They are the proven champions, with five Premier League titles between them – and on Thursday night, they will be the hot favourites to set up another showdown in a showpiece final. Paul Prenderville found Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson in typically relaxed mood before the 2018 Premier League Darts play-offs.
The corridors of The O2, the day before Finals Night, and amid a host of sponsor, media and PDC commitments, it’s a natural environment for Anderson and Van Gerwen to mill around and talk about their ambitions for Thursday night.
For the two best players in the world, according to Sky Sports’ Wayne Mardle, that ambition means coming away with the Premier League Darts title.
The most interesting aspect of the pair’s rivalry is the way they go about their business. They respect each other, and in Mardle’s words, that is part of the reason why their matches are so good – ‘they let each other get on it with it, when they are playing.’
Their approaches are very different, however, and that much is evident when the question is asked about their respective Premier League seasons. MVG won the league for a sixth successive season, while Anderson had to wait until the final week before securing his spot.
“Maybe it’s not quite my tournament but I am certainly doing very well in it, and I can’t complain with the results so far,” says Van Gerwen with a smile, while pointing out he has never missed a final on his five previous campaigns (three titles, two runners-up finishes).
“It’s a bonus, it’s good for your confidence and it says to the rest that you were the best.
“I like the tournament. Maybe they should change it to say who is the champion after the league – Man City don’t have to play another game,” he laughs.
It’s an interesting point of view, and even more interesting when compared to that of the only other man in Thursday’s field to have won the trophy.
“I’m happy but I am always happy when the last week comes round and I’m in the play-offs,” Anderson, champion in 2011 and 2015, tells Sky Sports with a trademark grin.
“It’s been an up-and-down season, but it’s about getting there. It’s one night and I play a lot of these one nighters – you do the hard work, and then you can relax. You can go up and you can enjoy yourself.
“It’s been hard with me missing a lot of the European Tour weekends, I’ve been missing the match practice so it’s maybe not so much of a surprise that my form has been up and down.”
The pair have served up some of the most memorable matches in recent years, none more so than their Week Three clash in Newcastle where they both averaged more than 110 in a contest that left those watching spellbound.
The 2015 final at The O2 and the 2017 World Championship final also jump out, but we may have to wait until the final if we are to realise Mardle’s dream of watching the pair duke it out again. The Sky Sports expert is forever telling us he could watch them play all day, every day.
But there are two upstarts in town on Thursday – two of the sport’s most talented players, who are out to ruffle some feathers.
Anderson faces Michael Smith, while Van Gerwen takes on Rob Cross. They are two semi-finals with their own intriguing subplots.
Van Gerwen was beaten by Cross in the World Championship semi-final but doesn’t feel payback is required, having not only beaten Voltage twice but also… well, how many tournament wins has it been this season, Michael?
“I’ve won 11 tournaments since, so it’s not about revenge. It’s about this tournament now – and I have beaten him twice in it,” he says.
“Rob had a tough start and as the world champion, he has all the pressure that goes with that – but that’s what comes with it. I know that – but it also makes you stronger.
“Michael and Rob have done so well this year – especially Michael. In the past, he used to drop his head but not this year. He hasn’t given up, he has changed his performances and his character within matches, and that makes him a better player.”
Anderson faces Smith, a man 20 years his younger but very much a player he has mentored and considers a great friend. Whatever the result, the loser will be in the other man’s corner come Thursday’s final act.
“It’s harder playing Michael,” admits Anderson. “He struggles against me sometimes but this could be the night for him, so I will be pummelling in 180s and seeing if I can put him under pressure.
“He is there to do the same, but if I beat him he will stay and watch me and vice versa – but I don’t want to get beat.”
Anderson is also very quick to point out to the new boys that things are very different in the Docklands on one of darts’ biggest nights of the season.
“This is the O2, it’s a big stadium and it’s a very different kettle of fish,” says Anderson, needing no reminder that he won on his debut at the venue.
“The first time I played, I was with Mark Webster and we looked out and thought ‘Here we go!”
Here we go indeed, with the 2018 Play-Offs upon us. The PDC’s decision to shake up the tournament has reaped spectacular reward, with the two men who have won five of the last seven editions going up against a player who has never played in the tournament before, and another determined to make his mark after a disappointing debut.
It’s enough to get the pulses racing, none more so than those of Anderson and Van Gerwen who have been there, seen it and done it – and have designs on doing it again.
The tungsten action continues for the conclusion of the Premier League season with the Play-Offs on Thursday, May 17 at The O2 in London.
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(c) Sky News 2018: Gary Anderson and Michael van Gerwen take aim at Premier League Darts title