Rowby-John Rodriguez has spoken candidly about his rollercoaster 2022 campaign, after producing some of the best darts of his career during the toughest circumstances imaginable.
Rodriguez has enjoyed a breakthrough year on the oche, reaching his first senior PDC final in July, before making his World Matchplay debut at the Winter Gardens just weeks later.
The enigmatic Austrian has forged a reputation as one of the game’s emerging entertainers, and his achievements are even more remarkable given his struggles away from the sport over recent years.
Rodriguez and his family have endured an agonising few months, after his three-year-old daughter Alicia – who was born with a heart defect – suffered acute right heart failure in September.
She spent several days in intensive care during this period, before undergoing a life-saving operation after receiving a new heart valve from a donor.
“My daughter had emergency heart surgery a couple of months ago, and she was very close to passing away,” said Rodriguez, speaking to Dan Dawson on the Darts Show Podcast.
“That is why I missed the Hungarian Darts Trophy and because of that I just missed out on the World Grand Prix, but I wouldn’t change any of my decisions.
“It is hard for us, but we fight as a family to stay strong in these times, and we are happy that she is fighting for us as well.”
An emotional Rodriguez also revealed that he and his family are looking to raise money for the Children’s Heart Centre in Vienna, who have been treating his daughter over the last three years.
Ahead of last weekend’s Players Championship double-header in Barnsley, Rodriguez gave a speech to his fellow professionals and PDC officials about his fundraising bid.
They have already raised over £2,500, while multiple players have also pledged to donate signed shirts and darts which will be auctioned on social media over the coming months.
“Me and my girlfriend said we wanted to raise money for organisations who are helping children with heart problems,” Rodriguez added.
“We are also trying to help the hospital and the staff, just to give something back and show how much we appreciate what they’ve done for us over the last three years.
“In darts, everyone is competing against each other, everybody wants to win, but as soon as there are private problems going on, we are a darts family.”
Since returning to action last month, Rodriguez claimed the scalp of world number one Gerwyn Price at the European Championship, but he insists he needs time to recover his best form following his family’s ordeal.
“Before everything, I was thinking: ‘I can beat anybody, I can win tour events’, added the European Darts Matchplay runner-up.
“After the operation and after what I had missed because of it, I have to rebuild again and come back to where I was mentally.
“People are telling me: ‘You’re on the dart board, forget about what is at home’. You can’t, and I don’t even want to forget, because that is family.
“This is my job, and everybody who is working has their family in their mind as well. I try my best to focus game by game, and in between games I call my family. That’s my life!”
Despite his relative youth, Rodriguez possesses plenty of big stage experience, having featured in six World Championships and seven World Cups alongside his compatriot Mensur Suljovic.
Rodriguez relinquished his Tour Card following the 2020 season, and just days before he returned to Qualifying School, he saw Price lift his maiden World Championship crown.
The pair joined the professional ranks together in 2014, and Rodriguez believes the Welshman’s Alexandra Palace triumph also proved to be a turning point in his own career.
“I played my first Qualifying School against Gerwyn in the final [in 2014],” reflected the former World Youth finalist, who secured his maiden PDC Tour Card via the Q School Order of Merit.
“I knew I would get a Tour Card even if I lost the final, but years after, he was the world number one and I had lost my Tour Card.
“That was in my mind. We started at the same time, and that was the wake-up call for me: ‘You have to take this seriously now.’
“My family always supported me and I promised them that I would take it 100% seriously, and it has worked out for me.”
Despite narrowly missing out on a Tour Card in 2021, Rodriguez still enjoyed a successful season and subsequently came through this year’s European Qualifying School in January.
The Austrian has already broken back into the world’s top 64, and will aim to continue his big stage progress when he features in the last two televised events of the year.
Rodriguez is poised to make his Alexandra Palace return in December, which will be preceded by a first round clash against Joe Cullen at the Players Championship Finals later this month.
The 28-year-old is still eyeing a maiden senior PDC title, but having performed magnificently to reach July’s European Darts Matchplay final in Trier, he believes a landmark win is on the way.
“It’s hard as a young player to be on the big stage. You are growing, you have to learn about life as well,” Rodriguez continued.
“It is a learning process and in Trier everything clicked. I could have won that final, but if I look back now, it might not have been the perfect timing.
“I definitely know it’s coming – a major win or a European Tour win will come soon.”