Thursday December 30th 2021
Darts World Cup in the Corona crisis
“That would have been a worthy World Cup final”
From Kevin Schulte
While several corona cases overshadow the Darts World Cup in London, two co-favorites in the round of 16 ensure the sporting highlight of the tournament so far. Michael Smith may challenge the defending champion after defeating Jonny Clayton.
Michael Smith has been said to have the greatest natural talent of all current darts professionals for years. But with a big title it has not yet worked out in the career of the 31-year-old. As the only player from the top ten in the world rankings, Smith is still waiting for the first big trophy. After his strong performance in an already memorable World Cup round of 16 against Jonny Clayton on Wednesday evening, this fact is even more surprising than it already is.
Clayton, who won four major tournaments in 2021 and entered the game as a slight favorite, got off to a great start. After a few minutes, a 2-0 lead is on the scoreboard in London’s Alexandra Palace. Clayton presents himself as uncompromising as usual at the beginning of the game. The 47-year-old, who still earns his bread in “normal life” as a plasterer on Welsh construction sites, impresses with brutal high scoring paired with a stable double quota.
But because Clayton slacks off a My after the second interruption, Smith can equalize the game. Sentences three and four go to the Englishman because he is always there at the right moment. In the fifth set, Smith uses his momentum. The 2019 World Cup finalist even wins a leg in which his opponent throws the high score of 180 points twice in a row. Smith grabs the third set in a row, leads 3-2.
Decision in the extension
Clayton has his back to the wall, but braces himself against the impending defeat with brutal scoring power and high finishes. The 161-point checkout shows Smith that he still has a lot to do to win. A few minutes later, the sentence is on the Welshman’s side. 3: 3. A decision sentence is needed.
Clayton wins the first leg and has the 2-0 he believed in before his eyes, when, at this crucial moment, his nerves fail when he is thrown on the doubles field. Nicknamed the “ferret”, the Welshman missed five chances. Smith grabs. And turns the game again when he makes 112 points for a 2-1 lead in the decisive set. Because Clayton checked the next leg with a high finish, the game went into overtime. From now on it takes two legs to win to win.
Clayton advanced, Smith equalized, Clayton advanced, Smith equalized. It is 4: 4 in the decision set when the Englishman makes the preliminary decision. With the last dart Smith brings 65 points to zero. 5: 4. Clayton is beaten and gets bogged down in arithmetic in the following leg, Smith puts the last dart back into the decisive double.
Smith’s nerves are unusually strong
“That would have been a worthy final, it was a great game,” said Smith after one of his best performances of all time. “Jonny is a great player, but I kept telling myself before the game that I had what it takes to beat anyone. I always believed in that.” Smith, who has shown nerves in stressful situations throughout his career, seems to have got his mental problems under control. “In the past I’ve wanted it too much. I won’t make that mistake this year. I’ll focus on my darts and see how far that attitude can take me,” continued Smith.
In the quarter-finals, the Englishman will face the next top Welsh player on New Year’s Day. The reigning world champion and world number one Gerwyn Price is his opponent because he won the first round of 16 on Wednesday evening 4-1 against the Dutchman Dirk van Duijvenbode. “I had the feeling that I should have won 4-0 to be honest,” said Price, who after a 0-1 set deficit, won the four following sets to zero. “That gives me a lot of confidence.” He’ll need it in the quarter-finals against Michael Smith.
Mega comeback of the ex-world champion
In the last third round match of the tournament, ex-world champion Gary Anderson prevailed against Ian White on Wednesday evening. After a 0: 3 deficit in the meantime, the Scot “survived” a match dart of his opponent when the score was 2: 3. Instead of going into double 20, White’s dart landed an inch too far to the left in double 5. “I wasn’t myself and I thought I was going home after I lost the first three sets. But neither did Ian played like that, “said Anderson, who meets Rob Cross in a duel between two ex-world champions on Thursday evening.
In addition to top players Anderson and 2020 world champion Peter Wright, Alan Soutar was a sensational third Scot made it to the last sixteen. The World Cup debutant prevailed against a surprisingly weak world number seven José de Sousa with 4: 3. Soutar, who is a firefighter by his main job and not only plays darts in his free time, but also trains guide dogs, will meet Callan Rydz in the round of 16, also a surprise at this World Cup. The 23-year-old Englishman survived the first few laps in a fast run and so far has not lost a single set.
Next corona case
Round 3 (World ranking in brackets)
7. José de Sousa 3-4 Alan Soutar (77)
(10) Nathan Aspinall 0-4 Callan Rydz (36)
(6) Gary Anderson 4-3 Ian White (27)
Round of 16
(1) Gerwyn Price 4-1 Dirk van Duijvenbode (17)
(8) Jonny Clayton 3-4 Michael Smith (9)
The tournament has long been overshadowed by the corona virus. A mostly maskless, but beefy audience in the 3000-seat “Ally Pally” had already raised questions at the beginning of the tournament in view of the Omikron variant. Darts legend Raymond van Barneveld was the first player to test positive for the virus just before Christmas. Since the tournament started again on December 27th, there has been at least one new corona case every day. Vincent van der Voort was hit on Monday, superstar Michael van Gerwen on Tuesday and Dave Chisnall on Wednesday. The trio was taken out of the running tournament, their opponents moved into the round of 16 without a fight.
Gerwyn Price then questioned the sporting value of the World Cup and thought out loud about a possible cancellation or interruption of the tournament. In the evening, Anderson joined the discussion. “Stop it, stop the tournament,” he asked the professional darts organization PDC.
A few minutes after the request, the next participant, Danny Noppert, who had already left, announced a positive test. So it has already caught 5 of the 96 World Cup starters, including four Dutchmen with van Barneveld, van der Voort, van Gerwen and Noppert. The incidence among participants in the Darts World Cup is therefore 5208.