Michael Smith is the new one: The darts world championship will end up being a spectacle

With a bit of a start, the 2023 World Darts Championship will still be a memorable tournament.

Michael Smith is the new one: The darts world championship will end up being a spectacle

With a bit of a start, the 2023 World Darts Championship will still be a memorable tournament. This is due to the new world champion Michael Smith, the top favorite Michael van Gerwen, who lost in the final, and the German darts sensation Gabriel Clemens.

The darts world has a number one and a new world champion. Michael Smith takes the title for the first time at London's Alexandra Palace on the third attempt. The dry spell of top favorite Michael van Gerwen, on the other hand, continues. And darts Germany has finally registered at the top of the world, mainly thanks to Gabriel Clemens. After a rather slow start in the shadow of the World Cup, the darts highlight of the year at London's Alexandra Palace after Christmas reaches a new level of spectacle and drama. These are the lessons of the 2023 World Darts Championship.

The best fails at the crucial moment: After four big titles last year, Michael van Gerwen went into the World Cup as the big favorite for the first time in relatively mixed years. And the three-time world champion cemented his regained status as the best player in the world. In all of his five games up to the final, the Dutchman averaged more than 100 points. An outstanding value. No one else marched through the tournament so consistently, so dominantly and safely. In the quarterfinals and semifinals, "Mighty Mike" even defeated his unfortunate opponents Chris Dobey and Dimitri Van den Bergh 5-0 and 6-0. An impressive consistency that also made van Gerwen the favorite against Smith before the final.

But in the final, of all places, the 33-year-old's point average slipped below the 100 mark for the first and only time in the course of the tournament. In the second half of the game, Michael van Gerwen was no longer able to play at the level of previous rounds. Smith took advantage of that, turning a 2-3 deficit into a deserved 7-4 win. For van Gerwen there is little consolation in having dominated the 30th professional darts world championship for long stretches. But at the decisive moment, "MvG" went through a weak phase. The Dutchman must therefore continue to wait for world title number four.

Michael Smith finally has a clear head: Many experts and competitors predicted in the run-up to the tournament that Michael Smith would go far at the World Cup. At least since winning the title at the Grand Slam of Darts in November, Smith was the player with the best form after van Gerwen. And now also one of the mentally strongest players. Smith, who lost all of the first eight major finals of his career, including two World Cup finals, has been absent throughout his career when all he needed to do was cross the finish line. A barrier in his head that made it difficult for him to finally win his first title. The Grand Slam triumph has solved the blockade. His opponent in the final at the time, Nathan Aspinall, already had a premonition. The "Bully Boy" will be even more dangerous from now on, according to Aspinall, who should now feel confirmed.

For Michael Smith, the World Cup triumph not only means the second major victory after the Grand Slam, but also the biggest payday of his career. The 32-year-old Englishman pocketed the equivalent of just over 550,000 euros. In the world rankings, which are based on the prize money earned over the past two years, Smith is now in first place. "I want to get more titles, prove I'm not going to be a one-hit wonder," Smith said at the winners' press conference at Ally Pally.

The danger is already over. Smith already had his status as a top player before the tournament, and now he has impressively reinforced it. Also because the Englishman smashed a lot of 180 shots into the board as usual. His contribution to the new 180 tournament record is huge. Smith contributed 66 of the 901 maximums. Two on the way to his nine-darter in the spectacular World Cup final against van Gerwen.

The old grandees disappoint: Peter Wright as defending champion at the Darts World Cup. That shouldn't bode well for "Snakebite" again. A year after his second title win (in the final against Michael Smith), the Scot disappointed all along the line. Although Wright won easily against Mickey Mansell on the first day of the tournament, after Christmas the 52-year-old obviously ran out of target water. In the round of 32, Wright was beaten 4-1 by Belgian Kim Huybrechts. For Wright, a more than mixed year 2022 came to an end. In the summer he had to undergo an operation, and in the autumn and winter his wife and manager Joanne was in poor health. Although she reported fit in time for the World Cup, Wright did not seem to be able to play free. The early end was therefore logical.

The second Scottish darts legend also experienced a juicy smack. Gary Anderson was also eliminated in the third round at his favorite tournament. The "Flying Scotsman" beat his old protégé Chris Dobey with a score of 1: 4. After reaching a final in 2021 and a semi-final in 2022, Anderson has now lost a lot of ground in the world rankings. From 11th place down to 22nd place.

Darts Germany has never been better: Gabriel Clemens is in the top 20 for the first time in his career and is ahead of legend Anderson. As the first German, the Saarlander made it into the semi-finals in a completely surprising way. On the way there, Clemens even survived a match dart in a highly dramatic third round game against Jim Williams before he could turn the game around. The "German Giant" finally became the first German to reach a World Cup quarterfinals by beating the Scottish fireman Alan Soutar.

But the record hunt went one step further because Clemens won a crazy game against world number one Gerwyn Price. Clemens won 5:1 against the "Iceman", who in the meantime played with earmuffs as if he were working on the runway of an airport. Only against the eventual world champion Smith was the final stop in the semifinals.

The German number two, Martin Schindler, also had to admit defeat to the "Bully Boy" after a great fight. In round three, Schindler was about to gild the game of his life with a sensational win. The world number 29 was 3:1. against Smith up front, just a set away from progressing. But then Smith turned up the heat, winning three sets in a row to make it 4-3. That was the stuff later tournament winners are made of. Throughout the tournament, no player came as close to beating Smith as Martin Schindler. However, he was satisfied with his performance, as he had won a game at the World Cup for the first time in a convincing 3:1 win over Martin Lukeman in the round before.

Florian Hempel did not diminish the good record of the three German participants. In his second participation in "Ally Pally" Hempel proved again that he feels comfortable on the big darts stages. The ex-handball player beat Keegan Brown 3-2 in a dramatic game. In round two, Hempel sniffed the sensation against world number five Luke Humphries. In the end, however, the German scored 2:3.

In terms of sport, the World Cup is only convincing after Christmas: The missed Hempel sensation fits into the picture of a World Cup that did not have a single sensation in the first phase of the tournament until Christmas and at most a small surprise. Believe it or not, 29 of the 32 seeded players advanced to the third round. Never before have so many favorites prevailed in their opening games. And Callan Rydz's elimination to rising darts sensation Josh Rock came as little surprise as eventual round of 16 Alan Soutar defeated Daryl Gurney. At best, James Wade, eighth in the world rankings, against the Welshman Jim Williams was a small surprise.

Because surprises and one or the other sensation are as much a part of the early phase of a World Cup as salt in the soup, the tournament took a little longer this time to really inspire. Emotional stories like that of the South African amateur darter Grant Sampson, who prepared for his World Cup debut in the pub next to his hotel and then survived a round, or the dance performances of the 52-year-old American Leonard Gates held up Tournament at the beginning over water. Likewise the appearance of Vladyslav Omelchenko, the first Ukrainian in the history of the darts world championship. Or the debut of 18-year-old top player Beau Greaves. Gabriel Clemens only became a sensation later in the tournament, in his first games the "German Favorit" was still a favorite himself.

(This article was first published on Wednesday, January 04, 2023.)