Rob Cross targets return to world’s top two ahead of World Matchplay defence – Sky Sports

“The difference with winning the Matchplay is that I managed to enjoy it a little bit more and actually look back at it and think to myself: ‘Do you know what I did well there to win that’. You almost reminisce.”

Last Updated: 19/07/20 10:46pm

Cross begins his World Matchplay campaign against the in-form Gabriel Clemens

Rob Cross is yet to complete his fourth year as a full-time professional on the PDC circuit but his sensational World Matchplay success 12 months ago already places him among an exclusive group.

The 29-year-old defeated his World Cup partner Michael Smith in last year’s showpiece, to become just the fourth player in PDC history to have lifted both the World Championship and World Matchplay titles.

He followed in the footsteps of Phil Taylor, Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson – three of the greatest of all time.

Nevertheless, Cross’ Winter Gardens triumph was more significant than simply creating history – it was vindication following the scrutiny he had been subjected to since his World Championship exploits.

Cross’ World Championship victory on New Year’s Day in 2018 was one of the most astonishing darting stories since the PDC’s inception. The players he defeated – plus the emphatic nature of his win over Phil Taylor in that final will be an abiding memory.

Suddenly, ‘Voltage’ was thrust into the spotlight- he was the sport’s figurehead and by his own admission, he struggled with the expectation and pressure that followed.

Nothing will compare with becoming a world champion. It’s the pinnacle of your sport and it changed Cross’ life. However, he admits that he was able to enjoy his Matchplay title more.

“If I was to compare it to the Worlds, when I won the Worlds, I didn’t consider myself a full-time pro. It changed my life and then I found it a bit difficult after that,” Cross told Sky Sports.

Cross admits it was tough to process his whirlwind World Championship success

“The difference with winning the Matchplay is that I managed to enjoy it a little bit more and actually look back at it and think to myself: ‘Do you know what I did well there to win that’. You almost reminisce.”

There was a certain irony to Cross’ Blackpool victory. He reached the Premier League final, the UK Open final and multiple European Tour finals in the early stages of 2019, producing some world-class performances along the way.

By his own admission he was nowhere near his vintage best at the Matchplay, but a combination of tenacity, impeccable timing and some good fortune saw him secure his second major title – his first ranking title of any note for over 12 months.

Just three months later, Cross claimed the third televised title of his career at the European Championship, and he credits his Matchplay success for helping him to rediscover the winning formula.

“I think realistically winning that title was the boost that I needed. Obviously I went on to win the European Championship before I had a bit of a downfall at the end of the year with the Worlds, but it wasn’t an unsuccessful year.

World Matchplay: Sunday’s Order of Play:

Mensur Suljovic vs Jamie Hughes
Glen Durrant vs Jeffrey de Zwaan
Rob Cross vs Gabriel Clemens
Peter Wright vs Jose De Sousa
Michael Smith vs Jonny Clayton

“It just shows you that you go so long without a title and then all of a sudden you’ve walked in and won that and it reminds you that you can win again.”

Cross’ route to glory was anything but serene however. He came through an epic quarter-final clash against Stephen Bunting, before an astonishing semi-final tie against Daryl Gurney ensued.

The World Matchplay is a tournament synonymous with famous comebacks and Cross created his own chapter against ‘Super Chin’, recovering from 14-7 down to defeat the Northern Irishman – winning 10 of the last 11 legs.

“I think it’s definitely the best comeback of my career and maybe the best that the Matchplay has ever seen,” admitted the world No 4.

“I can remember just saying to myself ‘take it leg by leg’ and I won a few legs and just watched Daryl’s head drop a little bit. I thought ‘right you need to jump on this now’ and luckily it was my day to win.”

The three-time major winner defeated Michael Smith to claim last year’s crown

Cross begins his World Matchplay defence against the dangerous Gabriel Clemens on Sunday evening, but buoyed by an impressive Summer Series campaign, he’s confident of kicking off with a win against ‘The German Giant’.

“I’ve had a slow start this year. It hasn’t been the best of years personally or on the dart board with the way I was playing before the lockdown.

“I think the rest has helped me and I’m back practising properly. Things are going well for me on the dart board now. I will definitely go to the Matchplay with 100 per cent confidence that I will win it again.”

Whilst defending his World Matchplay crown remains an impending priority, it promises to be a hectic second half of the season, with the Premier League set to resume behind closed doors in Milton Keynes from August 25-30.

Cross has reached the play-offs in both his Premier League appearances and he was a runner-up in last year’s roadshow – Van Gerwen accounting for him in his previous trips to the O2 Arena.

World Matchplay – Monday’s First Round matches

(10) Dave Chisnall v Vincent van der Voort
(11) Ian White v Joe Cullen
(7) Daryl Gurney v Ricky Evans
(3) Gerwyn Price v Danny Noppert
(14) Adrian Lewis v Steve Beaton
from 6pm on Sky Sports Action

Nevertheless, he is embroiled in a battle to avoid elimination after registering the solitary win from his opening six matches and he occupies eighth spot – with a three-point lead over Gurney.

There was much conjecture surrounding Cross’ early-season form. His indifferent averages were indicative of his struggles but he’s used the hiatus to make some technical adjustments and produced some impressive displays upon the sport’s return last week.

The former electrician sparked into life on day four of the Summer Series- firing in a spectacular nine-darter before succumbing to a clinical James Wade in Saturday’s final, and he’s confident of reversing his Premier League fortunes.

“I had a lot of draws and I don’t think I was playing like I am now. I think the break came at a good time and has given me the chance to make amends,” he continued.

“If you can string three wins together then I’ll be up in the top four probably, so I’m not miles away and darts is on the spin of a coin sometimes. If I am playing well and I take my chances, I can turn that around no problem.”

“I’m probably going to look for top two by the end of the year if I’m honest. I’ve been second in the world before. I’ve just got to work hard now and be disciplined.”

Cross sets top two target

However, whilst Cross is focused on a top four spot in the Premier League, he’s aiming even higher in regards to his Order of Merit position.

He was ranked as high as second 12 months ago, but his premature World Championship exit in December saw him relinquish almost £400,000 in prize money via the rolling two-year Order of Merit.

This saw him slip to fourth in the world rankings, but he’s got designs of regaining his status as world No 2 and is still intent on challenging the seemingly irrepressible Van Gerwen at the summit over the coming years.

“I’m probably going to look for top two by the end of the year if I’m honest. I’ve been second in the world before. I’ve just got to work hard now and be disciplined and get myself on the dart board, and that’s how I’ll do it.

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“I will definitely set myself targets to get up to second in the world by the end of the year. I’ve got to work really hard to get it and if you’re in a position to get number two, then you can challenge for the number one spot by the end of next year.

It’s an ambitious target, but Cross is not a man to be underestimated. Even in the fledgling stages of his darting career he’s made a habit of defying the odds, but it’s first stop Milton Keynes, as he bids to retain the coveted The Phil Taylor Trophy.

Rob Cross begins the defence of his World Matchplay crown on Sunday night, and you can watch every dart live on Sky Sports from now until the final on Sunday, July 26.