Phil Taylor has set up a mouth watering quarter final with world number one Michael van Gerwen, in his last ever World Matchplay at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. Taylor has won the World Matchplay fifteen times and would love to add another before he hangs up his darts. Sadly in his way, there is a nearly unstoppable Dutchman. Taylor and van Gerwen have struck up a tense rivalry since 2012, when a young van Gerwen had just started his rise to darting stardom. Which at times has had unsavoury word fired across the press at each other. Across three decades Taylor has seen off every rival that has ever tried to take his darting crown, but this is one battle the great man seems to have come up short, as age and lack of hunger and match sharpness appear to be showing.
In the early days of their great rivalry, Taylor still had the game to keep the young Dutchman in tow, beating him in the 2013 world final and the 2014 World Matchplay final. Since then van Gerwen has dominated Taylor and Taylor has looked increasing frustrated on TV, as the Dutchman struts his stuff. Only in last year’s Matchplay final, Taylor was caught on camera stirring up the crowd while van Gerwen was throwing, at the time Taylor was a mile behind and took to the Peter Manley dark arts to try and get back into the match. The sentimental darts fans will be hoping that Taylor can conjure up his A game one last time, to set up the fairytale end to his career.
Phil Taylor set up the heavyweight quarter-final clash, after beating his old nemesis Raymond van Barneveld. In a game that use to grace finals, Taylor and Barney met in the last sixteen at this year’s tournament. Pregame there was much hype around the match that many had labeled the ‘El Clasico’ of darts, with many saying that Barney could end Taylor’s dream of a sixteenth World Matchplay title. In truth, Taylor was never pushed and found it all too easy, as van Barneveld never seem happy on the stage even making changes to his darts mid game. Taylor ran out an 11-3 winner, saving some of his energy for Friday night.
“It was a lot easier than I expected,” admitted Taylor, who is making his final challenge at the Winter Gardens before retirement. “Probably 11-9 would have been a more justified score, but Ray was unlucky, and his doubles cost him.
“Raymond never gives in, and his scoring was lovely, but a couple of his doubles let him down tonight, and he’s a better player than that.”
Van Gerwen also had an easy night at the office, as he beat Simon Whitlock by the same score. The world number one has had his opening two games all his own way so far, too easy at times the world champions seemed to have switched off. At points in his match with Whitlock, he had lost the intensity that he frequently plays with, producing some sloppy darts but Whitlock was never close enough to pressure van Gerwen This has been a feature of van Gerwen’s Matchplay, as in his first round game he stopped to sign autographs.
“It was quite comfortable for me, and I didn’t have to worry too much, but I’d rather play a game that goes all the way,” said Van Gerwen. “There’s a lot more in the tank, and I’m going to need it against Phil.
“I’m sure Phil will put me under pressure. He’s still looking good and playing well, and I’m looking forward to facing him because nobody has put me under pressure so far.
“I think I’ve got a huge advantage over him because my form is better and my confidence is good, but you still have to do the right things at the right moments, and I’ll have to do that on Friday.”
Come Friday the Winter Gardens will be rocking, in largely pro Taylor crowd, as the Blackpool fans have taken the Power to their hearts over the last 20 years. Taylor will need to roll back the years, in all parts of his game if he is to cause an upset. I’m not sure there have been many time in his glittering career that Taylor will have been 4/1 with the bookies, but this where he finds himself at the moment.