World Darts Championship 2016 review: Darts the true winner as sport basks in spotlight

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Gary Anderson powers into the final. Photo: Peter Cziborra/Reuters

It was a single dart. A moment when a piece of tungsten was delivered with utter precision into the narrow red double 12 bed. Gary Anderson’s nine-dart finish in his semi-final romp over Jelle Klaasen was utter perfection, a moment that put the cherry on what has been the most remarkably brilliant World Championships.

This was the defending champion at the very top of his game. Throwing with a wealth of confidence and the swagger of a man who knew he had perfection at his fingertips. To throw nine perfect darts is a rare, yet wonderful achievement. To throw a dart into such small beds from 7ft 9.25in, nine times in a row with unerring accuracy is the Holy Grail of darts players both professional and amateur across the world. Anderson’s crowd-pleasing moment was all that was missing from what has to be the best World Championships we have ever seen.

It really has had it all. Virtually every match seems to have gone down to the wire, we’re all set for a record-breaking number of 180’s in the tournament and the thousands of fans who have packed into the Alexandra Palace since the 17th December have enjoyed every single second of the sporting drama.

The tone for this years showpiece event was set in the first round, on the second night. German qualifier Rene Eidams wasn’t given a prayer against the nigh-unbeatable world number one Michael van Gerwen and went two sets down in the blink of an eye. But back he came, forcing the match into a tiebreak situation at 2-2 in the fifth set before Van Gerwen eventually triumphed.

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World number one Michael van Gerwen edges past German qualifier Eidams. Photo: Peter Cziborra/ Reuters

While Van Gerwen survived, other big names fell. World number 12 Kim Huybrechts, number 10 Simon Whitlock, number nine Ian White and number six Robert Thornton were all dumped out at the first hurdle. The upsets would continue but the high standard of darts was also evident from the early stages. Klaasen posted a 102.54 average in his opening win over Joe Cullen, while Rowby-John Rodriguez achieved the maximum 170 checkout.

Van Gerwen’s second-round demolition of Darren Webster made every other player take note. The Dutchman posted the fourth-highest average ever in the World Championships with 109.23 on his way to a 4-0 whitewash. On the same night, Raymond van Barneveld came from behind to defeat Steven Bunting to set up the match of the tournament.

And it was the man who would be king Van Gerwen who would fall 4-3 to his compatriot in a drama-filled shock at Ally Pally. Averages of 104 from both men, the ebb and flow of a pulsating contest and the return to form of five-time World Champ Van Barneveld had the watching public gripped and demonstrated the ever-growing power of the sport.

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Raymond van Barneveld finds his top game to edge Van Gerwen. Photo: Charlie Crowhurst

The fall of the dominant Van Gerwen opened the door for the big-hitters, all of whom suddenly believed it was their time to shine. All eyes turned to the greatest player of all time, 16-time world champion Phil Taylor, who had stumbled through the first two rounds as his form continued to elude him. That form returned to a point in the last 16, but Taylor ran in to an inspired Klaasen and in a blaze of 180’s from the Dutchman and missed doubles from Taylor, The Power departed with a whimper and questions about his future in the sport continue to come.

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Taylor’s bid for a 17th World Championship title ends in disappointment. Photo: Lawrence Lustig

World number four Peter Wright looked dead and buried against Dave Chisnall but rallied to win while Anderson and two-time champ Adrian Lewis breezed into the quarter-finals, Lewis yet to drop a set in the tournament.

Into the last eight, Klaasen edged Ally Pally debutant Alan Norris 5-4 in an epic clash, Anderson dismissed multiple major winner James Wade without breaking sweat, Lewis thrashed an out-of-sorts Wright and Van Barneveld became involved in another classic. After going 3-0 down to young talent Michael Smith, the Dutchman powered back to lead 4-3 but the Englishman showed resolve to set up a match-winning dart – a dart he would agonisingly miss as Barney progressed.

Saturday night’s semi-finals promised much but ended up as one-sided contests. Lewis raced into a 5-0 lead over a below par Barney despite missing a fistful of darts at double. The Dutchman came roaring back and the most unlikely of fightbacks seemed on but he had left too much to do as Lewis stumbled over the finish line. The second semi was over in the blink of an eye and Anderson showed the form that clinched him the crown 12 months ago. The nine-darter was backed up by consistent power scoring and deadly doubling as he stormed into the final with a 6-0 win.

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Two-time champion Adrian Lewis back in the World Championship final. Photo: Reuters

Anderson will enter as favourite to win back-to-back titles, just as his opponent Lewis did back in 2011 and 2012. But Lewis has never lost a World Championship final and if he can find his best form, we could be in for another classic.

Whoever lifts the Sid Waddell trophy, darts has been the true winner and the iconic Geordie commentator after whom the trophy is named would be looking down on the spectacle and is surely (in his own words) ‘as happy as a hound dog who’s won a years supply of Boneo’.

For this has been an utter joy of a tournament. Pure sporting theatre from start to finish enjoyed by thousands of everyday people all of whom have entered into the fun that a night at the darts entails. Few other sports would allow you to see Niall Horan, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Jack Whitehall hanging around with a pint of beer in hand! In which other sport can you dress up as The Flintstones, drink your own bodyweight in ale and watch two portly protagonists sling pieces of metal at a wall in the name of competition?

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The crowd at Alexandra Palace enjoying a night at the darts. Photo: PA

Darts is a sport that has exploded over the last 10-15 years and is now a spectacle that grips audiences both in huge arenas and live on TV all year round. It’s appeal lies in its simplicity and its accessibility. This is a sport anyone can play. We can all go down to the local pub or strap a board to the back of the office door and have a go. Natural talent helps but it’s not a pre-requisite.

Anderson and Lewis are the cream that has risen to the top in an extraordinary display of talent and drama. Whoever wins will be a worthy champion. But the sport is the true victor and, with its blend of tense tungsten tussles and the joy it brings spectators, will continue to go from strength to strength. When the Premier League starts its tour around the country in February, the biggest arenas in the land will be packed to the rafters for a sport that has gone from the periphery of public consciousness onto the top table of the sporting map. Long may that continue.

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