It has been almost 10 years since James Wade last got his hands on the Premier League title. Since that victory at Wembley Arena, Wade has reached the play-offs three more times, but perhaps it is this year where he eyes up a place in the top four with more belief than ever that he could go all the way again.
Tonight, Wade meets the world number one, and new Premier League leader, Michael van Gerwen at Arena Birmingham. The permutations for both players could not be more finely placed.
Van Gerwen returned to the top of the table after thrashing previous leader Rob Cross last week. The Dutchman celebrates his 30th birthday today, but the one present he will seek most is a win over Wade tonight to preserve his one-point lead at the summit.
Wade, one of only two players, along with Daryl Gurney, to have beaten van Gerwen so far in this year’s Premier League, currently sits in third place, but only occupies a play-off spot by virtue of legs difference.
Indeed, Wade, Gerwyn Price and Mensur Suljovic are all locked on 14 points, while the aforementioned Gurney is two points back, in sixth place.
With only three games left after tonight to go, the race for The O2 and the coveted top four is close to boiling point, and Wade knows doing the double over van Gerwen would provide a huge boost, not just in qualifying for the play-offs, but also going forward for the rest of 2019.
After winning back-to-back TV titles in the final months of last season, Wade has been back in the winners’ enclosure again during the last few weeks, winning three Players Championship titles.
For much of this Premier League, Wade has been one of the most consistent performers. His tournament average, of 98.39, is only bettered by van Gerwen and Cross, and his checkout percentage, of 45.68 per cent, only eclipsed by the man at the top.
In terms of his scoring, Wade has more 180s than van Gerwen and Cross, as well as 140s and 100s. Wade’s timing has always been a staple of his game, but an improvement in his treble hitting, coupled with maintaining his handiness on the outer ring, has made him a real force once again. It is a prospect which even he does not know quite how to handle.
Wade said this week: “I’ve not been playing my best darts for five years, but now I’m starting to play well again which makes me feel both excited and nervous.
“I know I’m as good as anyone else, I know I can win TV titles including the Premier League but now it’s up to me to go and do it.”
And on tonight’s clash with van Gerwen, he said: “Out of all the players in the Premier League I think I’m the most confident in playing against Michael.
“Michael is amazing at what he does, he’s a phenomenal dart player who I respect hugely but I know I can beat him.”
Whatever the outcome in Birmingham tonight, a return to The O2 for the first time since 2013 looks on the cards for Wade. Being involved in a shoot out for one of darts’ biggest prizes, now that is a scenario to feel both excited and nervous about.
2019 Unibet Premier League
Night 13 – Thursday April 25
Mensur Suljovic v Michael Smith
Rob Cross v Gerwyn Price
Daryl Gurney v Peter Wright
James Wade v Michael van Gerwen