Our darts journalist Tom Beresford had an in-depth chat with number one Brazilian darts star Diogo Portela, discussing the rise in his young career.
The 28-year old has been in red-hot form over the last eight months, after starting on the PDC challenge tour last year and made a quarter-final appearance – showing that he can mix it with the best!
Portela had to make a big step in moving the UK to pursue a darts career, and so far, it all seems to have been worthwhile. He became the first ever Brazilian to qualify for a TV (live-stream) event, as he qualified for the German Darts Championship in Hildesheim in March; just to get there he had to see off some great names including former PDC Worlds finalist Andy Hamilton (6-2), Simon Preston (6-2) and finally he enjoyed a 6-4 win over Justin Pipe to qualify.
In the main event in Hildesheim, Portela had some terrific support from the German crowd, despite his opponent being a home favourite in Martin Schindler. Diogo had some terrific support from his friends and family too as his wife Ariana, his brother and friends added some Brazilian samba to the auditorium. It was an especially emotional trip to Germany for the 28-year old too, as his father travelled 11 hours to surprise Portela to come and support his talented son on his European Tour debut.
Portela’s maiden effort ended up being a roaring success; the atmosphere was electric, which spurred on the Brazilian as he cruised to a 6-3 victory.
Thanks for joining me Diogo; firstly, how did it feel playing in the German Darts Championship in Hildesheim and getting a win on your debut?
“It’s my pleasure Tom. To be honest with you, I am a very lucky player and have won most of my debut matches in darts, but this was the biggest and most special so far. It was my first match in a TV tournament, in front of 2,500 people playing against a local player, and the crowd cheering my name special. On top of that I had my dad and wife along which made it even more special.”
How did it feel having all your family in the crowd supporting you and adding some Brazilian samba-style to the atmosphere?
“My Dad surprised me when I got to the airport to fly to Germany as he was there waiting for me. He had flown 11 hours from Brazil during the night just to watch me play. All of my family knew he was coming except me. Having him and my wife behind me was very special, and in all of the critical moments in the match, I had my eyes on them and they gave me the motivation I needed to keep going. In the second match, my brother and sister-in-law came along to support me. And the samba… I would say the crowd loved it.”
You have recently been practising with James Wade, is that a partnership that has been formed since the One Hundred and Eighty game show?
“We have been in touch since then, yes, but we had never practised before. The invitation from James and Samantha came when I went to my first Players Championship this year, since then we have been practising once a week (and I love it).”
You had a great run at Qualifying School in January, which means that you can enter some of the Pro Tour events. How have they been for you?
“This year I’ve been given the greatest opportunity I could get. To play some of the biggest names in the sport and have them around in the same room is something I am getting used to now, and the best thing is that I am not ‘wasting’ one year of the Tour Card, if you know what I mean. I hope I can make the most of it so I will be ready from ‘day one’ next year to fight for my position in the top 64 in case I get my Tour Card.”
Do you still play many of the local competitions in the London area?
“Yes, I always try to play in as many competitions as I can. Of course, I balance a little bit more with my personal life and work, otherwise I would be away all weekends. But local competitions are the best ones to get match practice. I also, when needed, play London super league and County. However, it will be my last season for a while due to PDC commitments.”
Have you set any targets/ambitions for 2017?
“I have learned from my past mistakes and now I don’t set targets. It’s like putting a ton on your back, and if you make it, it doesn’t feel special. It feels nothing more than a job you had to do. However, if you don’t make it, you can be very disappointed – and you know how it goes in darts, if you are not fit mentally you can never reach your best. After Q-School I said to myself that if I made a TV tournament I would be really happy, and it has happened already so I am really happy. I know there’s a lot of darts left to play this year and I am looking for a spot in the World Cup of Darts in June, then more TV tournaments and the World Championship at the end of the year. But it’s not a target. What happens will happen and it all counts as experience.”
Can you tell the difference between the Challenge Tour and the main tour?
“Both are really hard. I think the top players on the Challenge Tour can easily do well in the main tour. Guys like Rob Cross, Ryan Searle and Chris Quantock did really well last year in the Challenge Tour and proved that they can mix with the best on the main tour. I never considered myself as a top player in the Challenge Tour but I am doing okay on the main tour. My time will come.”
Will there been any more Brazilian darts players coming to the PDC in the near future?
“Yes. That is my plan. I’ve got massive plans for darts in Brazil in a long-term investment, but for the short-term I can say that my brother lives in London and is playing on the Development Tour. He can still play the Development Tour in 2018, and then try Q-School in 2019 I would say. He is my bet for the next couple of years. (A Brazil Team in the World Cup with him would be lovely).”
What was your inspiration to start playing darts?
“It’s a long story. My dad used to play darts and he has always been one of the top 5 Brazilian players. But I never had time with him because he and my mother split up when I was 2 and moved to a city 320 miles away from Rio de Janeiro. When I was 15, I realised I could spend more time with him if I played darts, so I started following him on the Brazilian circuit. I’m glad I did because nowadays we are more than father and son, we are best friends. On the other hand, I became good and decided to try my luck here in the UK and had to move away from him after all that hard work. But I am enjoying it now.”
We all know you have been visiting the Darts Performance Centre (DPC) to improve and sharpen up your throw, tell us a little more about them?
“The Darts Performance Centre has been my rock when it comes to darts. When I moved to London, one of my first competitions was the New Forest Masters, when I met Paul Gillings (DPC founder), who offered me a sponsorship. Last year I had a terrible result at Q-School and I completely lost my mind, including considering quitting darts and going back to Brazil. But I had a chat with Paul and he invited me to his shop. We filmed my throw, stance and position on the oche, and pointed me towards the main issues to fix. Then I came back 3 months later to do a follow-up after a lot of hard work to fix everything. The difference was clear! Also we started working on my own darts to make it feel more natural and with the right grip for me. Now it is a routine: every 3 months I pop over and check, and even though I got really close to what I think is the perfect throw for me I don’t want to stop. We always try to find something easy enough to change that could give me 1% or 2% extra. He always has good tips and some crazy ideas, and I am always willing to try so it matches nicely. I do anything I can to improve my level and I strongly recommend anyone to pop over and have a chat with Paul, but you need to be open minded and willing to listen what he has to say.”