The history of this match almost filled an entire sports career, but in the end, five words were enough for Michael Smith to get to the heart of the meaning of this one victory: “Finally in the winners circle” wrote the Englishman on Twitter: Finally in the circle of winners .
The 32-year-old won the Grand Slam of Darts in Wolverhampton on Sunday evening. Smith outclassed his compatriot Nathan Aspinall 16:5 and thus ended the biggest curse that his sport knows. Above all, hardly anyone would have thought possible the sovereign way in which the “Bully Boy” faced his demons on stage.
Smith was a broken player, the tragic hero amidst the world’s best dart shooters, having never missed an opportunity in the past to show he could show nerve at the crucial moments of big games. He has won 20 tournaments on the PDC tour, but the five triumphs in 2022 also came on a small stage at the European Tour, the invitation tournaments of the World Series or behind closed doors at the Players Championship events.
Smith had also celebrated great victories in the big major tournaments, but in the final there was almost traditionally nothing to get for the number four in the world rankings. This is what happened in 2018 at the World Series Finals and in the Premier League, the World Matchplay 2019, the Masters and World Cup 2020, the UK Open 2022 and most recently, three weeks ago, also at the European Championship. Not to mention the two worst defeats of his career: in 2019 he lost 3:7 to Michael van Gerwen in the final of the World Cup, this year it was Peter Wright who relegated Smith to the thankless 7:5 second place.
While his opponents were always announced as so many times world champion, winner of the Grand Slam or world matchplay champion when he went on stage, the Masters of Ceremonies around chief emcee John McDonald had no choice but to announce the “winner of the Shanghai Darts Masters”. and “former Junior World Champion”. For the darts professional by no means a glory sheet, as his facial expressions always unmistakably underlined. Shanghai Darts Masters – come on! It probably annoyed him even more than the vacuum in his showcase of the big trophies. Especially since the two titles are five and ten years old.
“I just have to keep going, just keep believing in it, and then maybe next time or the one after that it will work out. We’ll see,” the pathetic father of two sons said after his recent final defeat at the European Championship against outsider Ross Smith. Typical Smith phrases when handing over the (always smaller) trophy. The only thing that changed in him was the conviction that slipped from his words as the curse grew.
After his semi-final victory over Luke Humphries, the tenth major final was waiting at the Grand Slam of Darts. And as so often experienced, Smith crouched against the stage wall with tears in his eyes after the last dart. This time, however, it was tears of joy that ran down his cheeks. At 8:14 p.m. local time, he hit his 16th double field of the evening with an arrow in double 20 and broke the spell. He had thrown the last dart in his hand to the ground and then fallen to the horizontal himself. It was only later that he noticed that he suffered a small bleeding wound on his elbow. The relief and happiness that drove him into the arms of his opponent and friend after he struggled a little was too great.
“I usually speak here as a finalist, not a winner,” Smith recalled after being presented with the Eric Bristow Trophy in a shower of confetti. “I’m over the moon, but I just don’t know what to say. I’m not used to it.”
But that is exactly what will change in the coming weeks and months, as the defeated Aspinall predicts. “I’ve reached the finals of two of the last three major tournaments and it’s my second loss. I hope it doesn’t become a trend,” said the 31-year-old with a wink in the direction of his compatriot and hugged him: “I love Michael. I’m so proud of him. You all have no idea how difficult it is to keep going back and forth. He’s been beaten in all the finals, and then when you see all the things people are texting him… It’s tough. Crossing the finish line is difficult – and he’s finally done it. I said to him before the match, ‘Once you win once, you will dominate.’ I feel really sorry for all tour ticket holders. But we will all have problems. The man won his first major.” Michael Smith knows a lot about series.
round of 16
Raymond van Barneveld (NED) – Simon Whitlock (AUS) 10:8
Michael Smith (ENG) – Rob Cross (ENG) 10:8
Gerwy Price (WAL) – Danny Noppert (NED) 10:8
Joe Cullen (ENG) – Dirk van Duijvenbode (NL)
Nathan Aspinall (ENG) – Jermaine Wattimena (NED) 10:6
Alan Soutar (SCO) – Jonny Clayton (WAL) 10:8
Michael van Gerwen (NED) – Josh Rock (NIR) 10:8
Luke Humphries (ENG) – Ross Smith (ENG) 10:8
Michael Smith (ENG) – Joe Cullen (ENG) 16:15
Raymond van Barneveld (NED) – Gerwy Price (WAL) 16:13
Nathan Aspinall (ENG) – Alan Soutar (SCO) 16:12
Michael van Gerwen (ENG) – Luke Humphries (ENG) 10:16
Michael Smith (ENG) – Raymond van Barneveld (ENG) 16:12
Nathan Aspinall (ENG) – Luke Humphries (ENG) 16:12
Michael Smith (ENG) – Nathan Aspinall (ENG) 16:5