Danny Noppert stunned Michael Smith with an 11-10 victory in a dramatic UK Open final to win his first televised title at Butlin’s Minehead Resort on Sunday evening.
The former BDO World Championship finalist followed up victories over Damon Heta and William O’Connor by denying ‘Bully Boy’ in a nerve-jangling decider to become the fourth Dutchman to lift the coveted crown.
‘The Freeze’ averaged a modest 84.82 in Sunday’s showpiece, but after surviving a match dart in the penultimate leg, Noppert sealed the deal with a 13-darter to inflict an eighth consecutive defeat on Smith in major finals.
The St Helen’s star was an emphatic pre-match favourite to land his elusive first major, and after storming into an early 3-0 lead, he appeared poised to fulfil his darting destiny.
There were no signs of early nerves for Smith, who drew first blood with a two-dart 62 kill for a 14-dart hold, before a classy 124 combination for a 12-darter stretched his lead.
Noppert opened his account with a clinical 114 kill in leg four, which sparked a remarkable sequence of five consecutive breaks, until ‘The Freeze’ stopped the rot with a 17-dart hold to restore parity at five apiece.
The pendulum continued to shift after the second interval. Smith landed a third maximum en route to regaining the lead, only for Noppert to seize the initiative with back-to-back legs, with ‘Bully Boy’ squandering five darts at double during this period.
The two-time world finalist responded magnificently, converting clutch 80 and 97 finishes in consecutive legs to restore his slender cushion, yet Noppert was undeterred, levelling up proceedings at 9-9, despite spurning four darts to break in leg 17.
The tension was tangible at the Butlin’s Minehead Resort, although Smith moved to the cusp of victory with a tidy two-dart 68 combination for a 10-9 advantage. Nevertheless, the drama wasn’t over.
Noppert defied a smattering of jeers from the partisan crowd to force a last-leg shootout after Smith missed a match dart at bull for a 124 clincher, and he ultimately paid the price, as the Dutchman crashed in a fifth 180 to secure the initiative, before nailing tops to wrap up a famous win inside 13 darts.
“I am over the moon, this is a special moment for me,” reflected Noppert. “I can’t believe it; I have said before I want to lift a trophy but I never thought it would be at such a big tournament like the UK Open.
“It was a hard game at the end of a long day, we both wanted to lift this trophy so much and neither of us played like we can. I think I can take big steps forward in my career now.”
The performance was anything but spectacular, but Noppert deserves great credit for the character and composure he displayed following a tumultuous period in his personal life.
The 31-year-old, who became a father for the first time in February, climbs to a career high of 12th on the PDC Order of Merit after scooping the £100,000 top prize.
The Dutchman demolished his compatriot Dirk van Duijvenbode to reach the last eight on Saturday evening, and he recorded another resounding victory over Heta in the quarter-finals.
‘The Heat’ claimed the scalps of Michael van Gerwen and Jonny Clayton to become the new Australian No 1 on Saturday, yet he was unable to replicate that display against the former BDO world finalist, who averaged 95.88 to cap off a convincing 10-5 success.
Noppert’s semi-final tie against William O’Connor was a more attritional affair, as he fought back from 5-1 adrift to secure a place in his second televised PDC final, having succumbed to Van Gerwen in the 2019 World Series Finals in Amsterdam.
O’Connor overcame Development Tour star Sebastian Bialecki in a dramatic deciding-leg tussle to book his spot in the semi-finals, but the former World Cup finalist was left to rue surrendering a four-leg lead against Noppert, who completed the comeback with back-to-back 15-darters in the closing stages.
Smith was imperious for large periods of the weekend, but he was inevitably dejected after suffering defeat in an eighth televised final during a four-year period.
“I was trying too hard to win, fair play to Danny,” said Smith. “It’s yet another final loss, it’s very hard to take. I can only blame myself, my doubles were awful and my scoring was bad.”
Smith’s bid for a maiden televised title began with a quarter-final clash against world No 1 Gerwyn Price, and having accounted for ‘The Iceman’ at the same stage of the recent World Championship, the St Helen’s star repeated the feat in another absorbing encounter.
Price established a commanding 6-3 cushion as he sought to retain his world No 1 status, but the Welshman was punished for a spate of missed opportunities on the outer ring, as Smith won seven of the final eight legs to prevail with a 98.3 average, seven 180s and three ton-plus finishes.
Smith’s stirring fightback ended Price’s 14-month reign as world No 1, with world champion Peter Wright becoming the 11th player in PDC history to achieve that particular accolade.
This set-up a semi-final showdown against Irish teenager Keane Barry, who produced the performance of his fledgling career to dump out defending champion James Wade earlier in the afternoon.
The 19-year-old lived up to his ‘Dynamite’ nickname to dispatch the ten-time major winner 10-4, averaging 100.19, posting two 180s, converting 59% of his attempts at double and registering two ton-plus checkouts.
Barry appeared poised to write another chapter in his UK Open story after racing into a 6-2 lead against Smith, only for the World Championship runner-up to rally emphatically.
The 32-year-old reeled off nine consecutive legs to seal his spot in Sunday’s showpiece, averaging 101.66, firing in seven maximums and conjuring up three 100+ finishes, including a magical 170 outshot in the opening exchanges.
It was almost the perfect weekend for Smith, who landed his second televised nine-darter on Saturday and moved up to fourth on the Order of Merit at the expense of Van Gerwen, courtesy of the £40,000 runner-up prize, but his wait for a first major PDC crown continues.
Image Credit: Taylor Lanning/PDC
2022 Cazoo UK Open
Schedule of Play
Sunday March 6
Keane Barry 10-4 James Wade
William O’Connor 10-9 Sebastian Bialecki
Danny Noppert 10-5 Damon Heta
Michael Smith 10-7 Gerwyn Price
Michael Smith 11-6 Keane Barry
Danny Noppert 11-9 William O’Connor
Danny Noppert 11-10 Michael Smith