Without a shadow of a doubt, Jeffrey de Zwaan’s spectacular run to the semi-finals was the biggest story to emerge from the 2018 BetVictor World Matchplay.
On debut, 22-year-old de Zwaan shook up the darting world by dispatching its greatest player, Michael van Gerwen, in the very first round.
Adrian Lewis and Dave Chisnall- PDC stalwarts- were also no match for the inspired Dutch youngster, whose campaign could only be halted by champion-elect Gary Anderson in an electric semi-final showdown.
It marked an incredible turnaround for a man who, barely 7 months ago, didn’t even have a right to compete in PDC Pro Tour events. Even qualifying for such a prestigious tournament as the Matchplay would have been a pipedream.
Now, in the blink of an eye, de Zwaan has soared to 49th in the Order of Merit.
In the second of our ‘Under the Spotlight’ series, we chart the rise of the man they call ‘The Black Cobra’…
Born in Rijswijk, Netherlands, Jeffrey de Zwaan first made a splash in the darting universe in the BDO’s proven breeding ground for up-and-coming European talent.
The Europe Youth Cup has long been a stage for darting prodigies to strut their stuff and provide a glimpse into the future of the sport. For example, a 15-year-old Vincent van der Voort claimed the Singles Title as far back as 1991.
Other Champions include former Lakeside Champion Stephen Bunting and current World No.1 Michael van Gerwen. More recently, Justin van Tergouw in 2016- who just 2 days ago one his first senior international title against Glen Durrant in the BDO Belgium Masters.
Jeffrey won the Pairs contest there 3 years running from 2010, before reaching the final of the Singles competition in 2012.
He lost 3-2 to another man currently enjoying his breakout season- 2018 PDC German Open champion Max Hopp.
The early signs were promising for de Zwaan and would swiftly get even better as, just 3 months after; he won the World Youth Masters at the Hull City Hall in East Yorkshire.
16-year-old de Zwaan graduated to the senior BDO circuit in 2013 with understandably limited success across the few tournaments he entered.
However, he gathered experience by competing in his first BDO major-on home soil at the Dutch Open. He would reach the semi-final of the same event the following February.
Jeffrey committed to the PDC’s Development Tour in 2014, spending far more time in the UK and playing all 16 events- reaching 1 quarter-final- whilst continuing to dabble on the BDO circuit.
Notable victories over Geert de Vos and Ross Montgomery took him to the last-16 of the senior World Masters just 2 years after winning the youth version.
Then came the opportunity to enter the PDC’s Q-School in January 2015. Jeffrey outlasted 508 other players and won 7 consecutive games on the very first day to earn his Tour Card, joining the elite senior Pro Tour.
Wasting little time, ‘The Black Cobra’ qualified for his first European Tour event just 10 days later. He reached the televised stages of the UK Open in March and nailed a spectacular 9-dart finish in only his second Players Championship event!
His fast start continued as he thumped Michael Smith 6-1 en route to the quarter-finals of Players Championship 4.
The hype began to build around de Zwaan and it seemed he would progress rapidly up the rankings. But his initial impact in the professional ranks dwindled.
Youngsters need time to learn their trade. Wins bring confidence but losses are fundamental to improvement and almost every youth player goes through a period of failure and perceived underachievement.
Take Michael van Gerwen, for example. ‘Mighty Mike’ burst onto the scene in stunning fashion, becoming the youngest ever winner of the World Masters in 2006, aged just 17. World domination seemed assured- and of course, eventually it was- but it took van Gerwen another 6 years to win his second major trophy in Dublin at the World Grand Prix.
Similarly, de Zwaan fell back into the pack and failed to reach the latter stages of another Pro Tour event for a further 2 years.
A second magical 9-darter in Coventry confirmed his enormous promise but, partly due to injuries, he failed to accumulate enough ranking points and after 3 full seasons in the pro ranks lost his Tour Card for 2018.
It looked as though another darting prodigy would disappear into the wilderness, never to return.
Conversely, that 3 year period could well prove the most defining of Jeffrey’s career.
Under the tutelage of mentor Raymond van Barneveld, he sensibly continued to develop his game against players from his own age group on the Development Tour. After reaching 4 semi-finals and 1 final he finally crossed the line to win his first PDC title in Germany on May 28th, 2017.
He was clearly maturing as a player, with 2 appearances in the quarter-finals of the PDC World Youth Championship to his name, also.
Sadly, by the time he surrendered his Tour Card at the end of 2017, de Zwaan was on the verge of bankruptcy and facing the serious prospect of having to quit the sport.
The partnership with van Barneveld came to an end, and once again Barry Hearn’s youth system may have proved savior to a burgeoning career…
Sponsor Bengi had seen enough talent from de Zwaan to go ahead and re-sign him to a 10-year deal whilst providing a personal coach to help him flourish once more.
With the financial pressure now removed from his focus, Jeffrey once again rocked up at Q-School- this time the new European version- and repeated his feats of 2015 with qualification from a very competitive field on the first day.
Subsequently, de Zwaan has been transformed and repaid Bengi for the faith they showed in him.
Strong qualifying performances earned Jeffrey a 4th crack at the UK Open finals and this time he made his mark.
A brilliant 10-8 upset over Michael van Gerwen in the round of 64 was partly overshadowed by the strange circumstances at the event- with heavy snowfall leading to the tournament being held behind closed doors and in virtual silence.
Though it soon became clear de Zwaan was now a different animal, as he reached another Pro Tour final the following week and went one step further in Wigan at the end of April.
De Zwaan beat Zoran Lerchbacher, Michael Smith, Justin Pipe, Steve Beaton, James Wilson and Gabriel Clemens, prior to downing Jonny Clayton in a last-leg decider to win his first senior PDC title.
Suddenly, Jeffrey had forced his way into the qualifying spots for the World Matchplay.
Still, nobody could have predicted his Blackpool fairytale. As fate would have it, he was presented with a much-anticipated rematch against van Gerwen. Surely there was no chance of a repeat of his UK Open heroics?
No. In fact, he was better. Showing great composure on stage at the iconic Winter Gardens, he stuck with ‘The Green Machine’ until the half-way point, leveled at 6-6 and then powered to the finish to win 10-6.
The lowest ranked player in the event (68th) proceeded to beat Adrian Lewis 11-9 in the second-round despite ‘Jackpot’ averaging almost 104. Furthermore, de Zwaan had never previously competed over such a long format.
Riding the crest of a wave, Jeffrey put in an astonishing performance against Dave Chisnall in the quarter-finals.
‘Chizzy’ threw everything at the youngster- at one point hitting 4 180s in just 5 scoring turns- but was left dumbfounded as the totally unfazed Dutchman replied in kind.
‘The Black Cobra’ turned on the afterburners and reeled off 9 of the last 10 legs to storm into the semi-finals, winning convincingly 16-8.
Here to Stay
Gary Anderson was forced to produce his top level in order to derail de Zwaan, averaging a staggering 106.06 to finally shake-off his opponent 17-12.
It brought to an end an astonishing tournament for the 500-1 rank outsider who received £30,000 for his efforts and a seismic jump up 19 places in the Order of Merit.
Thanks also to his Pro Tour performances this season; Jeffrey is currently in a position to qualify for the World Grand Prix in early October and is all but guaranteed a return to Ally Pally for his second appearance at the World Championships, too.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the darting world has gained a new superstar- one capable of challenging for major honors in what will surely be a long and illustrious career.
It is hard to predict exactly what Jeffrey de Zwaan can achieve.
Top 8 in the Order of Merit? A spot in the Premier League? Future World Champion?
One thing’s for sure, this time he is here to stay.