Wayne Mardle for many years has shown enthusiasm, knowledge and sheer love for the sport of darts. His punditry offers a dynamic view for the viewers, not to mention his comedic value.
Earlier this week, I managed to catch up with ‘Hawaii 501’ in an up-close and personal chat about 2019 in terms of darting drama as the countdown to the 2020 William Hill World Darts Championship begins.
In 2019, we’ve seen a continuous rise in the standard of play on a consistent basis, the rise of Gerwyn Price and so much more. Mardle insists that the latter end of 2019 belongs to Price, the way that he’s handled the adversity has been admirable to say the very least.
“In and out, up and down, there’s been some magnificent performances from start-to-finish,” said Mardle. “Michael [Van Gerwen] showed his class at the World Championship 12 months ago, but some workmanlike wins for Rob Cross at the World Matchplay. Peter Wright was brilliant in spells without winning a big, but the end of 2019 belongs to Gerwyn [Price].“
It’s been quite a year for Gerwyn Price, who recently defended his Grand Slam of Darts title and not just that, the way that he conducted himself away from the ache and his levels of performance was nothing short of sensational. Price quite rightly, heads into Alexandra Palace as the second favourite.
“Indeed, Gerwyn enters Alexandra Palace as the second favourite. Ahead of Cross and Anderson to name just two,” added Mardle. “Gerwyn has shown everyone that he’s not a one-trick aggressive pony, he’s a world-class dart player.
“He’s without doubt playing at his peak right now. If he continues with similar form, it’d be silly to say that he won’t win the World Championship final on New Years Day. What has stuck with me is the fact that he absolutely relishes the challenge, not everyone likes to battle it out. The sport needs personalities.”
The way that Price has responded to the adversity over the course of 2019 deserves some amicability and Price, behaviourally has conducted himself professionally to say the least especially over the last few months as his form continues to rise.
Gerwyn’s rivalry with Michael Van Gerwen could be one that we’re going to see more and more of in recent times, moving forward.
“The rivalry between Michael [Van Gerwen] and Gerwyn [Price] in my mind is dependant on Price.” Admitted Mardle. “He’ll need to keep producing at the standard he is right now to make it a bonafide rivalry.
“I so hope he can do so for a couple of years. We thought Rob Cross was going to unsettle Michael [Van Gerwen] but that’s stalled a little. That said, there’s still time. Price and Cross have had similar spells in my opinion. Gerwyn has recently moved to a clear world’s second-best, something that Cross did in spells in 2019.
“Form comes and goes so quick with some players. I still think that Michael [Smith] has a say in who wins what over the next few weeks.”
Gerwyn Price began 2019 with some great performances both on the Pro-Tour and the PDC European Tour – consistently producing world-class displays. I asked Wayne if the confidence from those performances over the course of the year helped propel Price to the rich vein of form that he’s currently in. Rob Cross did something similar in his debut year as he picked up four Pro-Tour titles and some strong performances on the Euro-Tour prior to winning the World Championship.
“Winning anywhere helps with confidence. Sometimes though I think people try to make too much out of it. Beating journeyman pros en route to winning tour events isn’t the same as beating the world’s best, game-after-game.
“Confidence helps with every aspect of life not just sport. It’s required to win, but it can grow and diminish minute-by-minute. I personally don’t see the connection to winning one event in a leisure centre to then winning the world championship. I do see a connection in getting to the latter stages time-after-time then winning a major event. It’s constant confirmation that you’re good enough.”
In 2019, there’s been an abundance of first-time winners on tour. The standard continues to rise in performance levels. The question is, will we continue to see more and more players reaching the latter stages of televised majors or will the ‘usual suspects’ reign supreme?
“The usual suspects will continue to win major tournaments,” said Mardle. “But, with the odd upset. That’s sport. The reason for the glut of first-time winners is that there’s better time management coming from the established players such as Van Gerwen, Cross, Anderson and Gurney to name a few have all missed tour events in 2019.
“The big-hitters want to win majors, not pro-tours. We may see more and more first-time winners over the next few years. Time management elongates careers.”
Glen Durrant’s story – in terms of his start to life in the PDC is a fascinating one. Facing adversity at the start of the year, coming through Q-School, picking up two PDC pro-tour titles to defeating Van Gerwen at the matchplay, reaching three televised major tournaments in the process.
Durrant’s b-game is more than often good enough, but if ‘Duzza’ can produce his best stuff at Alexandra Palace, then just how far can the Teesside ace go at the World Championship?
“He’s been good enough without being brilliant,” stated Mardle. “It’s testament to how good he is because even though he’s reached the latter stages of three big majors, I don’t think he’s played anywhere near his best.
“Winning early on-tour would’ve given him great satisfaction. I said time-and-time again at the Grand Slam – that particular week, he showed more composure under pressure than anyone. If he was to win the World Championship, he’d need to play close to his very best at the right time.
“We know Durrant has a b-game that can beat anyone, but does he have the a-game? I for one am going to enjoy watching him attempt to become the first-ever player to hold both the BDO and PDC crowns simultaneously. Good luck, Glen!”
At Alexandra Palace 12 months ago, there were several first-round shocks as a large portion of seeded players exited the competition. In terms of players who could potentially cause an ‘upset’ at the World Championship and perhaps even have a deep run, Mardle remains confident that one of the ‘big boys’ will lift the title on January 1.
“There’s a few possible winners, which is nice but it’s still difficult to look beyond the fancied few to win it. The World Championship is always the biggest event of the year, so the anticipation, excitement and drama surrounding the event is always at fever pitch.”
Away from the action, Mardle has been researching and delving into dartboard technology and testing board penetration among other aspects.
“Put it the way, every board could be improve upon.” said Mardle. “I’ll be speaking to all the major manufacturers over the next few months. I’m confident in the coming years that we could have dartboards that don’t reject dart so willingly and accept readily. Watch this space.”
Globally, darts as a sport is continuing to grow year-on-year. The PDC Asian Tour has been a huge success in it’s two-year existence and there’s an array of top-level players coming out of Asia. I for one, am looking forward to seeing Seigo Asada again at Alexandra Palace and of course – Mikuru Suzuki.
“The players from Japan, China and other Asian countries are catching up fast. Japan’s Seigo Asada and Lourence Ilagan from the Philippines really are special talents. I like their style. Mikuru [Suzuki] has in just one year, taken the women’s game to areas never thought possible. She’s such a breath of fresh air, just what the ladies game needed.”
As for the Ladies game, both Fallon Sherrock and Mikuru Suzuki impressed en route to sealing qualification for Ally Pally. Sherrock was in unstoppable form and having Laura Turner back with the Sky Sports team for the World Championship is a breath of fresh air.
“Fallon was playing to a standard we’d rarely seen in the ladies game,” added Mardle. “She was literally unplayable! I expect both her and Mikuru [Suzuki] to give excellent accounts of themselves. Laura [Turner] is intelligent, knowledgeable and fun to work with. She’s everything that Rod Studd isn’t. (laughs)”
Daniel Baggish from Florida is a player that has been in scintillating form and recording some stratospheric numbers at the PDC North American Championship, which he won and on the Championship Darts Circuit tour.
Darts in North America is massively on the rise again – thanks to the CDC. It’ll be interesting to see how the US representatives battle it out at Alexandra Palace with both Baggish and Canada’s Matt Campbell making their debut’s alongside the experienced Darin Young.
“Daniel [Baggish] is playing as well as I can remember from any North American player for a number of years. Some of his performances have proven that he’s world-class. What he now needs to do is perform at that level whilst it’s being done to him. There’s no better guide to see how good someone is if they’re doing it right back at you.
“North America is so geographically challenging for the player – it’s hard for them to get quality opponents to play often enough, that’s always been the problem. I’d love to see Baggish break through and become a darts star. North America so far has remained un-cracked by the PDC, Daniel [Baggish] can maybe have say on that.”