Column #CM12 PDC World Championship 2017 – Report #3

Sunday, December 25, 2016
Column CM12
Darts… and Darts

It was foggy when I ascended the steps to Alexandra Palace on my first “long” day of darts. The venue again looked almost fully booked but the press room was quite empty. That had been different during my previous visits, especially on days when players like Michael van Gerwen were to take the stage. This year it seems there are more Germans in the press room. I’ve already talked to journalists from Sportbild and the Süddeutsche and today Patrick and Kevin from a German darts forum turned up as well.

Before the afternoon session started the JDC final took place on stage. The winner of that final – sadly, without spectators and not in front of the TV cameras – was young Dutchman Maikel Verberk who defeated the winner of the JDC European Championship Jim Moston 4-0.

The World Championship day again begun with a Preliminary Round match between Masumi Chino from Japan and Tengku Sha from Malaysia. The Japanese appeared with a large contingent of supporters with flags, but from the beginning the very slim and tall Chino looked to be the weaker player, although he was cheered loudly by the crowd. In the first set it appeared neither of the players really wanted to win until Chino finally hit the double. But in the other two sets it was “clear advantage” for Sha, who this year won one of the World soft-dart tournaments. Sha was victorious and will meet Benito van de Pas in the last match of the afternoon. Should van de Pas have one of his weaker days Sha could have a chance. You can see more recently that the so-called “exotics” are starting to have an impact and are no longer just cannon fodder.

Next on stage were Terry Jenkins and Josh Payne. For Payne it was his debut at the Alexandra Palace although it didn’t look like it. He did very well to keep up in the first set, which he won after both players missed several doubles. But one could see as well that Jenkins is a cool customer even when not all goes according to plan. High sores by his opponents don’t rattle him – he just goes on playing his own game. Nevertheless, in the fourth set Payne almost managed to level when Jenkins couldn’t hit his double. But probably his nerves let him down and Jenkins won the match 3-1.

In the third match between John Henderson and Andrew Gilding two heavyweights came on stage. You didn’t hear much of either player this year and they seemed to be quite evenly matched. Henderson first had a slightly better average and a slightly better percentage on the doubles but all was pretty close. As always, Gilding’s strange throwing action fascinated me – he first poses himself sideways, takes a deep breath, sometimes he bops, and then he turns his upper body so he faces the board. And of course he stands far left at the oche – really unusual. Of all things this was the first match of the tournament which was decided in a sudden death leg. But it was far from compelling as both players seemed to lack stage presence and spirit.

In the end, Gilding won and together with him the first spectators left the hall as well – and therefore missed the last match of the afternoon-session. Benito van de Pas really had some problems with Malaysian Tengku Sha. It looked like Sha had no nerves at all, while van de Pas, as he admitted after the match, had been very, very nervous – as he felt people expected he would win the match despite a young, not real experienced player who is still learning the ropes. He had to fight as well because the match between Gilding and Henderson took such a long time. In the end, the young Dutchman was quite glad he could depend on his doubles which helped him to win the match 3-1. But you can’t say his opponent looked unhappy when he left the stage – he had played two solid matches during his first PDC World Championship and could go home with his head held high.

Due to the overtime of the Gilding/Henderson match the break between the two sessions was rather short. The evening session begun with another Preliminary Round match. Of course, we saw Sha, but also Canadian Ross Snook – whose match was, until now, the weakest of the Preliminary Round matches. Snook just had a rather bad day at the oche. I think he’s a much better player (otherwise to be sure he wouldn’t have beaten all the big names in the North American qualifier). Snook managed to improve a little bit in the second set but Kim Viljanen stayed the stronger player and now will play in the last match of the evening against Michael van Gerwen. Based on how I have seen Viljanen play over the years he’ll have no chance.

In the second match of the evening another dancer, Dimitri van den Bergh, came on stage and he at first dominated the match against Cristo Reyes. But after van den Bergh won the first set Reyes got stronger and stronger. Van den Bergh put up as much resistance as possible and levelled 2-2. In the deciding set the two remained head-to-head throughout, but in the end van den Bergh lost 2-3. It looked like he was close to tears.

The third match almost ended in another sudden death leg but somehow in the end Darren Webster managed to take the two clear legs he needed for the win over Stephen Bunting. It definitely was a thrilling match, even more thrilling than the one before. And in all it was a deserved win – Webster had the higher average, he hit his doubles better, and he threw more 180s then Bunting. Although one couldn’t call it an upset it was at least a surprise and Bunting will slide down the rankings even more. He really can’t say 2016 was a great year for him.

You can’t say much about the last match of the evening – Michael van Gerwen played a high-class match which he won 3-0 with the, so far, highest average of the tournament. In this case the Preliminary Round winner really was only cannon fodder.

The fog had lifted a little bit when I left the venue. In its place the police had appeared. I am not quite sure what had happened and I didn’t bother to ask but several drunken dart fans where in the middle of the street and all the traffic had been stopped. I’ve attended the World Championship since 2008 but this was the first time I saw a police action…

And that of all things when the Dutch minister of health and the Dutch ambassador had come to the Alexandra Palace to support Michael van Gerwen and Benito van de Pas.

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Charis Mutschler
The founder of Global Darts, darts journalist Charis Mutschler hails from Marbach, near Stuttgart, Germany. A regular at most major PDC tournaments, a lover of literature, dance and music and cats, Charis' popular writings about darts and its players often transcend the usual. She brings something unique to the chroniclers of the sport we all love.