Max Hopp claimed his maiden senior PDC title with a groundbreaking run of victories on home soil, lifting the German Darts Open last weekend.
In doing so, he became the first German to win any PDC tour event, sending his adoring fans into a state of euphoria inside the Saarlandhalle.
Barring two quarter-final appearances on tour this month, Hopp has struggled to make any in-roads over the last year, even failing to qualify for the World Championships over Christmas for the first time in 6 years.
But a landmark victory over World no.2 Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright in the second-round on Saturday would prove to be the platform for a career-changing day in the life of ‘The Maximiser’.
Remember the Date
On Sunday April 15th, Max snuck past Dutchman Benito van de Pas in a nervy affair, before dispatching 7th seed Joe Cullen 6-4 to progress to a first European Tour semi-final.
Pitted against current World Champion and in-form Premier League star Rob Cross, he produced his best display of the entire tournament-averaging just north of the magic ton mark-to move within a leg of victory at 6-5 up and throwing first.
Subsequently missing 3 match darts, it would have been forgivable for the home favourite to roll over and be content with what he had already accomplished.
What actually occurred was a breathtaking show of courage, poise and calm, under the most intense of pressure.
Hopp produced an incredible 11 darts to give himself one more chance. Taking a page out of Cross’ own playbook, he stood back, took a deep breath, composed himself and fired his last arrow dead into the centre of the Bullseye for the win.
The 121 checkout brought a gasp of shock from Hopp himself, overwhelmed at the prospect of an appearance in the Final in front of the 5,500 capacity crowd.
Weight of a Nation
Ever since becoming the second-youngest competitor to qualify for the World Championships- as a 16 year-old, back in 2013- Max has carried the torch for a country whose darting enthusiasm is growing exponentially.
Hailed as a teen prodigy, it was almost impossible for the youngster to live up to the expectations of further success.
It would take two years before victory in the 2015 World Youth Championships appeared to cement his status as a rising star on the circuit.
Earning a tour card for the first-time and following in the footsteps of fellow sensation Michael Smith-who lifted the trophy 2 years previous-Hopp seemed to have absorbed the kick-start his career needed.
But the spotlight shined brightly over him once more and the pressure weighed heavy. Positive results were harder to come by, German fans wondered if they would ever see the immense talent of their favourite son lead to trophies.
A Hopp into the History Books
At just gone 9pm local time, Max Hopp found himself in a very unfamiliar position. The Final of a PDC event- in front of his own fans- against none other than his English equivalent, ‘Bully Boy’ Michael Smith.
Smith has propelled himself into the World’s top ten since his own Youth triumph, winning 9 PDC titles along the way and currently occupying a top-4 place in the elite Premier League table
Hopp lay 50th in of the Order of Merit before this tournament commenced, having failed to appear at any ranked major for 15 months.
However, he was also in a very familiar position. Standing back, breathing deeply, blocking out the cacophonous applause behind him, and staring at the Bullseye.
Incredibly, the final produced a carbon copy of what he had experienced barely an hour beforehand, leaving him with one shot to make history whilst his opponent sat on a two-dart finish.
Bang. Right in the centre once again to complete another fabulous 121 checkout in a deciding leg. Talent and composure combined at the vital time, confirming him as the champion, by 8 legs to 7.
Maximising his Potential
6 years of travelling the world, searching in vain for the big breakthrough his public craved, it would come only 120 miles South-West from his home-town of Idstein.
Parading the trophy, it became clear why he is so revered across Germany. A humble young man with his feet on the ground, he vowed that his attitude would not change and he would be straight back to the practice board come Monday morning.
With good reason too- the £25,000 top prize has rocketed him up to 17th in the Pro Tour Order of Merit. It all but guarantees him berths in the prestigious World Matchplay and World Grand Prix events, later in the year.
His return to the Grand Slam of Darts is also on the cards as well as a place at the European Tour finals in October-conveniently held in Germany.
By the time the World Championships roll around in December, Hopp could be an automatic qualifier as part of the elite top 32 in the world for the first time.
Could Max actually become everything he was touted to be? Could Germany have a future Major Champion on their hands?
Still just 21 years of age, he has proved without doubt that he is the man to lead the charge.