Column #343 The 2009 World Championship – Semi Finals
Saturday, January 3, 2009
The 2009 World Championship – Semi Finals
There is a scene in David Nobbs’ Cupid’s Dart (Arrow Books, 2008) where Oxford philosophy professor Alan Calcutt happens upon the World Darts Championship on television. He’s recently hooked up with darts groupie, Angie Bedwell, half his age and is anticipating an upcoming date where together they will attend the event…
Then I discovered that the World Darts Championship was on the television, not just in little bits but almost the whole thing, on and on and on. And on and on and on. And on and on and on. I hadn’t even begun to realize how big an event it was. I thought I ought to watch a bit of it, so that I wouldn’t seem like a total idiot next week with Ange. So, between supervisions and lectures, there I was, in my rooms in the cloistered calm of the college, with the sound on fairly low so that nobody would know, watching this extraordinary happening.
It seemed to me the most boring activity that I had ever witnessed. I didn’t know how I could stand a week of it, even with Ange.
The commentators went from banality to absurdity to an enthusiasm which seemed to me at first to be totally false, to be a desperate attempt to breathe life into this deadly dull sport. ‘The nation is awash with darts fever.’ ‘There’s a global explosion in darts.’ ‘He comes from a town called Alpen, so he obviously likes his breakfast.’ ‘Northern Europe is on fire this week.’ That was the biggest come-back since Muffin the Mule.’ ‘The passion is tangible.’ ‘The crowd are braying for a result.’ ‘This is World Championship darts. This is the greatest pressure you can feel.’
But as the week wore on – not that I was watching all the time, of course – a far worse interpretation dawned on me.
They meant every word of it.
And indeed they do – because the Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) World Darts Championship is like no other event on the planet. Certainly it is nothing like the moribund “other” world championship just getting underway at Lakeside. I caught a bit of one of the early rounds just before leaving my hotel in Finchley and I am pretty sure the commentators are dead.
The press room is hopping here at the famous Alexandra Palace. They who make it happen are all here. Barry Hearn. Dick Allix. Tommy Cox. Matt Porter. John McDonald. Dave Allen. Sid Waddell. Erik Bristow. Russ Bray. Helen Chamberlain! Oh my…
PDC Chairman Hearn, an avid reader of Dartoid’s World (which suggests he’s not as smart as most people think he is), has been kind, and I was sort of surprised. I joked that I was concerned he might ban me from the tournament for comments I made in my last column. He assured me he runs a “democracy” but that he “reserves the right to cut off my bollocks.” So I must be very careful whilst I write the next couple of days.
I’ve been handed a copy of the Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) new magazine, 180. It will be published ten times annually and is a must-have, at least the first edition. Check out Helen Chamberlain’s photo on page 13 and the “Juicy” Lucy Alexandra spread on pages 22 and 23! Now I understand why the lads have flocked to the Palace for some many decades…
Waddell is predicting that thirteen-time world champion, Phil Taylor, will score a perfect 9-darter in the fourth set of the second semi-final match where he faces off against Mervyn King. Taylor dispatched Co Stompe in the quarters 5-0. King took out Barrie Bates 5-2. Waddell is also predicting (“hoping” would be more accurate) that the value of his home during the current global economic slump won’t drop as much as mine.
Tonight’s first match pits on-fire Raymond van Barneveld, who notched up the first perfect darter in world championship history just yesterday (perhaps serving notice to Taylor) with a 5-1 romp over his countryman Jelle Klassen, against world-ranked number three, James Wade, who slogged his way by Australian sensation Paul Nicholson 5-3.
The 2,500-seat capacity hall is filling up fast. People are dressed as SAUSAGES! The smoke machines are spewing. The music is pounding. Sirens are wailing. Cameras are flashing…
And James Wade is on stage!
And now, Raymond van Barneveld is on stage!
It’s the number two and number three players in the world about to go mano-a-mano.
And there’s the Nicola’s! LIVE. HOLY CRAP!
And now, here in the press room is Co Stompe. He’s getting a massage from some cute girl in a little white shirt. I don’t know why. He’s out of the tournament. I need a massage…
Wade breaks Barney straight away. But Barney breaks right back. Wade breaks back. Barney breaks back. The first four legs have all gone against the throw. And Barneveld takes the first set with a clean triple 16, double 8 finish. Neither player missed a double in the set. Whew.
I need a cup of coffee but all they have is tea in the press room. What’s the matter with this place!
The crowd is screaming. The sausages are sausaging. It’s pandemonium. And only one set has been played.
NOW John McDonald is getting a massage. I just don’t understand. But I guess its okay that they don’t have coffee, or beer. Not that they don’t in the hall – the spectators will drink more that 13,000 pints tonight and tomorrow, just as they have done on average since the tournament began on December 19.
NOW Dave Allen is getting a massage!
Okay, back to the darts. Wade is up 2-0 in the second set and both players have started the third leg with maximums. With Barney sitting on 40, Wade takes out tops first to win the set 3-0 and level the match at one all.
Barney takes the first leg of the third set but Wade, with two maximums and an 82-close levels the set. They now have TEN 180s between them in less than three sets! And now Wade breaks Barney with a double ten to go ahead 2-1 in the third set – and he has the throw! Wade pops in a 140 and Barney hits 95. Barney looks concerned, much as he did when Ronnie Baxter took him to the wall in the quarters. Wade is looking confident. With Barneveld sitting on sixty and missing badly, Wade takes out twenty to go up in sets 2-1.
Surely those who expected Wade’s sluggish performance so far in the tournament compared to Barneveld’s brilliance are having serious second thoughts!
The sausages are singing. I can’t understand the words. It doesn’t sound like America the Beautiful.
Barneveld breaks Wade in the first leg of the fourth set and then both players start the next leg with maximums. It’s maximum-mania here at Juicy Lucy’s Alexandra Palace! Barney misses double sixteen to go up 2-0 in the set and Wade nabs tops to tie things up.
ANOTHER 180 for Wade! ANOTHER 180 for Barneveld! And Wade finishes 61 to go up 2-1 in the set. ANOTHER 180 for Barney – now FIFTEEN for the duo in the match. Barneveld closes 16 to level the set at two-legs all. Wade has the throw and scores 140 – and Barney suffers the first bounce out of the night to score 80. Wade hits the SIXTEENTH 180 of the night, leaving 86 – but busts it! Barneveld, looking at 141, leaves 76. Wade busts 86 AGAIN and Barney finally finds the double, a gift from Wade, to even the match at two sets each. Wade must be shaken to have let an almost certain 3-1 set lead escape.
Break time! I must find the loo!
Break’s over. I found the loo – and it is unequivocally the nicest portable loo I have ever seen! Tea. Massage girls. Beautiful loos. The PDC does things right! Well, except for the tea. And the lack of beer in the press room.
HOLY CRAP! The massage girl is now massaging Matt Porter’s HEAD! Honest!
A missed double by Barney leaves Wade a shot at tops to tie up the fifth set at two each and Wade closes a shaky 38 (18, 10, double 5) to go ahead in sets 3-2. After one hour Barney is averaging 96.87 and Wade is at 96.57 and at nineteen maximums they have together thrown eighteen more than I have thrown in my life. Remarkably, Wade could very easily have been leading at this point 4-1.
With the throw, Wade scores 88. Barneveld hits a ton. And back and forth they go again. Double eight gives Wade the first leg. Barney knocks down 140, continues strong and finishes 24 leaving Wade looking at 140. At a leg a piece and again with the throw Wade starts with mortal 43 and Barney follows with an equally mortal 40. With Barney on 170, Wade finds the twentieth maximum of the match but Barneveld doesn’t finish the 170 – but Wade doesn’t close either – and Barney does, finishing 112 to edge ahead 2-1 in the sixth set. Barneveld misses double 18 to win the set but with Wade on 174 Barney has a second chance and, although he throws light and hits a single 18, finds the double 9 to even the match at three sets each.
It’s a cracker as they say in this here neck of the woods! A right frickin’ Graham cracker, mate! Entertainment of the highest order! The sausages are going out of their minds!
Time for another cup of tea…
In the seventh set one senses that Wade is wearing down a bit – as Barneveld quickly goes up 2-0, leaving Wade in his dust each leg. Barney is looking at 92 and Wade is back at 321 – and the Dutchman TAKES the set in a walk to go ahead 4-3 in the match. Wade’s average has dropped to 92.27 and Barney’s has edged up slightly to 97.02. There has definitely been a shift in momentum – where one felt, almost certain, that Wade tonight brought the darts he has not quite had for the past couple of weeks, the feeling now, at least among Wade fans, is one of worry. Barney is throwing strong. Wade has weakened. The question is: Will he come back strong after the break?
With the throw and after losing six legs on the trot and looking at Barney about to take a seventh, Wade ekes out the first leg of the eighth set. Wade finishes 82 (25, 17, tops) to go up 2-0 and, with the throw again, and despite an unfortunate bounce out, erases 25 to win the set 3-0 and suddenly level the match at four sets a piece – sending 2,500 sausages into a frenzy.
Barneveld holds his throw to go up 1-0 in the ninth set and smoothly breaks Wade to lurch ahead 2-0. A weak dart or two and an errant dart or two by Wade lets Barneveld coast to a whitewash in the ninth set – to forge ahead 5-4 in sets, just one set away from victory and his place in tomorrow’s final against the victor of the Taylor vs. King match to follow. It will be Wade with the throw after the break…
For me it’s back to the beautiful loo. There’s something about this tea…
It’s GAME ON for the tenth set and Barneveld, looking confident and throwing clinical, BREAKS Wade straight away. Wade just can’t seem to find the triple – the maximums that were once flowing like water have deserted him. Barney finishes 41 to pretty much slam the door on the match, forging ahead 2-0 in the set. Wade throws 43 and then 41, but Barney also throws relatively weak – but THEN, sitting on 271, Barneveld finds THREE triple nineteens to leave 100 and leaves no prisoners his next trip to the line. In just under two hours Raymond van Barneveld books his spot in the final.
Next up: Phil Taylor and Mervyn King! I don’t know if my little typing fingers can handle it. I think they need a massage. But there’s no time. Damn.
NO! WAIT! James Wade is here now. He looks disappointed. But WAIT AGAIN. Helen Chamberlain has shown up. Wade looks okay now. So does she!
The sausages are yelling, singing and dancing.
Alexandra Palace is reverberating from song and floating in suds.
It’s the un-calm before the match of the tournament, so far – the match pitting the greatest darts player in the world, of the decade, ever, against the only man standing between him and the match every darts fan in the world has anticipated for the past twelve months: Taylor vs. Barneveld. The Power vs. The Man!
They are on the stage. So are the Nicola’s again!
The crowd is crazed!
The Nicola’s are leaving the stage…
It’s GAME ON with King throwing first! And it’s KING who draws first blood, just barely, with a double one, after missing eight darts at double and after Taylor misses bull to finish 130 for the break. The Power evens the set with double four. It’s a slow start with neither player averaging over 85. But, suddenly, it picks up with Taylor finishing 131 to break King and edge ahead 2-1. Just as quickly Taylor coasts through the next leg to jump ahead 1-0 in sets, averaging 101.63 to King’s 79.21. King must pick up his game, and fast…
The sausages are going NUTS!
The people in the press room are typing away furiously. I must look over their shoulders to see what real journalists are writing about all this. I wonder if they have noticed the massage girl? They do seem to like the tea. Go figure.
The second set is even at a leg each. Taylor starts the third leg with a maximum and King lobs up 60. Taylor finds 140. King lobs up 60 more. Taylor struggles to close, wiring 32 and the 16 but eventually finds the mark to go up 2-1. In the fourth leg King starts with a ton but Taylor strikes 174, then 180, and misses the triple 20 for a shot at the second perfect game in two days – but cleans it up on his next trip to the line. At 2-1 in sets in just a matter of minutes and averaging just over 100 to King’s 79.91 Taylor is looking to make short order of things.
At the break I head to the loo again – for I think the twentieth time (as many times as Barneveld and Wade threw 180s) – and here’s BREAKING NEWS. I bumped into Mervyn King in the loo. He did not look pleased. But this is absolutely all I am going to reveal about details of this encounter.
Taylor strikes double 16 dead on to jump ahead in the third set. His average has risen to 104.65 and King’s is still under 80. In a blink Taylor zips ahead 2-0 in the set. King looks battle-weary and the battle has only begun. Looking at 80 and seemingly knowing he MUST take it out, King takes his time, misses – and Taylor finishes 32 to move ahead three sets to nil. Taylor edges his average up to 105.15.
King takes out double 12 to grab the first leg of the fourth set, starts the next leg with 123 – but Taylor follows with 140. Some weak darts from both players follow, with Taylor missing double seven to level the set – and King sneaks ahead 2-0 with double 16. Taylor finishes up 43 to take the third leg. King starts with a ton, Taylor follows with 121 – and back and forth they continue – until KING wipes out 112 to take the leg. After four sets Taylor holds a 3-1 set lead and a commanding 104.56 to 87.44 average advantage. But King is still alive.
And alive he remains – as King holds his throw to take the first leg of set five. Taylor levels in a flash, holding his own throw and nearly finishing 143. King starts the third leg with 140 as does Taylor. Weak darts follow from both players (giving my fingers a rest) before King strikes tops after some uncharacteristically sloppy Taylor darts, to edge ahead 2-1 in the set. Taylor promptly levels the set. King with the throw starts the final leg of the fifth set with 123 and follows with a maximum. Taylor hangs amazingly tough however and with King on 100, Taylor from 280 hits 180 to leave 100 of his own to steal the set – but MISSES his attempt at twenty and two tops. King takes care of business and at the break is within striking distance, down 3-2 after staring down the muzzle of a 3-0 deficit.
Apparently the advice helped that I gave him in the loo.
Undaunted, Taylor breaks King to start the sixth set, just misses a 144 finish and then cleans up double six to go ahead in the set 2-0. Taylor then powers through the next leg, leaving King on 148, to go ahead 4-2 in the match. King’s energy is noticeably ebbing at the same time it seems Taylor is stepping on the pedal. Taylor’s average is holding at almost 105. King’s is stuck below 90.
Against the throw Taylor takes the first leg of the seventh set with double 16. King’s frustration is becoming excruciating apparent. Tops gives Taylor an easy second leg. Taylor finds his sixth maximum in the third leg, follows it with 134, struggles to close, but finally strikes double 16 to finish off the set, leaving just one set between him and the final tomorrow and possibly his fourteen world title.
Powered by his seventh maximum of the match Taylor takes the first leg of the eighth set, finishing 101 and leaving King with over 200. King starts the second leg with his fourth 180 and follows it moments later with another, eventually taking the leg leaving Taylor looking at over 200 of his own. Taylor leads off the third leg with his eighth maximum. King follows with 140, and Taylor sets up 144 for a potential nine-darter with his next trip to the ache. King hits 180. Taylor just misses the second triple twenty required for a chance at the perfect game but still cleans things up with a spectacular ten-darter.
Moments later Taylor finishes off 57 to bring the sausages to their feet in one final singing and dancing frenzy – setting up the final tomorrow that so many have hoped for so long would come to pass.
It’s GAME ON at 7:15 p.m.
It’s going to be frickin’ wild!
FINAL NOTE: Any typographical errors in this column are Tommy Cox’s fault.
From the field,
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