So Michael van Gerwen proved once again why he is the best player on the planet with a brilliant comeback win to claim his 21st European Tour crown. But what else stood out from the opening tournament of the 2018 European campaign?
Return of The Machine
Firstly, after signs of improvements in the last few weeks, I think it’s safe to say that James Wade is back.
After struggling for the majority of 2017 and thus having to qualify for this event, he reminded us why he is one of the most successful players in PDC history with some very impressive victories. After dispatching former World Champions Steve Beaton and Jelle Klaasen, ‘The Machine’ upped the ante in a pulsating match with in-form Premier League player Michael Smith.
His average of 105.59 was his first over the magic tonne mark in a televised ranking event since a group stage fixture in the Grand Slam of Darts back in November 2016. Wade would go on to reach the final of that event.
Only a stunning performance in the Semi-Finals from defending champion Peter Wright – including an incredible 170 checkout to break throw in the 6th leg – could derail the world no.9.
As one of only two men to have qualified for all of the first four European events of the season, Wade will have plenty of opportunities to cap his upturn in form with a return to the winner’s circle in the coming months. Indeed his last ranking tournament victory was in Europe, at the 2016 European Matchplay in Hamburg.
Snakebite still has venom
Wright himself proved to everybody that class is permanent and he has it in spades. His recent struggles in the Premier League looked to have dented his confidence, none more so than on Thursday night when he failed to give Raymond van Barneveld a game in Glasgow.
Fast forward three days, and he found himself 5-1 ahead in the Leverkusen Final, having produced some clinical finishing to take out Wade in the previous round. Wright has seemed very much at home on the European circuit over the past twelve months, and only the phenomenal van Gerwen has won more than his six titles since the Tour began in 2012.
He now has two remaining chances to drag himself out of the relegation zone before Premier League judgment night in Liverpool on April 5th. Anything like a repeat of his performances over the weekend gives him a great chance to do so.
Performance of the tournament?
World Champion Rob Cross’ 6-1 second round demolition of Adrian Lewis. ‘Voltage’ was ruthless against the struggling Lewis – a huge 16 point gap in the averages (107.44 – 91.03) serving as a big reminder of the pairs respective career trajectories over the past twelve months.
Unfortunately for Cross he then fell victim of the upset of the tournament – dumped out in the very next round in the last leg decider by qualifier Richard North.
Both men are 27 years of age, and both gained their tour card status at the same time last season. But while Cross has since reached unprecedented heights for a rookie in their debut year, this was arguably former bricklayer North’s biggest victory since turning professional.
North then scrambled past Dutch left-hander Ron Meulenkamp in a nervy, error-strewn Quarter-Final to set up his first European Tour Semi-Final against van Gerwen. Despite being blown away by the unstoppable ‘Green Machine’, North should take great confidence from a fine weekend’s work. The £6000 prize money is a welcome boost to a player who has quietly risen into the top 50 in the Order of Merit. Could he make a push towards the World’s top 32?
Sadly the fantastic home crowd were not rewarded with a deep run in the tournament from one of their natives.
None made it past the second round, but there are certainly encouraging signs of progress. While Max Hopp once again failed to perform, last year’s BDO World Masters semi-finalist Gabriel Clemens averaged just shy of a tonne in his first game and has made a promising start to his PDC career.
After successfully transitioning to the circuit in January with a victory on the final day of Q-School, Clemens has already reached a Pro Tour quarter-final at only his 4th attempt. Hopp meanwhile is under huge pressure to defend his prize money, and continued progress from the 34-year-old could see him challenge the youngster for the mantle of German number 1 by the end of the year.
European Darts Open Results
|Michael van Gerwen||6 V 1||Simon Whitlock|
|Richard North||6 V 2||Ron Meulenkamp|
|Peter Wright||6 V 3||Joe Cullen|
|James Wade||6 V 4||Mervyn King|
|Michael van Gerwen||7 V 1||Richard North|
|Peter Wright||7 V 4||James Wade|
|Michael van Gerwen||8 V 7||Peter Wright|