this event for three consecutive years and was going in search of an astonishing 72nd consecutive win live on ITV. Nevertheless, he was given an almighty scare as Van Barneveld narrowly missed out on securing a first individual televised title since 2014.
However, Van Gerwen produced an imperious performance to win six of the remaining seven legs to triumph with a 105.85 average, two maximums and a 48% checkout conversion rate, as Van Barneveld fell just short despite averaging 100.55 and converting 47% of his attempts at a double.
The pair traded holds to kick off the final, but Van Barneveld soon took control; following up clinical 72 and 76 finishes with an impressive 13-dart hold to establish a 4-1 advantage at the first interval.
The pair exchanged the next two legs before Van Gerwen defied a fabulous 177 from RvB to hold throw via D19; having missed the bull for a spectacular 170 in the preceding visit. ‘The Green Machine’ suddenly began to motor; picking out successive 177s and breaking back inside 11 darts, before restoring parity at five apiece courtesy of a majestic 137 kill.
Van Gerwen had the momentum but the interval came at the right time for Barney, as the legendary Dutchman regained the initiative once more. He registered legs of 13 and 14 darts to move 7-5 ahead, before holding his nerve to sink D4 with his last dart in hand to stretch his lead to 8-5.
However, with his back against the wall, Van Gerwen unsurprisingly responded to some tune. He fired in back-to-back 14-darters to reduce the arrears to 8-7, before piling in a crucial 124 checkout on the bullseye, with Van Barneveld poised on a two-dart 71 combination.
This hurt the five-time world champion and his pain was compounded moments later when ‘Mighty Mike’ followed visits of 171 and 180 by pegging D8 for a 12-dart leg, to lead for the very first time. Van Gerwen then completed a 14-dart hold on D8 to move to the brink of victory, and he made no mistake.
Van Barneveld continued to battle resiliently and preserved his hopes with a tidy 14-darter of his own, but Van Gerwen had the advantage of throw in the following leg which proved decisive. He kicked in with three successive 140’s, before effortlessly converting an 81 checkout to clinch the title with a sublime 12-darter.
The world number one reflected: “I think this is the perfect start to the year. I played a good tournament and hit some big averages against some great players. Everyone wants a good start to the year and I’ve started well.
“Raymond had a phenomenal tournament, he played well in the final and he didn’t give a lot away. When you give him a finger he takes your hand, but I’m glad that I fought back. I’m trying my best all the time and I want to win every tournament that I play in, so I’m really glad that I can take this trophy home.”
Van Barneveld was also in upbeat mood and was pleased to kick off the new season in fine form. He admitted: “I’m really happy to reach the final. It’s good to be in the final, and that has given me confidence.
“I had a hard game against Dave on Friday and today was a really long day for me. I played really well against Peter Wright but against Mensur I never felt great, and the final was alright.
“I played a good game in the final but I had too many scores of 100 instead of 140s, and Michael was awesome tonight. He was firing some top class darts at the end – his 124 turned the game. He’s the world number one and it’s so hard to beat this man. He never has a bad night, not against me, but hopefully one day it will turn my way.”
Earlier in the evening, Van Gerwen had stormed into the final with an emphatic 11-5 win over two-time world champion Gary Anderson. ‘The Green Machine’ averaged 101.96, landed eight maximums and dispatched 55% of his attempts at double to book a place in his fourth consecutive Masters final.
Van Gerwen established an early 2-1 lead, but Anderson crashed in a fine 124 outshot to level inside 12 darts. The world number one then followed up a clinical 95 kill on the bull with a 13-dart break to lead 4-2, but ‘The Flying Scotsman’ responded with two straight legs of his own to restore parity at four apiece.
However, Van Gerwen then ran riot. He registered legs of 12, 16 and 12 to seize control and although Anderson hit back with a tidy 70 checkout, Van Gerwen won four straight legs in 14, 15, 17 and 13 darts to wrap up a relatively comprehensive win over the Scot, who battled admirably amid his injury woes.
Meanwhile, Van Barneveld had secured a spot in his first individual televised final since 2015 with a hard-fought 11-7 win over Champions League winner Mensur Suljovic. Suljovic defeated RvB in the semi-finals of that event in their previous meeting, but the five-time world champion gained his revenge in a gruelling affair.
Suljovic fired in a brilliant 121 finish to claim an early 2-0 lead, but Van Barneveld responded strongly; reeling off the next three legs to seize the initiative at the first interval. Barney then stretched his winning sequence of legs to six with a spectacular 137 finish, before Suljovic registered sublime 10 and 12-dart legs to reduce the arrears to 6-4.
Suljovic then kicked off the 11th leg with back-to-back maximums but then incredibly spurned five darts as double as Van Barneveld followed up a 13-dart break with a 116 checkout to restore his four-leg buffer. Suljovic then won two straight legs to cut the gap to 8-6, but Barney broke once more after following up his second 180 by hitting D8.
Van Barneveld then dispatched an effortless two-dart 96 combination to move within a leg of the final, but then spurned four match darts in the next. However, the legendary Dutchman regained his composure to seal victory with a magnificent 11-darter, to triumph with a 94.52 average, four 180’s and a 34% checkout conversion rate.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
Evening Session (7pm)
Raymond van Barneveld 11-7 Mensur Suljovic
Michael van Gerwen 11-5 Gary Anderson
Best of 21 legs
Michael van Gerwen 11-9 Raymond van Barneveld
Best of 21 legs