MICHAEL SMITH CROWNED 2023 WORLD CHAMPION
Michael Smith is determined to create a legacy in the sport after lifting his maiden Cazoo World Darts Championship title on a famous night at Alexandra Palace on Tuesday.
Smith produced a spectacular display to fulfil his darting destiny in the capital, landing a history-making nine-dart finish en route to a 7-4 success against Michael van Gerwen.
Appearing in his third World Championship final in five years, Smith – who succumbed to Van Gerwen and Peter Wright in 2019 and 2022 respectively – banished his demons to claim the £500,000 top prize in sensational style.
The St Helens star won five of the last six sets to stun Van Gerwen, averaging 100.87, crashing in 22 maximums and converting three ton-plus finishes to cap off the greatest night of his career.
“It’s amazing. This is what I’ve worked all my career for,” said Smith, speaking on Wednesday morning.
“I got to bed at about 1:30am and I just laid there for about seven hours looking at the trophy in the cabinet.
“I want to stand with this trophy on the halfway line at St Helens with the big ‘V’ behind us, and I’m sure there will be a few tears shed there.
“It’s not sunk in yet, and I don’t think it will until John McDonald introduces me to the stage.”
In a contest littered with quality, the moment of the match came midway through set two, when Smith became only the second player – alongside Adrian Lewis – to achieve perfection in a World Championship final.
The pair both kicked off the leg with six perfect darts before Van Gerwen missed double 12 for the nine-darter, and Smith responded by pinning the same target to complete the greatest leg in darting history.
“When it went in, I knew something special was happening,” admitted Smith, who also fired in six perfect darts in the final leg of the contest.
“When he missed double 12, I gave him a high-five and I thought: ‘Now if you can hit this, he’ll know you’re in this game, he will know you’re here to play and here to win’.
“I had goosebumps. I was shaking. My heart was pounding, but luckily enough when I hit the 140 in the next leg after the nine, everything just settled back down for me then.
“I think I’ve watched that nine-darter back about a million times, because Wayne Mardle’s commentary just made that even more special.”
Smith had been touted as a World Champion in the making since bursting on to the scene over a decade ago, underlining his credentials with victory over 16-time World Champion Phil Taylor on the Ally Pally stage in 2014.
However, the 32-year-old struggled to land his elusive first televised ranking title, losing in a raft of big stage finals before finally breaking his duck at last month’s Grand Slam of Darts.
Smith lost three televised finals in 2022, including an agonising defeat against Wright in last year’s World Championship showpiece, but his Wolverhampton win has since opened the floodgates.
“Winning the Grand Slam was massive, because it gave me belief knowing that I could hit shots under pressure,” revealed Smith, the first Englishman to lift the coveted title since Rob Cross in 2018.
“The game against Peter at the Worlds last year was the lowest I’ve ever been.
“I said to John McDonald afterwards that I’m never going to win it, and I just burst out crying, but I have just kept fighting and I’ve shown that perseverance does win.
“You have to lose [games]. You cannot learn by just winning everything. You have got to experience heartbreak, and every setback is just another story for a great comeback.
“I don’t regret anything I’ve done or any losses where I felt I could have won; it just makes this win even sweeter for me.”
As well as being crowned PDC World Champion last night, Smith also became the 12th different PDC world number one, to cement his place in the darting record-books.
Smith will return to competitive action at next week’s inaugural Bahrain Darts Masters, and he admits it could take time to adapt to his new-found status as the sport’s flagbearer.
“It is every kid’s dream. In any sport you play, you want to be the best player in the world,” added the former World Youth champion.
“You want to be world number one, you want to be World Champion and I got to do both last night, so that 12-year-old kid dreaming – it has finally come true!
“You also put a massive target on your back. Everyone wants to beat me now, and I’ve just got to learn to deal with it.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel as I’ve never played as a World Champion before, but I’m going to try my best and hopefully I can keep doing the job.”
Smith has already created history with his exploits at Alexandra Palace, avenging his 2019 defeat against Van Gerwen by denying the Dutchman a fourth World Championship crown.
Nevertheless, the world number one is determined to build a dynasty in the sport and establish himself as a modern-day darting great.
“I want to win more world titles,” declared Smith, the fifth English winner of the World Darts Championship.
“I don’t want to finish my career on one World Championship. I want to get two, and if I get two, I want to get three.
“I want to be a multiple champion. I’ve got two big TV titles in the PDC, but I want more.”