“……it wasn’t until that day I fully believed I deserved to be there. There was always that niggling doubt but it went away that win.”
Rapidly ascending into the atmosphere like a hypersonic missile, the darting career of Callan Rydz looks destined to reach stratospheric heights.
During the recent World Championships, the 23-year-old Newcastle starlet catapulted himself into the headlines, reaching the quarter-final stage on debut.
And if it wasn’t for the dazzling brilliance of eventual winner Peter Wright in their epic last-eight encounter, the impressive Rydz would have faced Gary Anderson for a place in the final.
Last year was undeniably a breakthrough one for the gifted Geordie. In February, victory over Jonny Clayton in Bolton gave him a maiden PDC title. It’s fair to say with no huge expectation or preparation either.
Rydz explains: “After James Wade beat me in the 2021 World Championships, I decided not to throw another dart until the season began.
“We were in lockdown at the time so I just went into the New Year with more of a relaxed mindset and under no real pressure.
“Then come February, and prior to the first Super Series event of the year in Bolton, I’d barely picked up a dart. But when I won on day two, everyone immediately told me that I’d qualified for this and that. So I thought it was probably wise to put the hours in on the practice board from now on!
“Winning that event felt great. I went there with no huge expectations, little preparation and it worked. In the final against Jonny Clayton, I remember taking a 127 checkout to level at 7-7 and then grabbing the deciding leg.
“That was the perfect start to the year. Second event of the season and I’d picked up my first ever PDC title. Jonny had recently won the Masters and was in terrific form so to beat him in the final gave me a massive confidence boost.
“It’s strange. I’ve always believed that anyone who gained a tour card is obviously an extremely good player. But it wasn’t until that day I fully believed I deserved to be there. There was always that niggling doubt but it went away that win.”
A few months on and the Riot was in Blackpool for a World Matchplay debut, in which he reached his first television major quarter-final. Yet still left the Winter Gardens disappointed.
Rydz added: “That tournament was an odd one and gave me mixed feelings. Despite making the last eight, I never felt I played well or even close to my best. I beat Duzza (Glen Durrant) and Rob Cross with poor averages then against Ratajski, just didn’t turn up and deservingly lost.
“Frustrating, as my preparation for that tournament was amazing. I had my family and friends in the crowd all cheering me on but for some reason or another, couldn’t hit top form. In a way, it’s sometimes good to win ugly but incredibly annoying to continue playing below par. In the end, it caught up on me.”
But Rydz wasn’t done there. In October, he majestically picked up a second pro-tour title, this time in Barnsley, defeating Gabriel Clemens in the final.
So perhaps his Alexandra Palace heroics weren’t a complete surprise? Well, not least to Callan himself.
He said: “I was much happier with my performances at the World Championship. Overall, I played a lot better than I did in Blackpool and came into the tournament in good form and high on confidence.
“A month earlier, I’d narrowly lost to James Wade at the Players Championship Finals in Minehead but averaged over 100. That was the best I’d ever felt in a televised match and knew if I could repeat it in the Worlds, I’d do well.”
And do well he did. It was a blistering start at the Ally Pally. Rydz was many punters’ pick as a dark horse and after charging out of the stalls, it looked a pretty decent bet.
He added: “I didn’t drop a set for the first three matches and felt good. I won comfortably against Yuki Yamada and was then up against Brendan Dolan who is always a tough opponent.
“He had recently beaten me in Gibraltar. So I told my manager Mark Pritchard that I was going to watch that game back and see if there was anything I could improve upon. That was when I noticed I was rushing to the board far too quickly.
“The change worked. I played much better and beat Brendan. Then faced Nathan Aspinall who is one of the top boys in the world. He was wearing a strap on his right arm due to an injury. Afterward, a lot of people suggested that was the reason I won 4-0.
“Fair to play to Nathan. In the back room afterward, he said he felt fine and I beat him fair and square. That meant a lot.
“Then, in the last sixteen, again I played a solid game and got past Soots (Alan Soutar). In Alan’s defense, I know exactly how good he is. Luckily for me, he didn’t play anywhere close to his best in our match.
“Up against Peter Wright in the quarter-final, I was naturally nervous. It wasn’t until my name was announced by MC John McDonald that I kind of felt ok and the butterflies disappeared!
“Peter has far more stage experience than me and has won all the big tournaments – including this one. So to give myself a chance, I knew I’d have to be ‘on it’ from the very beginning.
“And I started really well too – but one shot really sticks out in that match. I had a single dart at D20 to go 4-2 up in sets and spurned it. Once he pulled it back to 4-4, I got really edgy and he got the win.
“Yes, I was angry to lose. If you enjoy getting beat then why play the game? But I was annoyed because I felt it was a missed opportunity to reach a World Championship semi-final – one step closer to my dream.
“I did eventually watch that match back too. Don’t get me wrong – Peter Wright is one of the best there has ever been and he played unbelievably well. The man is a two-time World Champion and showed exactly why all throughout the tournament.
“But if I am going to become a champion like him, I need to take my chances when they come – you don’t get many against players like him. That is the difference – winners take out the shots when they matter.”
Darting prowess certainly runs in the family. Callan’s distant cousin isn’t a bad little player either. It’s none other than two-time PDC major semi-finalist, Chris Dobey.
Football runs richly through the veins of both North-East boys and they are proud Newcastle United fans. However, after being humbled by lowly Cambridge United in a recent FA Cup tie, we decided to skip the subject!
So what’s next for the naturally gifted boy from Bedlington after planting his flag firmly on the PDC circuit?
“The plan is to build from last year”, said Rydz assertively.
“When I first gained my tour card it was all about keeping it – in the same way a newly promoted football team just want to stay up. But I’ve exceeded that goal and already broke into the top thirty on the order of merit.
“Next step is a major TV semi-final ….. or ideally beyond. It would be marvellous to get into the top sixteen and I’m confident I can do it.
“Things like the Premier League are in the distance. Am I ready for it if the call came? Probably not quite! Would I accept? Absolutely. And I would grab it with both hands and give it my very best shot.
“But to even think about that, I know I need to do much more in the game. I’m just looking at continuing to improve, gain more experience on the big stage and enjoy where the ride takes me.”
At the moment, it’s only going one way. And that is up.
Images: PDC L Lustig
A version of this article appeared in Darts World Magazine Issue 578
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