Monday 31 December 2018

We have a final

Somehow taking Smith each way to win back in June is half way there, as he's come through the unpredictable half of the tournament, while van Gerwen came through the predictable half, the only unpredictable bit being which of the two obvious picks made it out.

van Gerwen reached here by defeating a bitterly disappointing Gary Anderson, who after hitting a pearler of an opening leg, proceeded to be unable to find his range on the treble 20 for the rest of the night (although, oddly enough, he did end up with as many maximums as van Gerwen did), the only question in the game being whether van Gerwen would whitewash the twice world champ - Gary did scramble home in the sixth set but that'd be all he got.

Smith was also looking like he'd be as easy a winner, rolling to a two set lead in about ten minutes, but Aspinall pressured him well and levelled things at two a piece, briefly threatening to take the lead in sets having broken in set five, but was immediately broken back - Aspinall left 47 after nine darts in the deciding leg with a maximum, but Smith took out 93 on double nine (a target which he hit four times out of four apparently, hopefully causing the subject of the previous title of this blog's head to explode and cause Sky's commentary team to double in quality overnight). Aspinall levelled again at 3-3, but back to back four visit legs in the eighth set to get the break would be the critical moment, Smith showing no signs of finishing line nerves, closing out with a twelve darter and 121 out.

It's Smith's first major ranking final. He's made the Premier League final this year, but that's not ranking, and he's won a World Series event this year, but that's neither ranking nor major. Those two events make up part of the nine games they've played this year - obviously they split those two (Smith beating van Gerwen in the Shanghai semi final), but van Gerwen comprehensively won their two Premier League meetings in the league stage, dropping only three legs, van Gerwen won their most important meeting this year in the Grand Slam, albeit by a much closer 10-8 scoreline with Smith pushing all the way, while they've met four times in lower events - twice on the European Tour, Smith losing 7-0 in Sindelfingen and 7-2 in Göttingen, but in UK Open qualifiers Smith only dropped one leg in the quarter final on the way to victory in the event he won, while van Gerwen defeated him 6-3 in the final two days earlier.

I can't see any profitable bets here, leaving us down around half a unit, which is somewhat miraculous given the beats we've taken. So that means that I'm thinking van Gerwen should win, but Smith is not a complete underdog and will have his chances. How is Smith going to win this? Firstly, he's got to keep playing at the level he has been doing in this tournament. He's playing a fair bit better than he has been doing all year, and he needs to keep it up. Secondly, he mustn't panic if van Gerwen plays something like the peak van Gerwen that we have seen in this event and over the past few months. If van Gerwen starts chucking in four visit legs left right and centre, Smith just needs to keep plugging away - it's perfectly possible that van Gerwen does this for seven sets, ends up with a 110+ conventional average and it looks like a Manley-esque final result. If it does, there's nothing Smith can do about it - Smith just has to concentrate on playing the best darts he can, and hope that the quality that he has doesn't coincide with van Gerwen being unplayable. Thirdly, and this should go without saying, he can't allow van Gerwen anything cheaply. He needs to find his scoring power early, and if van Gerwen's going to break, he has to force van Gerwen to do so in twelve darts. If he can just slot in a fifteen dart leg every time on throw (easier said than done, I know), then he's going to win most sets - sure, van Gerwen will chuck in a twelve here and there, but he can't afford to have too many zero-treble visits, and can't afford to not take out doubles when presented the chance. Finally, he's got to try to pressure as much as he can - even if it doesn't result in legs and sets on the board, he's got to put himself into situation where if, say, van Gerwen doesn't kill in his first four visits, Smith's got to be down on 61, 96, those sorts of numbers where he's saying to van Gerwen that if you miss, I can hit. Sure, van Gerwen's probably not going to miss, but keeping on doing that leg in leg out will mount up at some point. He can't fire in a 100-60-100-60 leg and not leave himself a shot.

What would van Gerwen need to do to win his third title? Simple - keep doing what he's been doing. He's the best player in the world, he's a better player than Smith, and he's playing the best darts he has been doing for quite some time. If his level doesn't drop, then over the course of thirteen sets he's simply going to get more chances than Smith will do, and that'll convert into the seven sets he's been wanting to get all year.

This should be a great final between two players that could easily be a staple part of the Premier League for the next twenty years - it'll be played at a good pace which ought to suit both players, I think the only way it'd disappoint is if van Gerwen roars out of the blocks into a 4-0 lead and Smith's head drops, but I think the way that Smith is playing that we're not going to see that happen. I think it'll be a 7-4 scoreline or there abouts (don't read that as a suggestion or tip, we don't do correct score betting here), we might even see a nine (don't read that as a tip either).

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