The timing was right. He stood there with the cathedral, the symbol of his adopted homeland, printed on his red and white jersey. His face was filled with emptiness and great relief. Florian Hempel had just won the Super League final against Niko Springer 10:8. On November 11th, the “Kölsche Jung” bought the ticket to London and, like last year, flew to the Darts World Championship, which began on December 15th.
“I didn’t believe in it anymore after the initial course of the game. Niko put extreme pressure and played extremely well. Now I’m going on vacation for six weeks,” said the 32-year-old after his triumph, and given the five-day qualifying marathon with two group phases and three final knockout games, you could sympathize with him. But Hempel immediately dismissed his spontaneous planning as irony: “Now I have a goal that I can work towards.”
It should go straight on, although after the final both players needed a little time to process the duel, which was at times on the edge of what was allowed, and to cool down their emotions.
There was a lot at stake in Niedernhausen in Hesse. For Springer, his debut at Alexandra Palace was just one win away. After his successful premiere with World Championship victories in rounds one and two last year, Hempel wanted to buy the ticket for the biggest stage of darts for the second time and with the guaranteed 7500 prize money also take an important step towards getting his tour card next year.
In the final, both of them had played psycho tricks right from the start and disrupted the opponent’s rhythm, for example by delaying their own shots or pulling out the arrows – whether consciously or not. Things crackled early in this finale for the two by far most consistent players of this five-day qualifier. And shortly afterwards the nickel things became visible.
Springer addressed his jubilation at the equalizer after being 0:2 behind to make it 2:2 with a loud scream and a serious look in his opponent’s face. And also in the fifth leg the “Meenzer Bub” was angry, while Hempel kept shaking his head in annoyance.
“In the beginning it was maybe my jubilation that teased him. Then he teased back, then I teased back. Then he said a word that might not have been appropriate. Then by me”, Hempel described the chronology of the provocations at the oche.
In between, but also good darts were played. Springer not only equalized his opponent’s early lead, but also took four more legs in a row and, with an average of 98.5, was also nine points better than his opponent in terms of throwing.
Then Hempel countered again, but when the score was 6:6 he suddenly got upset again about knights, broke off his throw and went back to the table. Both players shook their heads at the opponent’s behavior. Hempel also reacted at 7:6 to Springer when his opponent passed him on the way back from the board.
“Then we both noticed at 6: 6 or 7: 7, in the phase: ‘Okay, that’s enough.’ And then we let it go,” recalled the later winner and was quite self-critical: “Maybe it was the experience in the end, but maybe it was also that at some point we gave up on the board. Both. It has escalated too much. I don’t blame myself for that at all. I don’t want to blame Niko for that. Not at all.”
The end of the feud may have been caused by a spectator who called in after two triple-20s when Hempel was recorded and thus aroused the displeasure of both players.
Rare agreement on this day, which Hempel ended with his converted second match dart on double 10 to 10:8. And even if Springer didn’t shake hands at first, Hempel was certain: “In the end, the better player from my point of view won.”