“What I noticed is that I really missed playing on the highest level and that was a good sign to myself. ‘Hey, I’m still hungry to win more titles.'”
By Josh Gorton
Last Updated: 13/06/20 7:04am
The revolutionary online darts concept has seen the sport thrive during lockdown, although one man conspicuous in his absence was a certain Michael van Gerwen.
However, having enjoyed a rare spell away from the spotlight, the Dutchman’s hunger has not wavered as the sport embarks on its competitive return.
It would be remiss to suggest that the hiatus has been a blessing in disguise for any player, although it has provided Van Gerwen with precious family time – a rare commodity given the relentless demands of the PDC circuit.
The 31-year-old and his wife Daphne celebrated the birth of their second child in April and the world No 1 has revelled in the role of doting dad.
“I’ve changed a lot of nappies don’t worry. I do a lot of those things as well,” Van Gerwen told the Darts Show podcast.
“Of course it has been a really difficult time with the coronavirus, but for myself as a father to two children now, it’s probably the most time I’ve ever spent with them.
“I chose to enjoy that time and it was fantastic, but now I’m at the point where I want to be back at the tour and I want to play and I want to compete, simple. The total process has to be right.”
Darts has received widespread acclaim for embracing the ‘new normal’ during the prolonged hiatus, with 101 PDC Tour Card holders competing in a total of 258 matches from their respective homes across the globe.
The three-time world champion was a notable absentee from the Home Tour, citing his practice with Vincent van der Voort as a more valuable source of preparation.
“Of course I want to play darts but I didn’t really fancy it. That is my own opinion and everyone thinks differently about it. Other people like to do it, but I don’t,” he added.
“I practice a lot with Vincent van der Voort, who is a very good friend of mine. We had a lot of battles and I think for myself, that’s better preparation than the Home Tour, so that is why I chose not to play the Home Tour. It’s for myself and nobody else.”
The Home Tour was a great showcase for several emerging stars, providing a firm indication of the form of Van Gerwen’s rivals, with world No 7 Nathan Aspinall edging out two-time world champion Gary Anderson to seal the title.
Given the frequency of MvG’s televised appearances – combined with the recent introduction of the Darts Connect system which provides statistics on non-televised games – scrutiny is ordinarily heightened, although Van Gerwen is now entering uncharted territory.
His return may be met by a sense of mystery – there is little evidence to suggest how he’ll perform and he’ll be the first to acknowledge that practice sessions are no substitute for competitive darts.
“I still want to be the best for another five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years.”
MvG on his dominance…
Nevertheless, ‘The Green Machine’ has fired an emphatic warning for his rivals ahead of his return, claiming that he intends to dominate the sport for another decade.
“Practice has been going well, really good to be fair. Lots of people competed in the Home Tour so you know if they’re playing well or not so well, but nobody knows anything about me, but I can tell you now, nothing has changed, trust me.
“Of course I’m going to come back with a bang. What I noticed is that I really missed playing on the highest level and that was a good sign to myself. ‘Hey, I’m still hungry to win more titles.’ I still want to be the best for another five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years.”
That’s an ominous prospect for many of his contemporaries, who have seen the irrepressible Dutchman dominate the sport for much of the last decade – amassing an astonishing 54 televised titles and winning 77 other ranking events.
Such has been Van Gerwen’s dominance during this period – an early exit in a major tournament is deemed a crisis and questions are posed questioning whether his monopoly on the darting world is starting to waver.
The world No 1 was denied a fourth World Championship crown on New Year’s Day, succumbing 7-3 to Peter Wright in the Alexandra Palace showpiece.
This coincided with Van Gerwen’s move to Winmau – which prompted his first change of equipment since his stunning resurgence in 2012.
While he displayed glimpses of his outrageous quality, he was unable to translate those performances into silverware and for the first time in nine years, he failed to land a title within the opening two months of the season.
Phil Taylor revelled in silencing critics throughout his career and Van Gerwen is of a similar ilk- he halted his ‘drought’ with a series of sensational displays at the UK Open – boasting a remarkable tournament average of 104 en route to glory.
“There was a lot of talk about me. I moved over to Winmau, my new sponsor and darts manufacturer. There were a lot of question marks behind my name until I played the UK Open,” he admitted.
“I played a phenomenal tournament over there, smashed everyone up and that gave me a lot of confidence. You need to believe in your ability, to know where your strengths and weaknesses are. I don’t have many weaknesses I know that.
“I always say you need to invest in something and you need to give yourself some time and that is exactly what I did and it worked out quite well.”
Van Gerwen references his desire to ‘come back with a bang’ and that prospect is edging ever closer following the PDC’s latest announcement surrounding their ‘Summer Series’.
Five Players Championship events are set to be held behind-closed-doors at Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena from July 8-12, subject to the UK Government’s quarantine policy on overseas visitors.
This follows last week’s confirmation that the coveted World Matchplay will take place as originally scheduled from July 18-26, with further details on the venue and a potential crowd to be finalised in due course.
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The indomitable ‘Green Machine’ recognises the importance of following necessary safety guidelines, but having failed to go beyond the quarter-finals at the Matchplay since his triumph in 2016, he’s raring to return in style.
“At this stage nobody knows if you are going to play with a crowd or without a crowd. If I had to gamble I would say it will be without a crowd.
“This is bigger than darts. This is about what is going to happen for the rest of the world. I am just a person in this scenario.
“I can be a really good darts player but sometimes there are more important things in life and you just need to listen to what people tell you to do.
“If I can travel, I will be there. I didn’t perform well in the last two years at the World Matchplay. I have got nothing to defend at all so I think I might be hungry for that title.”