He has the potential to regularly beat the best players in the world. He reached the semi-finals at the last World Cup, as well as at the UK Open in March. And Dimitri Van den Bergh has already won a major title by triumphing at World Matchplay 2020.
As a reward, he has been called up to the eight-man Premier League field for the first time this season, and after eight years on the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) tour, it begs the question of how far the 28-year-old Belgian is going can still go in his career. The “Dreammaker” is so down-to-earth and realistic in the interview that he takes his nickname ad absurdum.
WORLD: You are currently playing everything that is available in tournaments in professional darts: Pro Tour, European Tour, Premier League – you leave nothing out. Do you sometimes have the thought of missing out on a tournament because it’s just getting too much?
Dimitri Van den Bergh: I would only do that if the rankings gave me the opportunity. Then maybe I could skip one or two events. But I’m number 19 in the Pro Tour rankings. That means I have to go. I do not have another choice. I do my best every time. I can’t do more, I just have to accept everything as it comes. And get a good rest.
WORLD: With so many tournaments you play, are you still nervous when you go out on stage?
Van den Bergh: Always. I’m always nervous. It has never been different.
WORLD: But not during the game anymore.
Van den Bergh: Yes, yes. Due to the experience, situations arise in the game that you know from other matches. And then you know: If I go out now, then the opponent will be under a lot of pressure in a great game. And when you know that, the stress of not making the mistakes comes back. If you can do it, you get the right boost yourself, you stand there with strength in your shoes. Then you believe that you will get the victory.
WORLD: Do you work explicitly on this point? Learning to deal with stress and staying strong?
Van den Bergh: No, I just had to learn to relax a bit. In the past two years, I was very much in the tunnel. But now I just have to take it easy and have fun. Sometimes though, when I feel like I want to play like that today, I consciously go back into the tunnel. And in the end, as darts players, there are only two things we can do: either we hit or we don’t.
WORLD: Is it really that easy? About three years ago you started to slow down significantly. The phases you took at the oche were downright meditative. They stood there with their eyes closed. No player before had done that to such an extreme. So why are you returning to that looseness now? You were extremely successful during the pandemic, winning the World Matchplay and reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup and the Grand Slam.
Van den Bergh: It was a great time, yes. I did great performances and played good tournaments. And I still think I can do it without that extreme focus. I made it to the semi-finals at the World Cup and the UK Open and just did my thing there: just have fun, enjoy.
WORLD: But why did you change it?
Van den Bergh: Everyone on the tour can throw good darts, and then all in all it’s just an extreme effort for me to get extra focus every time. It makes a person extremely tired and creates additional tension. And now I’m more relaxed, let it come to me. What happens happens. I accept it, do my best, and when it’s my time, it’s my time, and then I’ll come down as a winner.
WORLD: That means you changed it consciously?
Van den Bergh: Yes. I think that also has something to do with the fact that you have to get to know yourself. You go into the tournaments with one goal, you want to be a winner. And I want to win as many majors as possible. But if you haven’t done it yet, you’re looking for a way to do it. I have only internalized this clarity and this ambition for a few years.
WORLD: What role does your stay of several months three years ago in Peter Wright’s house play?
Van den Bergh: A very important one. I saw what can be achieved there. Understood what it means to be a professional darts player. The realization was: Be smart with the money you win and then you’ll have quite a nice life. That’s exactly what he showed me. Many always thought I had learned from him in training there. But it wasn’t. He hardly participated either. I was on the board very often, but he wasn’t. He was always in his garden or helping his wife.
WORLD: So you learned from him how nice it can be to be world champion and to live as a professional, so also economically and financially?
Van den Bergh: Yes. He was an inspiration and motivated me. He also believes that one day I will win the World Cup. But he really just wanted to talk to me about his story, his experiences.
WORLD: What influence does the time in the Wright house still have on you today? Can you be more specific?
Van den Bergh: I just had a lot of time to completely reflect on myself: How did I start? Where do I come from? what is my goal What else do I want to do?
WORLD: You could have done that if you had lived with Michael Smith or Joe Cullen. But what exactly did Peter Wright give you?
Van den Bergh: He shared his experiences with me. And I benefit and learn from everyone in this regard. Robert Wagner, for example, taught me that you always have to check the same way. That you have to believe in it, even when things aren’t going well. Tony West told me to only throw the bullseye for the first half hour or the first ten minutes, not straight to the 20, because you’re not going to relax in the beginning. And Peter Wright taught me that the best way to train doubles is in a circle. Not the 1 first, then the 2, 3 and 4.
WORLD: So you choose from each player what suits you best?
Van den Bergh: What I like, exactly. That’s how I am, and that’s how I do it. And that’s how I learn from everyone. I also learned a lot from my dad, and then of course from Kim Huybrechts. And I learn a lot from Ronny (Huybrechts, ed.). And now I actually watch a lot of other top players. Michael Smith is an important role model for me right now.
Van den Bergh: He once made it into the Premier League, but then everything went wrong, he took a step back…
WORLD: …and then became world champion.
Van den Bergh: Exactly. And I pay attention to that, I remember that, I learn from that. That’s why I don’t let defeats in the Premier League get me down and keep having fun. I enjoy it because it’s an amazing experience that a lot of other people would love to have and will never get. I’ve completely changed in that regard.
WORLD: Where exactly do you want to go? Or to put it another way: Where do you think you belong? You’re someone who’s consistently in the top 16 in the world, but you can still find yourself in the bottom four at tournaments.
Van den Bergh: I would have to win the World Cup to be first or second. I think I definitely belong in the top 16.
WORLD: You’ve been there for a long time. That can’t be your goal.
Van den Bergh: But that’s really good. There are so many other young people learning and growing. I have to make sure that I work well with my thoughts in order to be able to clear my head again after a bad day. If you work hard, you will make it. I believe in that.
WORLD: But you have no idea what exactly is still possible for you?
Van den Bergh: It’s a bit difficult to say. Of course I know my A-game and I know that I can play these 115, 120 averages. But we are humans, not robots. Otherwise the top eight would not be a problem. I’m at number nine or ten now. I find that pretty crass. And to come back to your question: of course I want to be number one in the world. That’s the goal anyway. But I remain objective and patient and see what fate will bring me.
WORLD: Would number one mean more to you than a world title? Because maybe it says more about consistency? Or is there a special tournament that you really want to win again?
Van den Bergh: I definitely want to win the World Cup. And all other majors at least once. But it’s not all easy. You see how many different winners there have been lately: Michael Smith, Ross Smith, Andrew Gilding. This is really awesome and shows how crazy the level is now.
WORLD: Thanks to your success, darts are booming in Belgium like perhaps no other country. Has your everyday life changed as a result?
Van den Bergh: It’s really crazy, yes. I can’t go out without people recognizing me. It’s happening everywhere now: whether I’m going shopping, going out to eat somewhere or just walking down the street. But I have remained a young person with my feet on the ground.
WORLD: And in the media? Have you ever sat on a talk show between a politician and an actor?
Van den Bergh: I don’t have the time to do that. There are very frequent requests, but I turn them all down. I’m on the road so much with my sport, and when I’m home again I need time with my family. I don’t have to stick my head to the TV again.
WORLD: Do you market yourself? Or do you have a manager who takes care of it? How do you invest your money?
Van den Bergh: I’m someone who likes to save. First of all I want to have a house for me and my family.
WORLD: Does that mean you don’t live in your own house?
Van den Bergh: We live in an apartment.
WORLD: It was said that you bought a house when you moved back to your home country from England last year. Why the farewell to the island?
Van den Bergh: That’s easy to explain. Our daughter started school.
WORLD: How did your role as a father change? Have you matured? became more reasonable?
Van den Bergh: I’ve always been sensible. Always someone who has thought a lot about what I want in life and what is expected of me. I saw a lot and learned from it.
WORLD: What, for example?
Van den Bergh: Since it’s not my own experience, I don’t want to say anything about it. But that made me someone very early on who approached things calmly and objectively. And that’s where I think my penchant for frugality and down-to-earthness comes from. For example, living in my own house with my family has always been my dream.
WORLD: I don’t know the real estate prices in Belgium, but your prize money over the past few years is transparent. Plus income from the Premier League, World Series, exhibitions and sponsors. You’ve earned millions. So why not just buy a house? Or are you planning a palace?
Van den Bergh: As I said, I have a dream. And then I would also like to have a house that we don’t have to move out of anymore.
WORLD: Can you describe your dream house a bit?
Van den Bergh: It’s really important that we have an extra guest room in our house, a fitness room. A “Man Cave” of course, a kitchen, a big table, a big garden, a swimming pool.
WORLD: Indoor or outdoor?
Van den Bergh: Indoors, I think.
WORLD: Or you simply win the Premier League. Then it’s enough for both of you.
Van den Bergh: Yes, yes, if only it were that easy. We have often looked to see if there is something for us on the market. But it’s very expensive in Antwerp. And I’m also not someone who buys a house and then has no more money in the account. I always need my financial buffer. That’s what I think in my head.
WORLD: And when do you think it will be?
Van den Bergh: Preferably by the end of this year. If we haven’t found anything by then, at least rent something suitable. A house or apartment to have more privacy and give my daughter a real home.
WORLD: That means you don’t have your own apartment at the moment?
Van den Bergh: I still live with my mother. My girlfriend and I have only been together for two and a half or three years.
WORLD: Do you still live with your mother? How many rooms does the apartment have?
Van den Bergh: Yes, in our apartment in Antwerp. We have four rooms. But I am 100 percent sure that I want to live alone with my family. And my wife wants that too. We got to the point that we really have to do it ourselves. But we were still in England until last year and had no reason to look for something. And before that we were only together six months. It was just too early then. And my only advice is: never spend money that you don’t have to spend.