Ahead of tomorrow's huge WDC final between Phil Taylor and Rob Cross, we look back at four classic showpiece match-ups from tournament history.
Will we get similar fireworks this year?
1996 – Phil Taylor defeats Dennis Priestley
The 1996 final was the second of an eventual five to feature Taylor against Priestley, with the former gradually taking over to a greater and greater extent. In this match Taylor won 6-4 avenging defeat to the same player two years earlier, in what was his first World Championship final.
This final is notable because it provided proof at the highest level that players could not simply rely on their average propelling them to victory. Priestley’s 101.49 average was the highest in tournament history to date yet wasn’t enough because Taylor’s relentless scoring proved superior.
Taylor averaged 98.52 (marginally higher than the overall average he posted at the tournament between 1994 and 2000, underlining how the consistency that once yielded 16 world titles is no longer enough to guarantee a 17th).
Taylor’s second world title win is also memorable for the bust-up he had with Priestley mid-match. His average of 98.52 would be improved upon in each of the next two finals, both of which he won.
2007 – Raymond van Barneveld defeats Phil Taylor
Ten years ago we witnessed a contest that is still regarded as a classic of its genre, and arguably the most exciting World Championship to this day.
With the benefit of hindsight, the true value of the 2007 final can be discovered in the statistics and the story they tell of how the playing standard has improved immeasurably over the past decade.
Van Barneveld won 7-6 in sudden death, in his first PDC final having crossed over from the BDO organisation, creating a dream final between the star names of each code. Van Barneveld was three sets down but completed a breathtaking comeback against the 13-time world champion Taylor, whose 21-match unbeaten run at the tournament was emphatically ended.
Interestingly Van Barneveld scored the first and only 170 checkout of the entire tournament in this final, which is unheard of these days (there were four in the 2017 tournament, including one in the first round by Simon Whitlock).
Van Barneveld won the final with a 100.85 average (Taylor scored 100.86) which, at the time, was held up as evidence of the thrilling contest and its back-and-forth nature.
But compared to the modern day averages it pales into relative insignificance – Van Barneveld and Taylor’s numbers were eight behind the 2017 winner, Michael van Gerwen.
2009 – Phil Taylor defeats Raymond van Barneveld
A brutal 7-1 victory for ‘The Power’ silenced critics who thought his heyday was slipping away. Taylor had not won the previous two tournaments, ending a staggering run of 11 world championships in 12 years.
So the manner of his one-sided thrashing of Van Barneveld, probably his most notable rival, indicated Taylor’s era was not yet finished.
Taylor averaged 110.94, an all-time record for a World Championship final and the third best effort in any phase of the tournament’s history (he also holds the second-best average).
This score of 110.94 remains the benchmark although it is so high that this year’s finalists know they can lift the trophy without matching Taylor’s seven-year-old feat. Van Barneveld, meanwhile, averaged a respectable 101 while getting blown away.
2017 – Michael van Gerwen defeats Gary Anderson
Last year’s record-breaking final at Alexandra Palace, won 7-3 by Van Gerwen, perfectly underlines how the fast-rising standard of darts mean that feats a previous generation might have dreamt of are no longer good enough to guarantee victory.
Anderson threw a staggering 22 180s, the most in the sport’s history for a single match, yet still only two more than the victorious Van Gerwen managed himself.
Anderson, heading into the 2017 final, had won the previous two tournaments in part due to his brilliant propensity to hit 180s. Two years earlier he threw 19 to beat Phil Taylor in the final.
Anderson’s 71 successful 180s through last year’s tournament is an all-time record, with Van Gerwen’s 66 from the same campaign the next best effort. Anderson is also in third-place with 64 180s from 2015 when he won the world title.
This match resulted in the highest-ever combined average in a World Championship final, illustrating how Van Gerwen and Anderson were playing darts at a higher level than previously seen. The pair posted 118.70 between them, bettered only by 122.92 from last year’s semi-final when Van Gerwen beat Van Barneveld.
Anderson’s individual average of 104.93 in the 2017 final is the highest ever for a player who did not win the game in question.
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