Phil Taylor collects his 16th and final World Matchplay title in glorious style. “The Power’s” final season in professional darts is proving more than a fairytale.
Having followed his progress through to the final, of this years World Matchplay, it can safely be said that the vast majority of darts fans were hoping that Taylor would pull off the remarkable achievement of winning the two most difficult title in the game a record sixteen times a piece. Many of the notable facts surrounding his win have been discussed over the last two weeks. His age, 56, his no longer playing the main tour, the improvement in other players, his more relaxed/carefree attitude and the huge gap that he will leave when he holsters his darts for the final time after the 2017/8 World Professional Darts Championship this December. Yet even these valid points do not seem to do justice to this remarkable effort.
The toughest test in darts?
The format of the Matchplay demands excellence and consistency from game one through to the end. As this event pitches the top 16 players by ranking, against the top 16 on current form, there are no easy games and very few that could be described as easier. Taylor’s 1st round opponent, Gerwyn Price, has reached a major final in 2017, as well as the final of the world cup with his Welsh teammate (Mark Webster), and is ranked inside the top twenty both overall and on current form. The format of first to ten, and by two legs, ensures that the throw is not as important as in other events and that no game can be won by winning a handful of important legs. The event keeps getting tougher as you move through the rounds with little or no time off during the later stages. Contrast this with The World Championships were the initial stages can be against qualifiers or lowly ranked players and can be won in second or even third gear. The final weekend can involve playing over 80 legs against the very best players in the world. To be able to do that at the highest standard at the age of 56 is simply unprecedented.
Taylor’s Route Harder Than Ever?
As mentioned above Taylor’s first round draw was tough. But due to his currently being ranked only 4th in the world his route to the title was as hard, if not harder than for many years. His second round opponent was five time world champion, and current world No.8, Raymond Van Barneveld. Although this rivalry has often seemed come down in Phil’s favour it should be remembered that a resurgent “Barney” had bested Phil in the 2017 World Championships. Next up, MVG! Playing Micheal regularly is a pretty tough business and has already put a severe dent in one or two players belief. However Phil has played a very clever game in how he has scaled back his playing over the last couple of years. Thus any damage done by MVG has been very limited. Taken since 2012, when MVG began to surge, “The Power” only trails 18-23 in terms of wins and losses and is ahead 33-25 overall. Many of the games were tight and Phil had chance to win others. Over their last 10 encounters Phil has won 6-4 including short, medium and long format matches. Thus his 16-7 win ensured that MVG does not have it all his own way in 2017. It was then Phil’s turn to do what many failed to do during his reign as undisputed No.1, namely to go on and win after slaying the dragon.
The semi final performance was a reminder of the way Taylor has defeated quicker streak players over the years. Consistency and not bowing to pressure were the hall-mark of this years triumph and were epitomised vs Lewis. To then play the world No.3 over the long format final should have proven a tougher task but Peter Wright was playing against history and a tiring schedule of his own. Taylor’s post match interview gave an insight into how he reframes the situation to his advantage. His opinion that Wright was showing signs of tiredness ensured that he felt the upper hand during the game. In summary playing worlds number 8, 1, 5 and 3 back to back, after a difficult first round, with all of them in good form and some having the recent upper hand on you is a tough ask. Yet again “The Power” refused to be daunted.
Going Out on a High.
Although the difficulty of comparing sports is obvious, and the task of comparing era’s is also somewhat precarious, the occasion of a champion enjoying his final competitive season is one that all sports share and many fans will have memories of. Yet is there another example of a player having a thirty year career, announcing his retirement prior to a final season, still being ranked in the top five and winning one their sports premier/major events in such style?
Most sports superstars retire due to a waning of their own powers in comparison with those coming to their peak. Many still continue to play, even if slightly less, and slip quietly down the rankings until they either join a senior tour or move to the press/commentary box. Often it is many years from their last great triumph. Think about Nick Faldo or Greg Norman in golf, Davis & Hendry in Snooker or McEnroe in Tennis. Each of these champions had excellent single days or one-off events during the Autumn of their careers but they had long since stopped being considered real threats and often were entered for events based on past glories. Taylor could enter any event he wished, on merit, and would still be selected for any and all invitation events regardless of criteria.