As the 2020 PDC Unicorn Development Tour campaign came to a close in Barnsley last weekend, in a shortened year for the young stars, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the early rounds of the PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship took place on Monday.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Brighton’s 23-year old darting star, Joe Davis, who came through the early group phase and won his way through the knockout stages to win through to the grand final, which of course, is played during the Players Championship Finals, normally in Minehead, but due to the event being played behind-closed-doors, the venue is yet to be finalised.
Davis cruised through his qualification group to reach the last 32 after seeing off Keith O’Neill (5-2) and Roman Benecky (5-2). In the knockout phase, Davis recorded wins over Newcastle’s Jack Male (6-3), Jaikob Selby-Rivas (6-2), Belgium’s Brian Raman (6-4) before mounting an astonishing fightback against former World Matchplay semi-finalist, Jeffrey de Zwaan to edge out the Dutchman in a thrilling 6-5 win.
“I’m really pleased to have reached the final”, said an ecstatic Davis. “For any dart player, when you start taking it seriously, it’s a dream to make it to a final in a competition like this, so to do so is a really overwhelming feeling.”
On mounting that spirited fightback in his final match with Jeffrey de Zwaan from four-nil down, Davis admits that he was just happy to avoid a potential whitewash.
“After being four-nil down to Jeffrey, I was just thinking: ‘don’t lose six-nil’. I wasn’t playing well at all in the game, at that point, but I took out some good finishes, which made me feel more confident and luckily, Jeffrey was slipping up. After I won a few legs, I just started taking it leg-by-leg and see what happens and luckily enough, I was good enough to secure the win in the end.”
Despite only being 23, Davis has plenty of big-match experience under his belt, appearing at the Zuiderduin Masters, UK Open Finals and most recently the World Masters. But the Brighton ace has unlocked several doors of opportunity with a place at the Grand Slam of Darts in 2021 already secured and a place at the 2021 William Hill World Darts Championship potentially, it’s an opportunity that Davis is keen to take advantage of.
“It’s a great feeling to have the opportunity to play at these huge events”, said Davis. “From a young age you watch darts on TV and dream about being there. I’ll probably start thinking about it more after the final, that’s my main focus, to get ready and play well in the final.”
Davis insists that the PDC Development Tour has helped his game tremendously, the 23-year old made his TV debut at the Zuiderduin Masters aged just 14 and moving forward, those experiences have stood him in good stead.
“I think it’s a great way for the young players to improve their game and develop. We are very lucky to have this platform to bring our game on and improve, it’s already that it can improve a player and progress players’ careers. But saying that, it will only progress your career if you do things in the correct way and put the hours of practise in away from the tour. The top players are getting too good now, which is why you need to practise and put all the extra work in.”
In recent times, Davis teamed up with TCL management, and despite always having someone there by his side, the 23-year old is delighted to represent the management company.
“Well, I’ve always been lucky in the sense that I’ve always had people around me, mainly my Dad, taking me to all the tournaments and putting a lot of hard work into helping me, especially when I was younger. But to sign with Tom [Cosens] is great, I’m pleased to finally be a part of TCL and he certainly does take weight off my shoulders and make life a lot easier. I think it’s the perfect time to sign with him, I’ve known Tom for a few years now and he’s seen me come through the youth system and I know that he’s been interested in signing me in the past, but I’m I didn’t join before now, because I simply wasn’t putting the work in, no-one deserves to take on a player that isn’t committed.”
Davis has always shown a massive interest in the sport and fell in love with the game after going to watch the PDC World Darts Championship live and since that very moment, he’s made it his sole ambition to make it to the big stage.
“I started playing darts after going to Ally Pally to watch the World Championship at the age of 11 and I became obsessed with the game since that very moment. My Dad, who was a good player, he gave me a set of darts and two years later, I broke into the Sussex county squad, aged 13. I carried on playing, I used to play a lot and became a good youth player, but at 16, I did give the game up for a little while, after losing interest. At 18, I picked the darts up again, but not playing at a serious level, I was mainly playing for the social side of the game but with every year back playing, I’ve taken it more and more seriously.”
With a spot at the World Championship up for grabs and an opponent in the form of tour-card holder Bradley Brooks, Davis is excited about the challenge that lies ahead.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It should be a great game, Brad’s a great guy and a fantastic player. I’ll be giving my all and hopefully on the day, I’ll play well and get the result that I’m hoping for.”
One thing that’s helped Davis mature into the player that he is today is the strength of the opposition on the Development Tour, especially. With stratospheric numbers recorded in most events, the 23-year old is inspired by the top echelons of the youth game.
“That’s the standard you need to aim to get to”, said Davis. “There are so many names you can mention, who set the standard, especially for the Development Tour and they deserve everything they get. They do the hard graft, they put the hours in and the travelling every week, which is why you look at these sort of players for inspiration.”
Despite not really putting in as many hours as he’d like to, Davis is determined to keep improving.
“I haven’t upped my practise, I was putting in the hours anyway. In those UK Open runs, I was quite lucky, looking back, really as i never practised, I just picked a dart up when I wanted to, and that wasn’t a lot! I’m just going to keep on doing what I do and hopefully, it keeps working. I’m only looking forward now and see how I can improve.”
Away from the PDC tours, Davis, normally likes to play in plenty of tournaments, leagues etc, but of course, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, those opportunities have been restricted.
“I used to play in pub leagues and super league, but that did stop last year as I just wanted to focus on my practise indoors rather than outside. I do travel to plenty of tournaments, there’s normally a group of us that travel together and play in the same tournaments. I do also play county Sussex, but not all the time, just as and when they need me, mainly.”
Photgraphy credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC