When Blackpool’s Winter Gardens opened on Bank Hey Estate in July 1878 the intention was to “place on the land a concert room, promenades, conservatories and other accessories… especially desirous during inclement days.”
In the midst of a simultaneously wonderful and agitating heatwave, the weather was great and the venue was nonetheless the desired place to be as darts’ 2018 World Matchplay delivered a truly thrilling ride in the land of the Pleasure Beach.
As the PDC’s second biggest major, the only played in summer, the Matchplay holds a unique place on the calendar that became even more distinctive this year in the absence of Phil Taylor. Having only missed one World Matchplay since its inception in 1994, and as 16-time winner of the event, The Power’s DNA ran through the illustrious competition, his dominance highlighted by his record of only having lost eight matches at the venue in his entire career.
Retirement for Taylor ensured that the 2018 edition would be drastically different, albeit his presence was still felt on Sky TV and in spirit with the trophy bearing his name. If Taylor was darts then his successor to the throne, world No1 Michael van Gerwen, is darts right now, and yet, he was also absent for the majority of the tournament after suffering a shock defeat on the opening night to his young compatriot Jeffrey de Zwaan.
Without the two greatest throwers, and its two most headline-grabbing stars, you may have thought that the competition would have struggled, but you would have been wrong. In their absence, the 2018 World Matchplay was exceptionally exciting and supremely significant, proving that the sport is in rude health, thriving in the post-Taylor era as new talent make names for themselves.
Nowhere was this illustrated more clearly than in de Zwaan’s dream debut run to the semi-finals. Dispatching van Gerwen, two-time world champion Adrian Lewis and Dave Chisnall before finally succumbing to Gary Anderson in a wonderful contest on the penultimate evening, the Dutchman lit up the stage in sensational fashion. After narrowly staying on the tour following a Q-School appearance in January, de Zwaan’s turnaround was gripping and hinted at a bright future.
Great tournaments need great finals and the Matchplay certainly wasn’t lacking in this regard. In a marathon match, surely the greatest ever final in the competition’s history, Anderson beat Mensur Suljovic, himself enjoying a superb tournament, by 21 legs to 19 in the longest ever finale to the summer spectacle.
Anderson, alongside becoming only the third player to win the sport’s Triple Crown, also achieved darting perfection, to really cap a wonderful week, by landing a superb nine-darter in his nail-biting 19-17 quarter-final win over Joe Cullen.
Once upon a time, the latter stages of a tournament without Taylor and van Gerwen would have felt wrong, anticlimactic in many ways. The past week, though, had everything and showed that darts no longer relies on two individuals to captivate.