With the new Premier League season set to start behind closed doors next week, SAM CARTER picks out his top 10 televised matches played without a crowd in the PDC over the last 12 months…
10. Adrian Lewis 6-5 Michael Smith (2021 Masters)
After his second-round defeat at the World Championship to Danny Baggish, Adrian Lewis would not have expected to be at the Masters this year, as he was well outside of the top 16. The news that the tournament was to be expanded to 24 players granted Lewis an invitation as the world number 24, and a clash with Michael Smith in the first round.
The Masters would be the first event in what is one of the biggest seasons in Lewis’ career, as he bids to try and stop his continued fall down the rankings. The two men fought tooth and nail for the victory as momentum swayed back and forth in this best of 11 legs match.
Lewis won the first leg, despite Smith missing two darts at double, before Smith reeled in the big fish 170 checkout to equalise. An 11-dart hold of throw followed for Lewis, who then broke to go 3-1 up and seemingly hold a big advantage in the game, with Smith needing two breaks of throw to win.
One of those breaks was achieved instantly. This time Smith hit a showpiece 132 checkout on the bull to leave the match finely poised for the second half. Bully Boy showed he meant business by hitting yet another 170 checkout to make it 3-3.
A simple Lewis hold followed before incredibly Smith hit yet another huge checkout to draw level, this time a 150. Two less dramatic holds of throw followed and within 17 minutes of play we were at a decider, which Jackpot took last dart in hand on double five.
9. Gary Anderson 18-16 Michael Smith (2020 World Matchplay)
As is so often the story for Bully Boy, he was involved in yet another classic here where sadly he was on the wrong end of the result. Michael Smith and Gary Anderson met in a teacher vs student match where big scores and fast-paced legs were aplenty, and it was for me the match of last year’s World Matchplay.
The first five legs went with throw, before Anderson got two breaks of throw in legs 6 and leg 10 making it advantage Anderson after a dozen legs. The Flying Scotsman led 8-4, before Smith took the next three legs to get back to 8-7 down and was sat on 75 to get back level. Anderson was not having any of it though, putting in a superb 127 checkout on the bull to go 9-7 up.
Smith then replied with a 12-dart break of throw and finally got level in the following leg. It was Anderson’s turn to break throw in the 20th leg, a superb 128 checkout leaving him six legs away from a spot in the final, which quickly halved as Anderson punished sloppy darts at double from Smith.
You would be easily forgiven for thinking that despite Smith’s mercurial talent, 14-9 Anderson in a first to 17 leg match was a scoreline that Smith couldn’t bounce back from, but bounce back he did by winning the next five legs, despite Anderson coming close to hitting a huge 167 checkout in leg 27.
Leg 29 was the biggest leg in the match yet where both men missed chances at doubles, before Smith swept in to break throw and lead for the first time in the match, a break which was instantly nullified by Anderson with a superb 116 checkout.
Both men held throw to reach 16-16, where a tiebreak situation came into play. Anderson managed to take the victory with a hold of throw and a monstrous leg against throw. Smith was yet again so near so far, but this night belonged to Anderson who led for near enough all the match and very nearly blew it late on.
8. Nathan Aspinall 3-2 Scott Waites (2021 World Championship)
Several matches went to the final set at the latest edition of the PDC World Championship, a few even went to the final leg, but this is one of the ones that certainly sticks out for me, as Nathan Aspinall faced Scott Waites in a War of the Roses clash.
Waites was a debutant in this event and had already taken part in a fantastic game, securing a 3-2 victory over Canadian Matt Campbell in a match where all five legs in all five sets were utilised.
Waites looked like he was continuing in that vein of form, scoring 140s with high regularity and taking the first set comfortably 3-1. A 101 checkout in the first leg set the tone for the second set, where Waites was averaging around 106 and, despite a superb 160 checkout from The Asp, Waites found himself one set away from round three after winning the second set 3-2.
Aspinall roared back with a 3-1 victory in set three and hit a 104 checkout in the first leg of the fourth set to break throw. Waites then missed three darts at double in the fourth leg that would have seen him throwing for the match, allowing Aspinall to square the match up at 2-2.
In the final set, Waites looked set to break throw in leg one by being sat on 48, but Aspinall hit two superb treble 19s and an equally superb double 18 to checkout 150. Waites left himself throwing for the match by hitting a scintillating 125 checkout.
Heartbreak followed for Waites, who missed match darts to win and Aspinall did enough to break and then hold throw to win.
7. Paul Lim 3-2 Luke Humphries (2021 World Championship)
We’re sticking with the 2021 World Championship, as this time we go to a match that was not necessarily laden with quality, but a match which told one of the stories of the tournament. The legend that is Paul Lim arrived at Alexandra Palace for his 25th World Championship and had an extremely stiff challenge in Humphries.
The first set could have went either way, Humphries taking it 3-1. Despite the second set having the same scoreline, it was much more comfortable for Humphries, wrapping it up with a 103 checkout and it looked like the veteran Lim was going to be on his way back home.
But the 66-year-old was not going to let the former world youth champion have it all his own way though and, despite Humphries hitting a 108 checkout, he could not stop Lim going on to win the third set 3-1. This match was a classic mismatch in styles, with the much more methodical and steadier Lim trying to reign in the more exuberant and flash Humphries.
Lim sensationally hit a 121 checkout on the bull in the second leg of the fourth set, but had to rely on Humphries missing a match dart at tops before pinning tops himself to take us all the way to a deciding leg in set four that he had to win to keep the match alive. Lim declined the option to go for the bullseye and risked not getting a shot at the double at all, despite Humphries being on 170, but got what he needed anyway, taking us all the way to the final set.
Lim would have to break throw in the final set if he was going to win and it looked less likely when Humphries went 1-0 up with an 11-dart leg. Lim drew back level and then the turning point came; Humphries blew 12 darts at double, allowing Lim to swipe the leg from under his nose despite missing six darts himself to wind up throwing for the match, and Lim used all his experience to hold his nerve and hold throw.
6. Luke Humphries 10-9 Dave Chisnall (2021 UK Open)
Keen to put his afore mentioned loss to Paul Lim behind him, Cool Hand Luke returned to our screens with a vengeance in the UK Open, coming through the first two days to reach the final day and a clash with Dave Chisnall in the quarter-finals.
A 12-dart break of throw got Chizzy off the mark and a hold of throw followed, before Humphries reeled off five consecutive legs, scoring a 180 in four of them.
Three holds of throw followed to give Humphries a 6-3 lead at the halfway point. But Chisnall is not one for giving up though and hit a 153 checkout in the 10th leg and then broke throw in the 11th. Two holds of throw followed before Chisnall turned the screw again, winning three legs in a row with checkouts of 88, 155 and 100.
It was 9-7 to Chisnall and he looked a huge favourite to reach the 10-leg target, but in truth he never got near, with Humphries averaging 101 in the last three legs to clinch the tie 10-9 in a decider.
5. Gerwyn Price 4-3 Dave Chisnall (2020 World Grand Prix)
Dave Chisnall was involved in another see-saw game at the World Grand Prix last year, this time against Gerwyn Price in the semi-finals.
The first leg in this double in, double out clash saw both men hit a 180 but the rest of the set was rather quiet. Both players were good on the starting doubles and holding throw comfortably, with Price winning the first set 3-2. Chisnall made light work of the second set, winning it 3-0.
In any form of darts, breaks of throw are extremely important but perhaps they can not be more important than in double in set play, and it was Chisnall who got one of them crucial breaks of throw in leg one of the third set with a superb 130 checkout.
In the fourth leg both men hit a maximum before The Iceman hit a superb 104 checkout to break Chisnall back. This was followed up with Price hitting another maximum, holding his throw to extend his lead to 2-1 in sets.
The fourth set was the most crucial and peculiar yet, being a total reverse on set one, which saw every single leg result in a break of throw. A 122 checkout from Chisnall was the highlight, but it was Price who won the set with some efficient doubling, extending his lead to 3-1 in sets and going within one set of the winning line.
Price looked to be well on his way to the final by winning the first leg in the fifth set with another 104 checkout, but Chisnall put in a monster average for a double in match of 101 for the set to win three legs on the spin and pull a set back.
Three out of four on the doubles and a 104 checkout of his own followed for Chisnall, who won the sixth set 3-1 without too much trouble to send us all the way to a deciding set, where the momentum suggested it would be Chisnall making the final of the World Grand Prix for the third time.
That favourite tag was justified as Chisnall immediately broke throw with Price missing darts at double for the leg, however it was a 130 checkout by Price on the bull in the next leg with Chisnall sat on 74 which turned the match on its head.
Two comfortable holds of throw followed to take us all the way to a deciding leg on Price’s throw. Chisnall roared ahead in the leg with a 180 but missed three darts at double to allow Price to unconventionally take out 56 with a double 16 and double 12 combination.
4. England 2-1 Austria (2020 World Cup)
As you may have learned from this list, I love a game that seesaws from one way to another and no game over the last calendar year seesawed quite as much as this encounter.
Michael Smith and Rob Cross were teaming up for the second year in a row in this tournament, whereas Austrian stalwart Mensur Suljovic was joined by Rowby-John Rodriguez for the fifth time.
Smith and Suljovic were first up in the singles. Smith held throw in a tight first leg and then followed it up by breaking throw in the second leg. Smith only needed nine darts to get down to 130 in the third leg and went on to win it, putting himself only one leg away from getting the first point on the board for his nation.
Suljovic held throw comfortably in leg four, and then brought himself back into the match by breaking the Smith throw in a dozen darts. The Gentle then held his throw to bring it back to 3-3 and take it to a decider for the first point, where Suljovic yet again broke in a dozen darts, this time on the bullseye with Smith sat on 16 ready to win the point.
In the second singles it wasn’t looking good for Cross either, as Rodriguez won the right to throw first in the match, held his throw with a superb 160 checkout in leg one and punished a sloppy showing from Cross on the doubles to take out 100 and put his country two legs away from the semi-finals.
Cross showed great mettle to break back straight away, but he could not follow up and despite him being well ahead in the leg he got broken again to make it 3-1 to Rodriguez, requiring Cross to take the next three legs, two of which would be against throw.
Part one of the mission was completed quite comfortably, but Cross had to watch Rodriguez miss a match dart in the sixth leg to finally force a decider.
It was a nervy deciding leg, with Cross missing the first opportunity to take the tie on double 16. Rodriguez then made a massive error, he was on 50 points for the match and elected to go for a single 18, double 16 combination but accidentally overpitched and hit a double 18, and then went inside on double seven to blow his chance.
Cross then had three darts in hand and missed all three of them, leaving Rodriguez back with two match darts which he could not take either. Cross was not too happy about something on stage but managed to keep his focus and hit double six to force a doubles decider.
Ironically, after eight out of 14 legs went against the darts in the matches previous, there was none in the doubles decider and it was England who prevailed 4-3.
In the doubles match, the averages were lingering around the 80-81 mark and the highest checkout was 40, but this match was proof that you do not need high averages and big checkouts to have a great and entertaining match.
3. Simon Whitlock 16-15 Michael van Gerwen (2020 Grand Slam)
When Simon Whitlock defeated Michael Van Gerwen 11-4 in the World Matchplay last year, it was the first time that the Australian had managed to beat the Dutchman for four years.
A much-anticipated rematch then followed in the World Grand Prix, where incredibly Whitlock whitewashed van Gerwen 3- 0. We all know what van Gerwen is like and know that he will have been keen to face Whitlock again soon after to exact his revenge.
That next encounter came in the quarter-finals of the Grand Slam, where van Gerwen got off to a flyer, opening up a 4-2 lead despite a fantastic 124 checkout from Whitlock in leg three.
The next four legs all went with throw, but Whitlock managed to break throw in leg 11, amazingly hitting two maximums each in legs 10 and 11. Three legs in a row followed for MVG and few would have bet against The Green Machine getting his revenge over Whitlock with the scores at 9-5.
A crucial break and hold of throw followed for The Wizard to get within two legs of van Gerwen, which was still the gap 22 legs into the game, with van Gerwen only four legs away from victory compared to Whitlock’s six.
The crucial break of throw came for Whitlock straight away to pull it back to 12-11. He completed his mission to draw back level by holding throw.
It seemed to be all over when MVG got a break of throw that he didn’t even need to go 15-13 up, resulting in him being one away from the 16-leg target. But MVG missed three darts to win the match in the next leg, allowing Whitlock to break and then hold throw to send us all the way.
Van Gerwen has an extremely big reputation of winning last-leg deciders and looked set to do it once again, but he missed five match darts, allowing Whitlock, who had hit 20 180s, to swipe the leg and match to defeat van Gerwen for the third time in a row on TV.
2. Michael van Gerwen 11-10 Mervyn King (2020 Players Championship Finals)
The silver medal on my list goes to the last televised final of 2020, and what a final it was. This was a final important for both players for different reasons; for van Gerwen, he really wanted to pick up his first TV title since lockdown and for King, he wanted to pick up his first TV title in the PDC, full stop.
Both men held throw at their first attempt, before King punished an idle third leg from van Gerwen to lead 2-1, a lead which he further improved on by holding throw in the next.
MVG went on to hold throw and break back in the sixth leg with a 94 checkout, which prompted van Gerwen to produce a signature celebration, much to King’s derision.
Three holds of throw followed to make the score 5-4 in van Gerwen’s favour, but MVG then turned the match in his favour again, breaking King’s throw with a superb 160 checkout to another roar right in front of a still unimpressed King.
Following the commercial break, breaks of throw were traded, a highlight being another big MVG celebration to King’s disdain, this time after a 120 checkout.
King followed up his break of throw in the 13th of leg with a hold in the 14th, bringing us to 7-7 in a race to 11 legs.
It was looking like MVGs to lose as he took the next two legs, one with a showpiece 135 on the bull to be within reach of the trophy. King fired back at the then world number one, punishing him for missing three darts at double by taking out a huge 126 checkout on the bull and act like he was going to utter a big celebration and then refusing to do so.
King then brought himself level with a 13-dart leg for 9-9. Both finalists held throw comfortably to force a decider where MVG did what he so often does, winning the last leg to take the title.
1. Michael van Gerwen 4-3 Joe Cullen (2021 World Championship)
This is not only in my opinion the best there has been in a TV event behind closed doors, but one of the best in PDC history. Michael van Gerwen and Joe Cullen have had several exciting and high-quality affairs before, but none at this calibre.
This seven-set classic started with six 180s in the first set and, despite missing nine darts at double in the set, Cullen managed to take it 3-2.
The 180 tally was matched in set two, with Cullen missing a dart at double nine to wrap up the second set 3-2, allowing MVG to win the set.
The third set was the highest quality yet, MVG and Cullen averaging 111 and 108 respectively, but as every leg went with throw, Cullen regained his one-set lead.
Cullen turned himself into the favourite for the match by breaking MVG’s throw in leg one of set four with a superb 123 checkout on the bullseye. MVG then instantly replied with a break of throw to make himself favourite for the set, but winded up losing it after missing three darts at double.
Despite Cullen peppering the treble 20 bed, MVG managed to reduce his arrears to one set, having survived The Rockstar missing two darts at double to go within one leg of the quarter finals.
The sixth set was the fifth in the match that needed the full compliment of five legs to decide it, and in that deciding leg Cullen was left on 90 points for the match and saw a match dart at the bull go agonisingly wide by no more than a quarter of an inch.
The deciding set was upon us and it saw both men hold throw in the first two legs. Cullen kept us his end of the bargain, smashing in his 19th 180 and keeping his cool to put the pressure back on MVG.
Mighty Mike did not start the next leg too hot, but would still have fancied his chances to equalise as he was sat on double eight and Cullen had a mammoth 164 to try and checkout.
Cullen got the two treble 19s required for another match dart at the bullseye, which was again narrowly wide for Cullen.
The Yorkshireman was still favourite for the match going into the final leg as he had the darts, but when Cullen could not find a big treble in his first nine darts and MVG found five of them, the writing was on the wall.
Van Gerwen would go onto to pin double eight to win a match that he could so easily have lost, and this goes down for me as easily the best match in a TV major event that has taken place behind closed doors over the last 12 months.