Peter Wright produced the performance of his career in the biggest game of his life to defeat Michael van Gerwen 7-3 and secure his maiden World Championship title on a magical night on New Year’s Day at Alexandra Palace.
Six years ago to the day, Wright faced Van Gerwen in the 2014 showpiece, with the Dutchman running out a 7-4 victor to claim his first World Championship title. Since then, ‘The Green Machine’ has toppled the Scot in eight other major finals, including a heart-breaking Premier League epic.
However, Wright finally secured the bragging rights to be crowned the first world champion of the new decade after delivering a darting masterclass against his old foe, who had beaten him on 59 previous occasions.
There was a feeling that Van Gerwen was susceptible with ‘Snakebite’ edging the tournament statistics heading into the final, although the mental scars MvG had inflicted upon Wright in their previous showdowns felt like being a pivotal factor.
Nevertheless, the seventh seed produced an awe-inspiring display to complete a 7-3 success against the dominant Dutchman, averaging 102.79, crashing in eleven maximums and crucially converting 53% of his attempts at double to scoop the £500,000 winner’s prize.
Wright’s only other major triumph came at the 2017 UK Open, when Van Gerwen was sidelined with injury. The doubters insisted that Wright was not capable of winning a major title with MVG in the field although this landmark success is vindication for ‘Snakebite’.
The atmosphere ahead of the clash was at fever pitch inside Alexandra Palace, with Wright receiving the lion-share of support and Van Gerwen making his entrance to pantomime boos. The crowd were expecting a classic – a classic is what they were served up.
In the opening leg Wright squandered three darts at tops to hold throw and Van Gerwen capitalised, sinking a two-dart 88 combination for an instant break. There were fears that this would set the tone for a familiar script between MvG and Snakebite in major finals, but the Scot responded.
Wright broke back immediately inside 13 darts and although Van Gerwen produced a set-saving 86 kill on the bull, the seventh seed struck first. MvG wired the bull for a roof-raising 170 checkout and ‘Snakebite’ stepped in, closing out a 14-dart hold on tops to the delight of the packed house.
The 49-year-old missed one dart at tops to strike an early blow in the second after some double-trouble from Van Gerwen, but Wright’s superior scoring saw him reel off three consecutive legs in 14, 12 and 13 darts to double his tally with a 105 average.
We hadn’t seen Van Gerwen produce one of his trademark bursts apart from a spell during his fourth-round demolition of Stephen Bunting, although he unleashed a blistering barrage after the second interval to put himself firmly back in contention.
The Dutchman reeled off the third set in a matter of minutes with legs of 13, 11 and 13 darts – averaging 121.90 in the process. Wright stopped the rot in sensational fashion however, conjuring up an inspired 140 checkout after Van Gerwen boldly opted to go the treble 20 route for a 128 finish.
His fourth set advantage was immediately eroded as Van Gerwen fired back with a 13-dart break and the next two legs saw the pair exchange commanding holds to force a crucial set decider.
The world No 1 had the advantage of throw but Wright posted a sensational 171 and had a chance to take out 102 after MvG missed the bull for a 124 outshot. The Scot fashioned out a dart at tops for a 3-1 lead but he fell agonisingly short and the irrepressible Dutchman levelled on double eight.
Van Gerwen had won six of the last eight legs, averaging 122 and 109 in the respective sets and his brilliance continued early in the fifth, as he opened up proceedings with an effortless 12-dart break via double 16.
Wright needed to stem the tide and he did so in spectacular style- firing in seven perfect darts and completing a 10-darter on the Van Gerwen throw. Nevertheless, it seemed the Scot was about to relinquish that advantage instantaneously after an indifferent scoring leg, only for MvG to falter.
The defending champion frittered away SIX clear darts at double to break and a disbelieving Wright gratefully capitalised via tops, before wrapping up the set with an accomplished 96 combination to restore his slender advantage.
This looked like being a pivotal moment as Wright stormed to the sixth set without reply. The 2014 finalist rattled in legs of 12 and 11 darts, only to see Van Gerwen squander another three on the outer-ring and he exploited MvG’s profligacy to pick out a classy 80 kill on tops.
Wright reeled off a fourth leg on the spin after Van Gerwen missed double seven for a 134, but with the Scot sensing the opportunity to establish a 5-2 buffer, the world No 1 unleashed another assault on the treble 20 to reduce the arrears.
He levelled set seven with an 11-darter and with Wright sat on 15, the 30-year-old converted a nerveless 84 checkout on the bull. Snakebite was rendered helpless as Van Gerwen piled in an eleventh maximum and completed yet another 11-darter, to record a seventh set average of 121.84.
The ludicrous standard continued early in the eighth as the pair exchanged 12-dart holds. Van Gerwen took out 124 with consummate ease, only for Wright to take out 69 in similarly emphatic fashion. The next two legs both went with throw, which set up another defining set decider.
Both players were under no illusion about the significance of the leg and neither were able to find the treble with regularity. MvG was first to a finish but squandered his one set dart at tops for a 72 finish whereas Wright kept his cool, picking out double 16 to restore his two-set buffer at 5-3.
Wright was bidding to establish a three-set cushion for the first time in the contest but just as the Scot threatened to pull away, Van Gerwen seemed to produce high-octane tungsten to reel him back in – this time a 128 combination saw him square set nine.
However, if there was a solitary fault to pick with Van Gerwen’s performance, it was his doubling with three darts in hand. He was unable to hit tops with three in hand and Wright punished with a vital last dart in hand double five to hold.
Wright displayed profligacy of his own by spurning two set darts, although Van Gerwen then returned the favour in another critical set decider. The Scot needed no further invitation to take advantage, completing a classy 70 combination on tops to move one set away from victory.
Van Gerwen was rattled – evidenced by the fact he was walking off stage believing there was another intermission. Wright was going nowhere – a 13-dart break on double 12 edged him closer to the sport’s holy grail.
‘The Green Machine’ was on the brink of defeat but he refused to give up without a fight, missing double 12 for a sensational nine-darter in the very next leg.
That’s the fourth time we’ve seen a double missed for the perfect leg in this World Championship – following in the footsteps of Adrian Lewis. Nico Kurz and Darren Webster. The Dutchman wrapped up the leg in 10 darts, although the relentless Wright responded with another break.
The 49-year-old converted a clinical two-dart 76 combination to move one leg away from victory and roared on by the partisan Alexandra Palace crowd, Snakebite wasn’t to be denied on this occasion.
He’s been beaten by Van Gerwen in nine previous major televised finals but this was Wright’s time. He left 20 after 12 darts following another fine scoring leg and despite wiring his first two match darts, he used the markers expertly to seal the deal with his third dart in hand.
The emotional scenes that followed epitomised the magic of sport – Wright was overcome with emotional as the magnitude of his triumph began to sink in – The Scot becomes the oldest first-time winner of the prestigious Sid Waddell Trophy and leapfrogs Gerwyn Price to become world No 2.
“The chances I used to give Michael, he gave me them. Champion of the World sounds amazing. You should never give up, it doesn’t matter how many times you get beaten. I’ve done it,” said the emotional Scot.
‘Mighty Mike’ by no means performed poorly. His 102.88 average was the second highest losing average in a world final – Gary Anderson’s 104.93 average in 2017 – ironically against MvG, remains intact. Yet the ton-topping average will provide scant consolation for the world No 1.
Nevertheless, tonight was about Peter Wright realising a dream. He’s been incredibly consistent over the last decade with little reward, but he starts the new decade in dream fashion.
It’s remarkable to think that he survived a match-dart in his opening round tussle against Noel Malicdem. The course of history could have been so different but they are the fine margins that make this sport so fascinating.
Wright has beaten Van Gerwen, he’s overcome his darting demons. He joins an elite group – becoming just the ninth player to win the PDC World Championship title. Even Wright’s harshest critics couldn’t deny that he was an incredibly deserving champion.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC