World Darts Championship’s 8 greatest matches of all-time – including MVG upset

The PDC World Darts Championship has seen so many great clashes down the years that it's almost sacrilegious to boil it down to a top eight.

Indeed, the 2022 edition of the annual Ally Pally extravaganza has produced some titanic tungsten tussles that are plenty worthy of consideration in any all-time list.

From William Borland's iconic nine-dart finish to beat 'Bam Bam' Bradley Brooks to Gerwyn Price's epic against Kim Huybrechts and Michael Smith's stunning last-leg win over Jonny Clayton, it's already been a tournament for the ages.

Those three matches would almost certainly make a top 50 list, but here Daily Star Sport focus on our top eight, starting with a memorable encounter between James Wade and Adrian Lewis from 2012.

1. Gone with the wind: Adrian Lewis 6-5 James Wade, January 2012

There was no such thing as an ill wind for Adrian Lewis when a mystery draught blowing his darts off-course stopped play for half an hour.

‘Jackpot’ Lewis was trailing James Wade 5-1 in their semi-final when both players agreed to shoot the breeze backstage while tournament organisers investigated the source of intrusive gusts wafting across the oche.

Fans nursing a New Year’s Day hangover were already heading for a late night, after Andy Hamilton’s 6-5 win against Simon Whitlock in the evening’s first semi-final had gone the distance.

And by the time air conditioning vents, fire doors and ventilators in the arena had been checked, they were resigned to missing the last train home.

It was 12.48am before Lewis sealed an extraordinary fightback, checking out with 161 on the bullseye, to win 6-5.

He would go on to beat Hamilton comfortably in their all-Potteries final, but he was upset to be booed by the crowd after being perceived wrongly as the ringleader of the walk-out, saying: “It wasn’t just a breeze drifting across the stage – it was a bloody gale-force wind.”

Professional Darts Corporation chairman Barry Hearn, watching at home on TV, admitted: “When Adrian and Wadey raised their concern about the crosswinds, I would not have been surprised if Michael Fish the weatherman had appeared on stage to inform us of a hurricane.

“There is a theory that the atmosphere generated by 3,000 fans and the heat of the TV lights caused turbulence in the micro-climate of a hot arena, but we’ve never known anything like it before.

“In the absence of a more plausible explanation, I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and blame it on our old friend global warming.“

2. Sign of the times: Phil Taylor 7-1 Raymond van Barneveld, January 2009

What has been the greatest game in PDC World Darts Championship history? Let us know in the comments section.

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Not a classic final, in the sense that Raymond van Barneveld was blown away by ‘The Power’ averaging 110.94 and playing at full blast.

Barney had made the mistake of walking on stage waving a Netherlands flag, turning the contest from a rematch of the pair’s sudden-death classic at the Circus Tavern two years earlier into England v Holland.

And in the audience, more Dutch bravado was misplaced.

In the VIP seats, striker Robin van Persie – then of Arsenal – had turned up to support his compatriot and unwisely had a £10 wager with a colleague that Barney would win.

Fair play to Van Persie: Not only did he cough up promptly when Taylor’s masterclass was over, but he even signed the victorious scribe’s tenner.

3. Clogmanay: Raymond van Barneveld 4-3 Michael van Gerwen, December 2015

Inspired by the birth of his grandson, Mason, earlier in the week, Raymond van Barneveld dredged all his experience to pip the Michael van Gerwen in a double-Dutch classic.

Van Gerwen had been in unstoppable form throughout 2015, winning 18 trophies including six Majors.

But Barney – good old brave, blustering, grandfather Barney – refused to bow and curtsey for his compatriot, who had taken over from Phil Taylor at No.1 in the world rankings.

Van Gerwen’s average of 105.78 was the highest-ever for a defeated player on TV, and he admitted: “I would have thrown all the other titles in the bin to win this one.”

By common consent, it was one of the finest darts contests of all time, with the supreme quality on the oche augmented by a thunderous soundtrack from the fancy-dress platoons.

At 48, Barney could feel the hand of Father Time on his shoulder in his crusade for a sixth world title, nine years after he landed the fifth, and he rolled back the gears to stun MVG.

He said: “When I saw the draw, and realised I could play Michael in the third round, my mind was focused on that game straight away.

“But I had to save all the energy, all the adrenaline and all the luck to make it happen.”

Sadly for the former postman, Barney’s fairytale run was ended in the semi-finals by Adrian Lewis.

4. Magic Dutch: Michael van Gerwen 4-3 Joe Cullen, January 2021

Joe Cullen was inconsolable after falling agonisingly short of an upset despite his record-equalling barrage of 19 maximum 180s.

And Michael van Gerwen, who trailed 3-1 and survived two match darts on the bullseye, had to unleash all his star quality, all his brinkmanship and all his finishing power to scrape into the quarter-finals.

It was breathtaking, prime-time gold played behind closed doors – proof that darts can still be a spellbinding spectacle without fans – after the Covid-19 crisis had added another layer to the drama.

Van Gerwen intended to spend Christmas in Holland with his wife Daphne and two young children but, after just two hours at home in Vlijmen, he turned round and drove back to London to beat the blockade as Europe closed its borders with the UK in a panic over the highly-infectious Delta variant.

Instead of a festive dinner with the family, MVG went down the butchers and cooked up a meat feast with his compatriot Vincent van der Voort on a portable stove in their hotel on Christmas Day.

What was going through his mind when Cullen, the ‘Rockstar’ playing out of his skin, had him on the brink of defeat?

“I was thinking about booking my ticket back through the Eurotunnel,” laughed MVG.

“That was one of my toughest-ever games at Alexandra Palace, but those are the contests you need if you want to be a champion.

“A few months ago I was in crisis, I couldn’t win a game any more. I was the crappiest darts player in the world – now, all of a sudden, I’m the best player in the world again.

“Of course it was difficult, but I have been through hard times before and you have to look to the future. Only weak people look for excuses.”

After surviving one blizzard of arrows from an opponent in the form of his life, Van Gerwen ran into another in the last eight – and was trounced 5-0 by Dave Chisnall.

5. Sweet 16: Phil Taylor 7-4 Michael van Gerwen, January 2013

It would prove to be the last of Phil Taylor’s remarkable 16 world titles – although the ‘The Power’ would reach two more before the curtain fell.

And although Van Gerwen came up short in his first world championship final at the age of 23, he served ample notice on the darts world of a superstar in the making.

Twice, at 2-0 and 4-2, the Dutchman opened up a two-set advantage, only for Taylor to close the gap and, eventually, douse MVG’s fire by taking the chequered flag on the back of five sets without reply.

Just five months after the bard of darts whose puns, pathos and peerless one-liners made him a commentary box legend had died, Taylor became the first man to lift the Sid Waddell Trophy.

“It weighed half a ton,” he said, admiring the Eritrean marble base which turned the victory ceremony into a cardiovascular ordeal as much as a tickertape procession. “But I tell you what – winning never felt so good .”

Seldom, at any elite level of sport, has a 52-year-old conquered the world, and Taylor’s longevity – 23 years between his first world title and his last – is unlikely to be repeated in any sport.

For meaningful comparison, Lester Pigott was 47 when he rode the last of his nine Derby winners in 1983, golf legend Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he landed the last of his 18 golf Majors at the US Masters in 1986 and Sir Geoffrey Boycott’s last Test century for England fell two months shy of his 41st birthday.

Taylor’s mentor, the late Eric Bristow, was so chuffed by the Power’s eclipse of Van Gerwen that he planted a kiss on his forehead with the words: “You little beauty – I had £50 on you to win 7-4.”

6. Volt from the blue: Rob Cross 6-5 Michael van Gerwen, December 2017

Another classic which ended after midnight – and yet another one involving Michael van Gerwen.

With Phil Taylor through to the final, in his farewell tournament appearance before retirement, all the smart money was for him to enjoy one last duel with Van Gerwen, the man who had taken over from him as No.1 in the world.

But Rob Cross, the Hastings electrician who had come through nail-biters against Michael Smith and Dimitri van den Bergh in earlier rounds, held his nerve spectacularly again.

And he didn’t just settle for ending Van Gerwen’s quest for the title: In the final, he sent Taylor into the sunset with a crushing 7-2 defeat.

7. Hot metal: Kirk Shepherd 6-4 Wayne Mardle, January 2008

Karate Kid Kirk Shepherd joined the pantheon of sport’s fairy-tale finalists by giving His Royal Hawaiiness Wayne Mardle the chop in the first PDC World Championship staged at Alexandra Palace.

Unseeded Shepherd, 21, collapsed to the floor after beating Mardle in a tense semi-final with his father, Keith, leading delirious celebrations in the crowd by dancing on his chair.

Second dan black belt Shepherd, ranked a lowly No.140 in the world, had won only £1,970 prize money in his career before he embarked on an incredible journey from 500-1 no-hoper to the gates of Ally Pally.

By becoming the youngest finalist in the tournament’s history, he was able to quit his job at a sheet metal factory in Ramsgate with a £50,000 payday.

To reach the last four, Shepherd had survived 13 darts to knock him out – a more charmed life than a snake in a basket – but his debut in front of TV cameras was one of the most captivating entrances on the big stage since Boris Becker conquered Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 1985.

But he reached the final without his average reaching 90 in any match and when he came up against Canada’s John Part, the required step up in form was too much for Shepherd, who went down 7-2.

8. Great Scot: Gary Anderson 7-6 Phil Taylor, January 2015

IN a monumental feat of concentration and stamina, Gary Anderson outlasted Phil Taylor 7-6 to become the first Scot on top of the world since Les Wallace in 1997.

When ‘The Power’ fought back from 6-4 down to force a deciding set, the momentum – and luck – appeared to be with him.

But in a late-night thriller, Anderson found an extra gear to land the holy grail of marksmen in a match best remembered for a moment of extraordinarily bad luck and controversy.

The Flying Scotsman had just levelled a riveting contest at 4-4, after Taylor had squandered three darts at double 12 to go 5-3 ahead, when he suffered remarkable ill-fortune bordering on the ridiculous.

With his first arrows of the ninth set, Anderson nailed the first two in the treble 20 bed, only for the third – bang on target to make it a maximum 180 – to knock out the other two and all three darts landed on the carpet for a no-score.

Some of the crowd thought Taylor should have deliberately squandered his next set of darts, but he was under no obligation to do so – and the Flying Scotsman went on to take the next two sets anyway.

Anderson said: “I’ll always stick up for Phil – he is still the best darts player of all time and in 100 years’ time he will still be the best.

“When he came back from two sets down to make it 6-6, to be honest I thought my chance had gone. But I’ve waited a long time for this moment.”

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