Sensational. Sublime. Phenomenal. Of all the words used to describe a world-class performance in the world of darts, there is one phrase which stands out the most: Taylor-esque.
For the last nine days in Blackpool, as the World Matchplay made its triumphant return to the Winter Gardens, for the first time since 2019, Peter Wright produced a series of performances befitting of the man whose name the trophy is named after.
Rewind the clock back four years, to Wright’s first appearance in a World Matchplay final. On the same night, Phil Taylor was making his 17th and final appearance in a Blackpool finale.
As Wright would later admit, the occasion got the better of him. Wright was the third seed for the 2017 event, while Taylor, in his last year on the PDC circuit, was the eighth seed. Yet Wright allowed Taylor to walk out second, rather than following the rankings which dictate that the lowest-ranked player comes out first.
Wright did not play badly that night. A 99.74 average was, at the time, the sixth highest-losing average in a World Matchplay final. The problem was the final only lasted 26 legs. Taylor averaged 104.24 and won 18-8 to win a 16th World Matchplay.
Last night, Wright was back in a World Matchplay final. This time against the defending champion Dimitri Van den Bergh – a man who it is now common knowledge stayed with the Wright family, in England, during the first lockdown last year.
It would have been understandable for emotions to run high, given the bond that the two finalists now share. However, this was not the 2017 version of Peter Wright up on the Winter Gardens stage. This is the 2021 version of Peter Wright, who is able to put all of the emotions to one side, at least during the game anyway.
Wright was at his ruthless best last night. After winning the first session 4-1, Wright then averaged 122.25 in the second session to once again take four of the five legs, cleaning up 89, 80 and 76 checkouts with pinpoint precision.
Wright did not let up, even as the finish line came closer into sight. Leading 12-8 heading into the fifth session, this next stretch of five legs was perhaps his most clinical of the final.
After holding throw in 11 darts, Wright would punish missed doubles from Van den Bergh in each of the next three legs, before checking out 84 on the bull, with his opponent waiting on tops, to sweep the session 5-0. From 12-8 to 17-8 in a matter of minutes. Each winning double another blow to his former housemate’s hopes of retaining the title.
The title-winning moment arrived two legs later for Wright. Although his dart at double 18 for a 156 checkout went inside, it will be hard to ever top Colin Lloyd’s 170 finish to win the 2005 World Matchplay, unless you sneak a fourth dart into your hand.
Wright sealed the title on double nine in his next visit and, with that, becomes only the fifth player to have won both the PDC World Championship and World Matchplay – the two biggest ranking events in the organisation.
At 51, Wright is the oldest player to have completed the double, but after the string of displays he has produced over the last week, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Wright was 43 when he made his big breakthrough in the top end of the PDC, reaching the 2014 World Championship final. Almost a decade later and he is still one of the world’s best and contesting major finals.
Time might not be on his side to truly dominate the sport and finish up boasting a collection of titles similar to Taylor’s, but with every major win Wright is now strengthening his argument to be in the top 10 of all time. Even if last night’s win has not put him there in your list, he won’t be too far away.