Top of the Premier League. Back in the world’s top 10. Michael Smith’s position among the sport’s elite has never looked better, but is this not what we should be expecting from a player who has long been touted as the future of darts?
Last month marked the 10-year anniversary of Smith’s first match in the PDC. Four European Tour titles, four floor titles, a World Youth Championship triumph at The O2, a semi-final in the Grand Slam of Darts have been the highlights for Smith during those 10 years. And let’s not forget the memorable victory against Phil Taylor in the 2014 World Championship too.
But, since that landmark win at the Alexandra Palace, we’ve seen new names come to the fore. Peter Wright, Daryl Gurney, Mensur Suljovic and Rob Cross have all got their hands on big silverware over the last 12 months, while Smith remains without a major title on his darting C.V.
The World Championship quarter-final defeat to Raymond van Barneveld on New Year’s Day 2016 hit Smith hard. The St Helens thrower missed a match dart to reach the semi-finals and what followed was a disappointing first season in the Premier League, which ended with elimination on Judgement Night.
Some critics had already written Smith off as a major contender heading into 2017, but come the summer, and an impressive win on the European Tour, ‘Bully Boy’ was being talked up again as a potential dark horse in the World Matchplay.
That he went out in the opening match of the tournament to Steve West, a player who ended Smith’s latest bid for a maiden major title in Minehead this past weekend, saw his stock plummet again.
But not for too long, as the PDC came calling with an invite to the World Series in August, and then came a quarter-final appearance in the European Championship.
More World Championship heartbreak brought his 2017-18 season to a close, with missed match darts against eventual winner Rob Cross in the second round, but Smith’s performances during 2017 were enough to warrant a recall to the Premier League. And Smith seems determined to make the most of his second bite at the cherry.
A four-game winning start sees the 27-year-old top the table heading into Thursday night’s action in Leeds.
His fast start may come as a surprise to some, considering his overall record against the nine other players in the Premier League before the tournament stood at nine wins and 23 defeats.
That has, of course, now improved to 13-23, and it is hard not to underestimate how important 2018 is for Smith.
Smith is three days older than Cross, the newly-crowned world champion, but when it comes to listing the young up and coming players in the PDC, Smith’s name continues to crop up.
Age may not be as much of a factor in darts as it is in other sports, but Smith should not be looked at as a future prospect anymore. Smith’s time to prosper is now.