Meet Michael van Gerwen, the World’s No. 1 ranked Darts Player
Michael van Gerwen is arguably one of the most dominant sportsman in the world, but while he’s been the No. 1 ranked darts player in the since 2014, he is not the defending champion.
This paradox represents the buildup to the PDC World Darts Championship, which will kick off at Alexandra Palace on Thursday night.
In the past 12 months, the Dutchman has been on a run of dominance nearly unprecedented in the history of the game. Van Gerwen has won 25 tournaments this year, racking in roughly $1.56 million in prize money along the way. However, in recent months, the conversation topic has shifted to whether or not van Gerwen, the best player in darts right now, should be considered the greatest player of all time.
However, this form of greatness, in darts, is measured through world championships, seemingly rendering the money winnings, the ranking and even the television time — nine of van Gerwen’s tournament victories were televised live — meaningless. Van Gerwen not only understands that he is expected to win the 72-player tournament, which will conclude on Jan. 2 at Alexandra Palace, he also understands that he needs to win it.
“Any other result for myself is a disaster,” he told the New York Times.
Now 27 years old, van Gerwen first began playing darts as a way to kill time when it was too cold to play soccer at age 13. He worked tiling bathroom floors before breaking through in the game as a teenager.
Right now, he’s chasing Phil Taylor, a 56-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent, England, whose tally of 16 world championship trophies, like Bill Russell’s rings and Jack Nicklaus’s majors, seems unlikely ever to be matched, let alone surpassed.
Many of those involved debate on just how many titles van Gerwen will be required to win before he surpasses Taylor’s greatness. The only thing on which everyone has agreed is that the one he currently has is not enough.
Three years without a world title are worth an aeon in his years. If he does not win this time, an oddity will start to look like something more serious. Wayne Mardle, a Sky Sports commentator and four-time world championship semi-finalist, does not think there is a danger of van Gerwen wanting it too much.
He could be on to something — van Gerwen admitted he barely practices when he’s away from tournaments, believing instead all the time he spends at competitions, exhibitions and corporate events give him enough playing time.
But Mardle also said van Gerwen shares some similarities to Taylor.
“He’s got that Phil Taylor-like mentality: ‘Oh yeah, this will hurt my opponent,’” says Mardle. “He so often takes out big finishes and then starts the next leg with a 180. And he does it so quickly that it puts your head in a spin.”