Written by Toby Foster (@TobyFost)
Rob Cross won the 2019 Betfred World Matchplay Darts title on Sunday night after overcoming Michael Smith by 18 legs to 13 in a thrilling final at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens.
The World No.2 became just the fourth man to win both the World Championship and World Matchplay tournaments- joining the illustrious company of Phil Taylor, Michael Van Gerwen and Gary Anderson.
Cross, 28, left pundits’ mouths agape as he thundered into a staggering 9-0 lead over a visibly frustrated Smith, but had to withstand a late rally from his rival to gain the day.
Upon lifting the prestigious Phil Taylor Trophy, Cross- nicknamed ‘Voltage’ given his previous career as an electrician- said: “This means the world to me. It’s just amazing. I’m still learning and still progressing. I think this will give me a lot of confidence. I’m lost for words because I’m just so happy that I won.”
For Smith, it was a fourth loss in a major final in less than 15 months, and will prompt further questions about whether ‘the Bullyboy’ possesses the mental fortitude to win in pressured situations.
This gripping final rounded off a memorable 2019 renewal of the World Matchplay tournament, during which the top 32 players on the planet played out a number of captivating fixtures.
Cross himself had pulled off one of the most spectacular comebacks ever seen at the Winter Gardens in his semi-final match when recovering from being 7-14 down to win 17-15 against World No.3 Daryl Gurney.
‘Voltage’ had also been forced to play at his very best to edge past an in-form Stephen Bunting 16-14 at the quarter-final stage.
Meanwhile 28-year-old Smith, the World No.5, overcame Matchplay veteran Mervyn King and debutant Glen Durrant to reach the Final.
The two pre-tournament bookmakers’ favourites, World No.1 Michael Van Gerwen and reigning champion Gary Anderson, both came to grief in the Round of 16.
Tension was evident in the opening legs of the Final as both Cross and Smith struggled to show consistency in their treble-hitting. However, when it came to finishing, Cross found his composure, winning the first session of play 5-0 after taking advantage of Smith missing several early doubles.
The match continued in the same fashion after the initial interval, as Smith continued to squander doubling opportunities- ultimately spurning opportunities to win four of the first six legs.
‘Bullyboy’ could only watch with increasing consternation as Cross completed seven consecutive two-dart checkouts to lead 7-0, before reeling off the next two legs to hold sway by an astonishing nine without reply.
With the first player to 18 legs in the final being declared the winner, Smith’s hopes of a first major title were beginning to look very desperate indeed, but he finally hit a double at the tenth time of asking to halt Cross’ rampant run and finish the second session trailing 9-1.
Talk from pundits had turned to whether viewers were about to witness the most one-sided final in the World Matchplay’s 25-year history, with Phil Taylor’s 18-4 demolition of Terry Jenkins in 2009 seeming vulnerable to being superceded.
But Cross began to tread water as he closed in on the title, galvanising Smith to attempt the unlikeliest of comebacks. His famous high-scoring throw finally found its range, and he hit a stellar 147 checkout on the way to clinching nine of the next thirteen legs- shrinking Cross’ advantage to only three.
A further break of throw from ‘Bullyboy’ then reduced an increasingly flustered Cross to a 15-13 lead, ensuring a tense finish rather than the Cross cakewalk it had threatened to be.
But, under intense pressure from the pro-Smith crowd, Cross managed to rediscover the same nerve which won him the 2018 World Championship, scooping the next four legs and hitting Double 4 with his fourth match dart to triumph 18-13.
CROSS IS THE CHAMPION!
— PDC Darts (@OfficialPDC) July 28, 2019
Ever the gentleman, Cross was quick to pay tribute to his inconsolable opponent, declaring that “Michael has played really well all week, he’s a great guy and he will be a worthy champion.”
“It was a weird game tonight. I had the expectation that Michael was going to come out and play… from the start really. I ran into that lead and just switched off a bit.
“My game started to go down a bit, and I have to admit when I was watching the score come back, it was like I was a spectator.
“No disrespect to Michael, but I made the game very hard for myself. I shut up shop really, protecting what I’d already got.
“The way I played tonight was nerve-wracking and I had to hold myself together. It was tough.”
Crestfallen at having once again failed to break his losing duck in major tournaments, Smith was dejected when reflecting on his performance.
He said: “At least I showed I can fight and battle, but it is hurting. The way the [start of the] game should have gone, it should have been five-all.
“I could have won. I have made another final, and lost. It is doing my head in. I’ve shown I’ve got the character, but my doubles need to go in.”
Cross will now head to Australia to defend the Brisbane Darts Masters title he won last year, whilst Smith says he will take a month-long break from competitive darts before returning for the Austria leg of the European Tour at the end of August.
|Rob Cross||Michael Smith|
|95.16||3-Dart Match Average||95.91|
Shocks Galore: Three results which rocked the Matchplay in 2019
Last 16: Gary Anderson 8-11 Mervyn King
Reigning World Matchplay champion Gary Anderson was dumped out of this year’s contest by his fellow darting stalwart Mervyn King.
Anderson, who has been struggling with a back injury in recent months, had started his title defence strongly in the first round with a comprehensive 10-6 victory over Danny Noppert.
But ‘The Flying Scotsman’ met his Waterloo against Matchplay veteran King, who stormed into a 4-1 lead during the first session and from then on always looked the likely winner.
‘The King’ averaged 94.88 for the match and won the contest with a 12-dart leg to advance into the quarter-finals for the first time in three years.
— PDC Darts (@OfficialPDC) July 23, 2019
Anderson, currently the World No.4, confided that he was “struggling to get back into” top-level darts after spending several months undergoing treatment for his back problems.
53-year-old King produced a first-rate performance, including a smart 136 checkout, to dethrone Anderson- despite admitting that he was “scared” to play the formidable two-time World Champion.
First Round: Ian White 10-0 Joe CullenThe first round clash between European Darts Grand Prix champion Ian ‘Diamond’ White and improving young fan-favourite Joe ‘Rockstar’ Cullen had looked to be a tight match on paper.
Both men have shown they have the A-game to compete with the world’s best, but equally have struggled for consistency in big tournaments. With only four places separating White (#10) and Cullen (#14) in the Order of Merit, the stage was set for a fiercely-contested, high-quality contest.
However, White proved he was in strikingly superior class of his own from the get-go, rattling off five straight legs in the first session to leave his less experienced opponent floundering.
Cullen averaged a meagre 88.63 and squandered several darts at double as panic began to set in, allowing White to remorselessly take advantage with some clinical finishing- dishing out the first Matchplay whitewash since Adrian Lewis’s 10-0 rout of Robert Thornton seven years ago.
First Round: Nathan Aspinall 5-10 Mervyn King
Darts’ most promising young prospect Nathan Aspinall exploded onto the scene just eight months ago when springing a series of upsets to reach the semi-finals of the World Championship. The charismatic 28-year-old has since won his first Major title- the UK Open- and also lifted the Las Vegas Masters trophy in July.
A prodigious treble-20 hitter with a likeable demeanour and nerves of steel when hitting doubles, Aspinall is widely tipped as a future World Champion. Though he was making his debut this year on the World Matchplay stage, a few pundits even went as far as to suggest that ‘The Asp’ could clinch the tournament on his first attempt.
But wrong they were. Despite being the hot favourite to get his Matchplay campaign off to a winning start, Aspinall was taught a brutal lesson on his first appearance at the Winter Gardens by a player nearly twice his age- Mervyn King. The accomplished old-timer finished impeccably, averaged over 100 and fired in seven 180s, proving too much for Aspinall on the night.
Unbelievable support tonight something I’ve never witnessed in my life thank you every single one off you for your support it meant the world I’m just sorry I couldn’t give everyone the result we all wanted. On to the next one though we go 🐍🐍
— Nathan Aspinall (@NathanAspi) July 20, 2019
The good news for darts’ popular young-gun is that time is most definitely on his side, and he is continually improving. That said, this defeat to King will serve as a stark reminder for Aspinall as he makes his way to the very top of the sport- never underestimate the old guard.