In the latest instalment of my darting classics series, I delve into the archives to reflect on a thrilling PDC World Championship quarter-final clash between Phil Taylor and Wayne Mardle at Alexandra Palace in December 2007.
There will be countless players that reflect on what could have been without Taylor’s dominance – none more so than Mardle. Despite the self-deprecating nature of the Sky Sports expert, he was a regular feature in the latter stages of major tournaments, only to be thwarted by ‘The Power’.
Mardle reached his first major PDC final at the World Matchplay in 2003, before appearing in back-to-back Las Vegas Desert Classic finals in 2004 and 2005 – where he was denied by the 16-time world champion on all three occasions.
Prior to their epic showdown in the capital, Taylor had also accounted for Mardle in three of the last four World Championships – two of those defeats coming at the semi-final stage. His 6-5 reverse against the Stoke-on-Trent star in 2006 was a bitter pill to swallow, but this would be Mardle’s night.
There had been tangible signs of vulnerability in the Taylor armoury ahead of his tussle against the sport’s great entertainer. ‘The Power’ survived a match dart against Michael van Gerwen in round one, before edging past Mark Walsh and Alan Tabern in deciding sets to progress to the last eight.
Nevertheless, Mardle endured a nightmare start as Taylor romped into a three-set lead by winning nine of the opening ten legs. ‘The Power’ wasn’t at his blistering best but was still dominating proceedings, with Mardle’s solitary leg coming after Taylor had squandered five darts at double.
The Romford ace was very subdued by his usual exuberant standards, although a clinical 100 checkout in the opening leg of set four sparked a revival. He wrapped up the set without reply with legs of 11 and 15 darts to reduce the arrears to 3-1, which prompted the start of a famous fightback.
Taylor began to display the profligacy on the outer ring that plagued him earlier in the tournament and Mardle capitalised to draw first blood in the fifth. Despite an instant break back from the world number one, Mardle closed out the set 3-1, courtesy of a maximum and a 16-darter in leg four.
The Alexandra Palace faithful were daring to dream and roared on by a partisan support, Mardle improbably restored parity at three apiece in a tense sixth set decider, having spurned two set darts in the preceding leg.
The ninth seed had the advantage of throw in the sixth and utilised it to great effect, closing out three consecutive holds in 14, 13 and 14 darts respectively. Taylor piled on the pressure to leave tops after 12 darts in the decider, yet Mardle maintained his composure to draw level on tops.
Mardle was renowned for his camaraderie with the crowd – he has since admitted it was a method he adopted in a bid to alleviate tension, although despite toying with the Ally Pally spectators during the interval, you could sense his belief that he was on the cusp of history.
The underdog had the momentum, but it was Taylor who stopped the rot in a fiercely contested seventh set. For the second set in succession, all five legs went with throw and with Mardle poised on 110 in leg five, ‘The Power’ nailed a 66 finish on double 16 to regain the initiative.
The three-time major finalist was at the point of no return – familiar territory for many against the irrepressible Taylor, who broke throw early in the eighth set to move to the cusp of an astonishing 15th consecutive appearance in a World Championship semi-final.
Mardle battled back valiantly – a brace of 14-darters saw him wrestle back control of the set, which he duly sealed after a multitude of missed doubles from Taylor. As the great Sid Waddell famously referenced in commentary, Mardle ‘was bouncing like a kangaroo on a pogo stick.’
However, in keeping with the topsy-turvy nature of the contest, the pendulum continued to swing, as Mardle squandered SEVEN darts to break the Taylor throw in leg three of the final set.
This would have given ‘Hawaii 501’ the opportunity to throw for victory and considering the number of heartbreaking defeats he suffered at the hands of Taylor throughout his career, even his most ardent supporters could have been forgiven for fearing that history was set to repeat itself.
Mardle regained his poise to stay alive and force a tie-break situation and despite his playful demeanour, the tension was palpable as the next four legs all went with throw. The prospect of a sudden-death decider was looming large, until Mardle made his move.
The Dagenham-born star kicked off leg nine with his eighth maximum, before breaking throw on tops to move to within a leg of victory. Mardle grasped the opportunity, following up successive 140’s by pinning his favourite double 18 to triumph inside 13 darts.
The incredible outpouring of emotion that followed was almost as memorable as the contest itself, with Mardle reduced to tears at the magnitude of what he had achieved.
It was also an encounter littered with unprecedented consequences. It was the first time Taylor had failed to reach a PDC World Championship semi-final since the tournament’s inception in 1994, and the first time that Mardle had registered a televised win over the 16-time world champion.
Having lost out in four previous World Championship semi-finals, there appeared to be a general consensus that this would be Mardle’s title, although this didn’t materialise as he suffered a 6-4 defeat to debutant Kirk Shepherd in the last four.
Nevertheless, that should not detract from one of Mardle’s greatest ever victories. Taylor had inflicted considerable mental scarring on so many of his contemporaries, but ‘Hawaii 501’ refused to succumb on this occasion.
Mardle defied the odds and displayed character in abundance. The sporting showman had a special bond with the darting public and you felt Mardle’s unbridled joy was shared by the vast majority of the Ally Pally crowd – who even a decade on – reminisce on a pulsating showdown with great fondness.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC