The head-to-head record going into last night’s Champions League of Darts final between Peter Wright and Michael van Gerwen made for rather one-sided reading.
The two rivals, whose first competitive meeting in the PDC dates back to the early months of 2009, were facing off for the 78th time. Van Gerwen had come out on top a commanding 57 previous occasions, including all nine of their televised finals (10 if you include a World Cup final).
But there was reason for Wright to believe that last night in Leicester could be the moment, at the 11th time of asking, to deny the world number one in the finale of a televised tournament.
This was a player who less than a week earlier had broken van Gerwen’s record for the highest average in a broadcast game. Wright did that away from the television cameras at Players Championship 29, but it was still captured on the live stream and garnered plenty of attention.
Would it be 11th time lucky for Wright? At 10-7 up, winning one of the next four legs would be enough for Wright to end his TV final hoodoo against van Gerwen. The pair traded 180s and a perfect 137 left Wright on 24 after 12. Van Gerwen went wayward with an effort at the bull to deny Wright match darts, but three darts at double 12 would not find the required target.
The first two went high above the target, Wright then paused and turned away, a moment which van Gerwen would later say post match revealed to him his opponent’s nerves. The third match dart went inside and van Gerwen returned to mop up 34 and it was a kill which, unfortunately did not get the credit it deserved at the time, due to the broadcaster’s slow reactions.
After going inside on the double 17, the world number one showed his quick thinking to stay at the bottom of the board and go single three and double seven to keep the match alive.
The next three legs would see Wright get two chances at a 156 checkout to win the title, a shot he had taken out as early as the second leg. But he would not get a single dart at the double 18 and van Gerwen, after winning the next two to level at 10-10, would throw first in the final leg.
A pair of two treble visits, 134 and 140, took van Gerwen down to 146 after nine, 146 then became 50 after 12. Wright, on 186 after nine, put in a ton to leave 86, but van Gerwen swept up the 50 in two to hand another hard-to-take defeat in a TV final for Wright.
The record now reads van Gerwen 11-0 Wright in TV finals. This Champions League final was the second of those 11 that Wright has spurned match darts, few need reminding of the 2017 Premier League’s concluding moments.
Will Wright ever get one over van Gerwen in a TV final? It’s not like he has never beaten the sport’s current best player before. In fact, only four players have more career wins against him (Phil Taylor 34, Raymond van Barneveld 20, Andy Hamilton 19 and Gary Anderson 18) than Wright’s haul of 17.
Some of those 17 wins have come on the TV. It was in last year’s Champions League that Wright knocked out van Gerwen in the semi-finals. He infamously whitewashed him on the European Tour only a couple of years ago.
But there just seems to be something stopping him when the stakes are at their most highest against van Gerwen. Since announcing himself as one of the world’s best with a run to a World Championship final almost six years ago, Wright has positioned himself among the game’s elite ever since, yet he will feel that his trophy cabinet does not match with his ability.
Winning the UK Open in 2017, his first major, was a big moment, but it is still the only big title to his name. Yes, he has won more on the TV, several World Series titles along with the World Cup this summer, but in terms of the PDC’s biggest prizes, unlike van Gerwen, who has now won all of them, Wright has a lot of gaps to fill.
It’s only been in the last 12 months we’ve seen Wright start to slip down the rankings. He had spells at number two and three, but perhaps dropping out of those places, and having to potentially face van Gerwen in semi-finals and quarter-finals, rather than those dreaded finals, could ease the pressure if match darts come round again.
Last night will have been a bitter pill to swallow, having done 99 per cent of the job, it was just the last one per cent missing when it came to the final dart. Wright has rebounded from set backs before and is playing at a very high level again, and more consistently too. No doubt about it, he will have a say in where the rest of this season’s big prizes end up.
Picture: Lawrence Lustig/PDC