Record-breaking averages, eleven nine-dart finishes, six different winners from six Players Championship events, and no title for Michael van Gerwen in 2020 thus far. Has the strength in depth within world darts ever been greater? The compelling evidence suggests not.
The assertion that Michael van Gerwen’s form is dwindling is ludicrously premature. He’s been involved in some titanic tungsten rivalries against the likes of Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld before successfully seeing off two of the sport’s greatest arrowsmiths.
However, ‘The Green Machine’ now has a host of stars vying for major honours and the astronomical standard shows little sign of relenting. As a result, Van Gerwen will enter the month of March without a PDC title under his belt for the first time since 2011.
There are many speculative theories surrounding the Dutchman’s ‘drought’. His change of manufacturer inevitably creates uncertainty and the 30-year-old acknowledged he would require a period of acclimatisation, although statistics indicate that his performances have not suffered.
Since the turn of the new decade, Van Gerwen has averaged 100.17 over the course of 33 games – only world champion Peter Wright and Ian White can usurp MvG in that department. It’s not a case of Van Gerwen’s form declining, more an illustration of his rivals raising their game.
‘Mighty Mike’ has lost out in two Players Championship finals this year – Gerwyn Price is the only other man to feature in multiple finals and ‘The Iceman’ accounted for the three-time world champion in a thrilling showpiece on Sunday, with MvG sat on 36 after 12 darts in the decider.
Within the last 20 years, the sport has always had a spearhead – a dominant figure who monopolised major events. Taylor thrived on that mantle throughout his career and Van Gerwen has cultivated a similar aura, although the fear factor may gradually be diminishing.
Peter Wright is a poignant example. The pair locked horns in last month’s World Championship final- their tenth meeting in a major televised final. ‘Snakebite’ had lost the previous nine, spurning match darts on two of those occasions, but Wright achieved his darting destiny on New Year’s Day.
Psychologically that was an enormous barrier to overcome and he’s since added the Masters to his growing haul of triumphs. Price has also recently conquered his MvG hoodoo, following up his maiden win over the Dutchman at the Grand Slam with Sunday’s scintillating Pro Tour success.
Within the last two years – the sport has seen eight different players lift televised titles. Van Gerwen still boasts the monopoly in that respect, winning ten individual TV events since the start of January 2018, but there’s never been such a vast demographic possessing such major pedigree.
During Taylor’s era of dominance, Van Barneveld was arguably his fiercest rival, with Wade, John Part and Dennis Priestley deserving of notable mentions. Irrespective of this, there was not a conveyor belt of stars queuing up to consistently challenge for the sport’s biggest honours.
Yet since January 2018, Wright, Price, Rob Cross, Gary Anderson, James Wade, Nathan Aspinall and Daryl Gurney have all featured in the winner’s enclosure, with six of those stars enjoying multiple triumphs.
The growing strength in depth is not merely consigned to major televised events however. In 2019, there were a record 16 winners from 30 Players Championship events and that figure could potentially be shattered in 2020, with six different winners from six events to date.
The Pro Tour cultivates the perfect environment for players to perform to the best of their ability – evidenced by the staggering statistics recorded at Players Championship Five and Six at Wigan’s Robin Park Tennis Centre last weekend.
There were an incredible 91 ton-plus averages posted across the two days of competition, obliterating the previous of 70 registered at Players Championship Three and Four in February 2019.
An astonishing weekend of action also saw 1,112 maximums thrown over the weekend – the highest figure recorded since the introduction of the Darts Connect system, with Steve Lennon and Van Gerwen landing the tenth and eleventh nine-dart finishes of 2020 respectively.
There were 49 perfect legs fired in across the PDC circuit last year and that record is already under considerable threat following a blistering start to 2020, despite the fact there’s been just the solitary televised nine-darter hit during the last 14 months.
The element of unpredictability on the Pro Tour circuit has also been a notable theme in the early stages of this year’s Premier League, with just two points separating the top eight players in the standings. League leader Glen Durrant and Price are the only two players yet to suffer defeat.
Van Gerwen led the way after wins over Wright and Gurney, but he slipped to second after relinquishing a 5-4 cushion against Aspinall on Night Three. Nevertheless, he remains an emphatic favourite to maintain his unblemished record and top the league phase for an eighth straight year.
Could this prove to be his toughest campaign yet? There is no crisis for MvG, there will be no panic. The overwhelming evidence suggests he’s on the cusp of returning to winning ways and it would be fitting if he does so on the European Tour – where he’s garnered a remarkable 32 titles.
He heads to this weekend’s Belgian Darts Championship bidding to secure his first title since November’s Players Championship Finals, but amid the sport’s growing strength in depth, whether he can replicate the supremacy he’s enjoyed over previous years will be a fascinating prospect.
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