No shock was the outcome itself. What no one could have expected even remotely – with the possible exception of Gerwyn Price himself – was the incredible way in which it took place.
He put on one of the most full, emotionally exhausting and unlikely performances ever seen on the Alexandra Palace stage when the 35-year-old Price became world champion for the first time.
Not only was his 7-3 win over Gary Anderson impressive, but he was also a harbinger: the emergence of a new darts superstar, the first player to seriously question Michael van Gerwen’s dominance, the first no. 1 new world since van Gerwen replaced Phil Taylor seven years ago.
What stood out above all was the sense of utter safety when Price steamrollered two-time world champion Anderson: a show of muscle, nerve and unerring brilliance that was often completely beyond belief.
It’s the same certainty, the same sense of predestination that in only a few short years catapulted Price from the ranks of travellers to the top of the sport.
In 2014, a few weeks after van Gerwen won his first title, Price beat hundreds of anonymous hopefuls at a leisure center in Wigan to earn his tour card.
The Welshman’s first few years were largely unremarkable in the sport. He was also best known as a former rugby union hooker for Neath to many in his homeland.
And while Price has never turned on himself, there have been several others. To this day, his brash oche celebrations and his unabashed self-confidence ensure that he is accompanied everywhere he appears by a healthy chorus of boos. Two years ago, for celebrating loudly in Anderson’s face at the 2018 Grand Slam of Darts, he won a £ 10,000 fine. The mark of pantomime villain could never completely leave him for this and several other reasons.
It is also legitimate to wonder, for that reason, whether Price could have benefited from the fact that there were no spectators to get in his face. But it’s only normal to mourn the atmosphere and suspense that a paying audience would have lent to the scene when you see him coming within millimeters of a hallowed nine-dart finish, convulsing just before the finish line as Anderson cuts his deficit from 6-1 to 6-3.
Still, Price, on top of Monday morning’s world rankings, is a player who has dominated the sport on his own terms. In the sixth set, his score of 136 was the best ever in a World Championship final.
And yet, by holding off Anderson’s late charge and missing 11 darts for the match, you could see the storms within him, feel the force of every dart he threw. With a roar of relief and fatigue, the triumph was welcomed, the culmination of a journey few who experienced it will ever forget.
It was a comparison of styles: of the game’s temperaments and viewpoints and approaches. Price, a first-time finalist, marched onto the stage purposely, eyeing the dancers and puffing out his broad chest like a man about to enter Sports Direct’s queue.
A few feet away, his glasses were gently taken from their case by a calm and composed Anderson. Price had blood drawn first.
Anderson quickly hit back and reversed the tide with a finish of 128.
The stress was already palpable in both right arms. Finals appear to be dominated by top players: no player has won after being two sets down since Taylor blitzed a young van Gerwen in 2013. That’s why the next move by Price was crucial.
He first took a 2-1 lead with 12, 13 and 14 dart legs. He then extended his lead to 3:1, then to 4:1, and then to 5:1 at last. He hit his first 10 double-top darts.
Price ended up like a man in the biggest match of his life who had forgotten how to miss.
We started to find something odd about Price around this moment. He barely celebrated at all. Now we knew how much of his theater was all bluster, plumage, appearance on stage. Now, fully absorbed in his mission, Price, the persona, had faded into the background entirely. The player, Price, had taken over.
Perhaps it was no surprise that, towards the end, Price was somewhat deflated. They missed two match darts, then three, six, and nine. “I’ve never felt that much pressure in my life,” he confessed later.
But eventually, after Anderson missed two darts in his 10th set, he went down.