Michael van Gerwen and Michael Smith will contest the 2023 PDC World Championship final on Tuesday evening, after the pair made it through their respective semi-finals with relative ease.
Smith had by far the toughest task of the two in his clash with Gabriel Clemens. The first set offered an opening for the history-making German thrower when, at 2-2, Smith went 6 darts without a big treble, but ‘Bully Boy’ was saved by a 140 and then a 106 out.
The match could have slipped away from Clemens much earlier than it did when, in the next set, Smith went 2-0 up and was averaging 116. But missed opportunities at 2-1 up for the set afforded Clemens the opportunity to level proceedings, which he did accordingly.
Now at 1-1, the third set too went to a decider, with Smith holding on to take the set. The pair remained inseparable with the next set following throw. An impressive ‘German Giant’ was 45% on his doubles and the match at this point had every marker of a close one.
It was in the next stanza that the pendulum started to swing in favour of the St Helens man. Smith raced to 2-0 ahead before following in a maximum, taking the set comfortably in 40 darts.
With Smith now 3-2 ahead, the next set again went to a deciding leg. An all important bullseye for 83 out sealed it for Smith, an important dart in the match’s progression as he now extended his lead to 2 sets.
Smith was soon 2 legs up on Clemens in the seventh set, but a break back on 86 for the German settled him down. The set however proved a familiar story: deciding leg and a Smith victory.
With the Englishman now 1 away, a crucial break in the third leg of the set put him within touching distance, before he completed victory on throw in the next leg.
It was far from an embarrassing loss for Clemens, who in making the last 4 had surprised and pleased many. His success is a momentous step in the growth of the game in Germany, where it has long been promoted by the PDC now to great avail.
For Smith, barring a troubled early few sets, it was all rather routine and he will be glad to have once again been able to sit in second gear ahead of the final.
The second semi-final of the evening was a much different story, as Michael van Gerwen cruised to a 6-0 drubbing of Dimitri van den Bergh.
Similarly to the opening semi-final, the first sequences of the match gave all the indications it would be a tight one. Van den Bergh broke in the third leg of the match with an impressive 170 but never got a dart for the set, with van Gerwen cleaning up on 49.
And soon enough, in just 11 darts, MvG had snuffed out the set and put paid to DVdB’s hopes of taking the lead. It was a sliding doors moment for a match which soon fell out of the Belgian’s grasp.
After a litany of opportunities in the opening leg of the second set, he failed to level and MvG doubled his lead. Set 3 took just 35 darts and little more than a blink of the eyes for the Green Machine and three-times former champion to reach the halfway mark.
The fourth set proved van den Bergh’s last hope of getting into the semi-final. It went to a deciding leg after the Belgian wrestled the set back into in his hands from 2-1 down. Two darts for the set came and went, and when the next set began, the Alexandra Palace crowd was now only expectant of an MvG runaway.
And it was once again little more than a gasp of breath before the next 6 legs had disappeared. It was the Dutchman at his imperious and untouchable best, a glimpse back in time to the man who coasted to this crown in 2014, 2017 and 2019.
As the last double 20 hit the segment to seal the whitewash, it felt as if van Gerwen had never looked so likely to become a world champion since he defeated Smith on the Ally Pally stage four years ago.
Since then, he has suffered defeat to Peter Wright in a nerve-jangling final, faced the ignominy of being whitewashed himself by Dave Chisnall and then been forced to withdraw from the event as a result of a positive Covid test.
They are three grievances which will no doubt be running through the Dutchman’s head when he lines up to face Smith this evening, but the man he faces tonight is a different one to that of four years ago.
Since then, he has of course ended his PDC major hoodoo, but more than that has become a top-tier darts player touted as a favourite for any event he enters.
He has the experience of more finals behind him, including a further PDC world final last year against Peter Wright. The only concern for Smith will be being subject to the Green Machine at his unstoppable best.
In last year’s final, not that he will need reminding, he was 5-4 and 2-0 up before Wright breezed through 9 of the next 10 legs never winning a leg in over 15 darts.
If Smith faces such an unceasing barrage this time around, he may well find himself on the losing side again. But there is reason to think it is a changed Smith, and perhaps most importantly a more relaxed one now he is a major champion.
It could be a final which delivers, but hardly for the first time in his remarkable career, it will be entirely dependent on the levels Michael van Gerwen produces. More misses and Smith has routes into the match. Ruthless, and it will be hard to prise the trophy from his hands.
The final begins at 8pm GMT