In a dramatic final at London’s Alexandra Palace, Michael Smith defeated Michael van Gerwen to win the 2023 PDC World Championship and become the eleventh PDC World Champion.
It was a match which begun as it intended to go on, with pulsating scoring and breathlessly brilliant play from both. Smith took the opening leg but scrappy doubling denied him the opportunity to take the second. The third was crucially won by MvG to break, before he cleaned up on 84 to take the opening set.
Despite holding throw in the opening leg, the Dutchman soon found himself on the ropes. Smith fired in a leg of 11 darts. It was then that the match met its most electric moment. Two maximums from both left the Palace impatient and on tenterhooks. Perfection?
van Gerwen got the first bite: treble 20, treble 20, miss. It was not to be another historic leg from the number 3 seed who famously 10 years ago stole the world’s attention with his 17 perfect darts. So up Smith stepped: treble 20, treble 19 and double 12. A leg of gigantic and historic proportions which left Sky Sports’ Wayne Mardle and millions around the world speechless. And breathless. But on it must go.
After a much more measly 14 dart leg to seal the set, Smith was now level. The next was on throw for Bully Boy but perceptibly edgy. Smith was soon a break up though after holding the first leg, sneaking the second after MvG just missed the bullseye for a 130. MvG took the next leg but after missing a bullseye of his own for the big fish 170, Smith survived the pressure and capitalised on wayward doubling from MvG to take the set.
The next two sets was all rather comfortable for the Dutchman. It was exactly the sort of play which, if replicated later, would have seen him trouble the St Helens man much more. Nothing showy but entirely solid, including a phenomenal 168 score to set up double 16 and a 10 darter to go 2-2 at 2-2, followed by a steady 14 darter. It wasn’t to last though.
The match was now to turn on a sixpence. Now at 3-2 MvG, the Englishman took the opening leg before the Dutchman levelled in 12 darts. At that point, after the early drama, it did not look likely that the Dutchman would only win one further set. Smith went 2-1 up before winning the set after an atrocious leg from the three-times champion which featured three sub-60 visits.
With the match again level, the Dutchman raced to a 2-0 leg lead. Smith held throw before breaking back with a superb 130 out. A 14 dart leg followed to restore his lead. There was every sign that this was a Smith determined not to repeat past mistakes and titles squandered.
The subsequent set saw him start to gain ground on the Dutchman, taking it 3-1 and increasingly establishing breathing space between himself and the Dutchman. Doubts were beginning to creep in for an MvG who had won his quarter-final and semi-final with veritable ease and little response from either Chris Dobey or Dimitri van den Bergh. This was a new challenge.
The next set felt crucial and van Gerwen didn’t have enough. Not messing around, Smith took it to love, missing only two darts at double in the process. Now 6-3 up, he was in an even more commanding position than he had been against Peter Wright last January.
A consolation set for MvG was to follow. In the deciding leg, Smith did look nervy, but van Gerwen did equally not look likely to mount a sensational comeback. And thus came Michael S’s big moment.
So came another nip and tuck set which went to 2-2. It was nothing of the heart-racing stuff which the game had begun with but it was more than enough for Smith. And as match-winning sets go, it was pretty strong stuff. There was even the temptation of a second nine-darter in the last leg when Smith opened with two maxis, but an 11 darter and super sweet double 8 would do.
A new champion
2022 had been a rollercoaster ride for Michael Smith. There was the final heartbreak of the UK Open and European Championship and then the euphoria of the Grand Slam and righted wrongs.
To start 2023 with this coveted World Championship is a sign that the Smith that enters this New Year is a wholly different one. He has completed the sporting puzzle of how to hold your own in the biggest moments, just as Peter Wright and Michael van Gerwen notably have before him. He is a major champion, he is a world champion and crucially he is the world number 1.
For now, that will be all that matters. But it could well be the dawn of a new era. Smith has long been in the ‘conversation’, tipped as a champion. And Michael van Gerwen will still be talked up as the best, and a few further notches up in 2023 and we can expect more majors and perhaps a fourth world crown.
But Smith’s hope will be that he can be viewed in a similar light. Just as Price and Wright helped break MvG’s stranglehold on world darts, Michael Smith is there to keep him off it. He did say he wants to ‘take over’ the sport, after all. We have been warned.
Image courtesy of PDC