Max Hopp clinched his first senior PDC title after defeating Michael Smith in a pulsating last-leg decider to seal German Darts Open glory in a watershed moment for the sport, on an exhilarating day of action in Saarbrucken on Sunday evening.
The 21-year-old defeated the Premier League trio of Smith, Rob Cross and Peter Wright across an extraordinary weekend; scooping the £25,000 winner’s prize to become the first ever German player to win a PDC ranking title.
In a battle of the former World Youth champions, home advantage proved decisive for Hopp in a thrilling final. He fought back magnificently from 6-3 behind to stun Smith with a 94.62 average, four maximums and a 35% checkout success rate, in a victory which all but confirms his debut appearance in July’s World Matchplay.
Smith drew first blood with an 18-dart hold in a scrappy opener, before converting a tidy two-dart 72 combination to double his lead inside 14 darts. Hopp struggled to settle in the early stages and ‘Bully Boy’ pegged tops for a 16-dart hold, before missing D14 for a spectacular 148 checkout, which would have seen him lead 4-0.
The pair had exchanged maximums earlier in the leg and Hopp opened his account with a fine 13-darter, before leaving 56 after just nine darts in the next. However, the 21-year-old missed four darts at double and Smith pounced; dispatching a classy 90 kill on D15 to restore his three-leg cushion.
The pair then exchanged holds of throw via D10, before this time Smith was guilty of profligacy in the finishing department- missing four darts at double for a 6-2 advantage, as Hopp gratefully sank D2 to reduce the deficit to 5-3.
The St Helen’s star regained his three-leg buffer with a crucial 50 finish on tops, but in a repeat of the eighth leg, Smith was plagued by missing three more darts at D18 and D9, as Hopp preserved his hopes with a 16-dart hold via D8.
The German crowd were beginning to have a significant influence as they attempted to roar their home favourite on to an unprecedented triumph and he duly responded. He piled in a third maximum and found D6 to break throw inside 14 darts, before producing another classy 14-darter courtesy of a 64 kill to level up proceedings at six apiece.
Hopp was riding the crest of a wave and almost secured a fourth straight leg in the most extraordinary fashion- missing the bull for a 170 outshot. Smith stopped the rot by pegging tops to move to the brink of victory, but ‘The Maximiser’ held his nerve; following up his fourth 180 with a 15-dart hold on D4 to force a dramatic decider.
Smith had the throw and kicked off with a superbly timed maximum, but Hopp wasn’t fazed in the slightest. He posted successive 140’s and in identical fashion to his semi-final win over Cross, the 21-year-old sent Saarbrucken wild by conjuring up an inspired 121 finish on the bull to complete a 12-dart break and seal the biggest win of his life.
Having endured an extremely difficult twelve months which saw him fail to qualify for last year’s World Championship, Hopp had shown signs of a resurgence over recent weeks. Yet his performances over the weekend were scarcely believable, as he produced a series of stunning displays to send the capacity crowd wild in Saarbrucken.
He followed up his opening-round win over Zoran Lerchbacher by dumping out world number two Peter Wright on Saturday night, and he kicked off Sunday’s proceedings with a nervy 6-4 win over Benito van de Pas. Hopp fired in five maximums but missed an incredible 25 darts at double; sealing his progression with an 84.21 average.
In the last eight, ‘The Maximiser’ faced Joe Cullen- appearing in his third consecutive European Tour quarter-final of 2018. Hopp stormed into a 5-1 advantage but Cullen reduced the arrears to 5-4 and missed the bull for a 164 leveller, as the German eventually advanced with a 96.89 average, three 180’s and a 46% checkout success rate.
Nevertheless, he produced his best performance of the tournament in a gripping semi-final clash against world champion Rob Cross. In a topsy-turvy tussle Hopp secured a 6-5 lead, only to spurn three match darts in the penultimate leg. ‘Voltage’ capitalised to force a decider in which he had the darts, but Hopp showed immense character to respond.
He kicked off the final leg with successive 140’s and with Cross poised on 76 for victory, the home favourite piled in a nerveless 121 outshot on the bull to triumph inside 12 darts; averaging 100.23, piling in five maximums and boasting a 50% checkout conversion rate to book his place in the final.
Smith threw superbly throughout the day, but fell agonisingly short at the final hurdle. He kicked off Sunday’s action with an impressive 6-3 win over Jelle Klaasen; rattling off three straight legs from 3-3 in 15, 11 and 14 darts to prevail with a 100.70 average and four maximums.
This set up a quarter-final showdown against Mervyn King, who had dumped out James Wade and Daryl Gurney en route to the last eight. Smith fired in an incredible eight maximums in a classic but had to survive one match dart in a dramatic decider, as he edged out ‘The King’ after averaging 99.52 and dispatching 26% of his attempts at double.
‘Bully Boy’ then faced Ian White in the semi-finals, after ‘The Diamond’ produced two magical displays to reach his first European Tour semi-final of the season. He averaged over 106 in whitewashing Dave Chisnall to reach the last eight, before producing a stunning display to defeat world number one Michael van Gerwen 6-2.
Incredibly, White thumped Van Gerwen 6-1 in this very tournament twelve months ago and he repeated the feat in Saarbrucken. ‘The Green Machine’ was punished for missing six of his eight attempts at double, as White averaged 105.92, landed three maximums and converted a staggering 86% of his double attempts to cap off a vintage display.
Nevertheless, the Stoke star was blown away by Smith in the last four, as the St Helen’s star produced a devastating performance to storm into the final. The Premier League ace averaged 107.24, piled in two maximums and clinically converted 78% of his attempts at double, but he was denied a fifth European Tour title by an inspired Hopp.
In one of the most dramatic European Tour events in recent memory, the German crowd finally saw one of their own lift a title. Hopp has been touted as the big German hope for a number of years, but tonight he delivered in the most incredible circumstances, on a watershed night for both German Darts, and perhaps the PDC.
Photo Credit: Kelly Deckers/PDC Europe
2018 German Darts Open
Sunday April 15
Michael van Gerwen 6-4 Alan Tabern
Ian White 6-0 Dave Chisnall
Mervyn King 6-5 Daryl Gurney
Michael Smith 6-3 Jelle Klaasen
Max Hopp 6-4 Benito van de Pas
Joe Cullen 6-2 Daniel Larsson
Gerwyn Price 6-5 Mensur Suljovic
Rob Cross 6-4 Darren Webster
Evening Session (7.15pm local time, 6.15pm GMT)
Ian White 6-2 Michael van Gerwen
Michael Smith 6-5 Mervyn King
Max Hopp 6-4 Joe Cullen
Rob Cross 6-1 Gerwyn Price
Michael Smith 7-1 Ian White
Max Hopp 7-6 Rob Cross
Max Hopp 8-7 Michael Smith