Gary Anderson has spent much of the last two years injured, frustrated, or complaining that darts isn’t darts anymore – but he returns for the final three days of the World Darts Championship in contention for a third title and looking like a man inspired to prove a point.
The Flying Scotsman has bristled at criticism from the experts, argued over use of tables, and threatened to quit a sport in which he remains one of the most supremely gifted players in the game.
More importantly, with wins over Madars Razma, Mensur Suljovic and Devon Petersen, the back-to-back 2015 and 2016 champion has made his way into the last eight at Alexandra Palace for the eighth time in 11 years.
Ahead of a showdown with Holland’s rising star Dirk van Duijvenbode on New Year’s Day, the Scot has been busy doing what he also does best – playing down his chances.
“It’s weird. I feel like I’m throwing and they aren’t going where they are supposed to be going,” he told Sky Sports Darts Michael Bridge after a comprehensive victory over Petersen.
“I was nervous about playing Devon but when I got settled, I was alright.
“These boys, they are all playing well and if I am honest with myself, I am nowhere near where I should be after the last two years.”
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For a man most at home spending time with his family or alone on a fishing lake, a recurring theme during Anderson’s press conferences and post-match interviews over the last couple of years has been his mood, hinting at a man irked with the sport.
Paradoxically, those two years have still yielded enough to suggest there’s no reason for him to be going anywhere.
2018 delivered three televised titles and two more finals, 2019 brought just the World Cup, and perhaps that partly explains 2020. There is not a huge amount for him to defend on the ranking list – an ominous sign, and one that adds to a few other factors to emerge this week.
No-one is in any doubt about Anderson’s capabilities. He may have arrived in north London under the radar and seeded 13th, with the possibility of dropping out of the world’s top 20 with a bad showing, but his pedigree is not in doubt.
Four PDC World Championship finals, the World Matchplay, the UK Open, the World Cup, and the Players Championship Finals all sit on the 50-year-old’s list of accomplishments and the belief before the tournament from the experts was that if the real Gary Anderson turned up, he would be a threat.
Anderson finds himself in the last eight on the back of a rather controversial run of events. His victory over Mensur Suljovic was notable for Suljovic’s slow-play, and a subsequent comment from Anderson about the wrong tables being used.
The Scot maintained he was being a stickler for the rules, and it’s not the first time that he has been quick to voice his opinion having withdrawn from events in Europe over travel concerns during the coronavirus pandemic, while at the Grand Slam he suggested that Covid-19 protocols could be better observed by some of the other players.
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“If nothing else this is going to be entertaining for a number of different reasons, but ultimately it will be a good match.
“It’s been confusing to gauge Gary, after his second round match he said he had written off 2020 and said he hasn’t practised so we are thinking ‘Is your heart in this?
“But he’s into the quarter-final and he is so naturally talented but we wonder what Gary is going to turn up and I think it might come down to that,”
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It’s all been rather unnecessary, especially for a player who is happiest playing ‘proper darts’, to use his own words.
Anderson would rather turn up, play his matches and go home rather than get involved in mind games, outspoken press conferences and other antics – but the last three years have seen Anderson become embroiled in some of the sport’s stranger headlines.
Whether it was a controversial Grand Slam of Darts final defeat to Gerwyn Price, suggestions of other players breaking wind on the oche, or the issues of the past week at Alexandra Palace, Anderson seems to find himself in amongst it.
His latest outburst prompted the experts to suggest that maybe Anderson might call time on his illustrious career. Indeed, Anderson has suggested as much himself, notably telling Michael Bridge that he’d be ‘offski’ and that viewers may rather watch an episode of Coronation Street.
However, the reaction after victory over Petersen was for the two-time world champion to go on the offensive, railing at Wayne Mardle and Rod Harrington and insisting he was going nowhere.
“I’ve seen Rod [Harrington] telling me to retire. Unfortunately for everyone, I was thinking about it but you have got me for a long time,” he said.
“I probably would have done, until Harrington piped up. Now I’m gonna play, and I’m gonna play for a long time.
“I had a year or two years left, not now. If I can make it until I’m 90, just to make sure I cheese him off, I’ll be playing until I’m 90. Sorry boys, I’m back.”
It might just be the final weapon in the armoury for an assault on title number three. By his own admission, Anderson has not been at his best as knee and back injuries, as well as the coronavirus pandemic, have occupied his thoughts.
Now, with fuel to the fire, he is ready to compete again, and for darts fans, players and experts, there is no finer sight than an Anderson in full flow. With the criticism ringing in his ears, he is determined to make his mark again.
“Next year, that’s where I have my head on, starting again from scratch and getting back on to it.
“The last two years, and I am being honest, I have done next to nothing. Ryan Searle is about 40 minutes up the road, he is a cracking player and we are going to start banging heads on the practice board. It will do him the world of good and it will do me the world of good.
“Everything over the last two years has been a bonus. I made the final of the Matchplay and if you had told me that, I would have laughed at you.
“It’s getting there, but it’s a bit frustrating. I want it now but it ain’t happening!”
Actually, it is happening and Anderson is three wins away from becoming just the third player to win three PDC world titles. There is work to be done over the next few days but a full-throttle, motivated Anderson is a major threat.
His matches against Michael van Gerwen, who looms as a semi-final opponent, have been a sight to behold – but first there is the small matter of Van Duijvenbode to deal with, not to mention Dave Chisnall for Van Gerwen.
Van Duijvenbode beat Anderson in the World Grand Prix quarter-finals and after beating Glen Durrant, he admitted the Scot was his idol. It should make for a cordial atmosphere and one that will suit Anderson, who settled nicely amidst some table fun and games with Petersen and eased through the contest.
The Dutchman’s penchant for a lively walk-on, not to mention the possibility of an aubergine appearance, may not appeal to Anderson’s ‘proper darts’ ideals but it should make for a watchable contest.
Hunger and determination are back in Anderson’s eyes. He feels he has a point to prove. He may want to play it down but amidst the controversy, the comments and the darts, Anderson has emerged as a title contender once again at Alexandra Palace – one no-one will underestimate, despite his own thoughts to the contrary.
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