The handsome 8-6 win over Gary Anderson in the Premier League on Friday night, disguises a lot, but certainly not everything. It should be clear: after the coronapause, darter Michael van Gerwen lost his inviolability. In the prestigious Premier League he is only fifth and has to work hard to reach the final round on Saturday evening.
The number one in the world doesn’t have a placement in the last four, with one more round to go, in his own hands anymore. Wednesday’s 8-1 humiliation against Peter Wright – his biggest defeat ever – is still looming.
The last four editions of the tournament were won by Van Gerwen. But this year everything is different. After the mandatory interruption due to the coronavirus, the Premier League will be finished at a furious pace in Milton Keynes.
What’s going on?
Van Gerwen lost there as often (four times) as he won there. Not exactly figures we are used to from the man from Vlijmen. What’s the matter with the once so powerful ‘Mighty Mike’?
“Look, we’ve had Eric Bristow, Phil Taylor, Raymond van Barneveld, now Michael van Gerwen. We’ve seen them all dominate. And they’ve all been knocked off the throne. The level’s just getting higher and higher, you know.”
Speaking is Raymond van Barneveld, resting darts legend after ending his long career at the end of last year. He still follows darts closely and tries to find out why Van Gerwen seems to have lost the momentum.
“It only has to be a little thing, doesn’t it? It’s all about focus. He just got another son and you don’t know how that guy sleeps”, said the five-time world champion.
“Who knows, Mike may have struggled with broken nights, while the competition in the coronation break has been training hard.”
An additional problem, according to Van Barneveld, is that in the current set-up of the Premier League, the game is played just about every night. “If you’re not one hundred percent and you get off, you can lose a lot of matches.”
What is striking about Van Gerwen: he doubts his arrows. As of January he has another sponsor and throws a new set. Last week he said goodbye to that and came up with three new arrows.
“That indicates of course that he is searching”, knows Van Barneveld, who often changed arrows in his career. “But you used to have fewer television tournaments and you could get used to your arrows a bit more quietly. Nowadays those guys have a camera on their pan every week, that’s different”
Yet ‘Barney’ doesn’t think Van Gerwen’s dip is due to his material. “Mike is such a talent, yo. I was playing darts with him once, he threw 180 (the maximum score, ed.) with his own arrows. Then he took my arrows and he threw 180 with them too. So there were just six arrows in the triple 20. Six! And I’ve seen him do that about three times, haha.”
Maybe 31-year-old Van Gerwen lacks the real hunger for success. After all, he has been the best for years, won every cup there is to win and turned himself into a darts millionaire. And in the meantime he has been at the top for fourteen years.
How do you stay motivated? Three-bander Dick Jaspers knows all about it. The billiard player has been at the top of his sport for over thirty years. Between his first world title in 2000 and his fourth and last was eighteen years.
“It’s getting harder and harder, the competition’s getting better and the sport demands more and more of me. But it’s my passion and my profession. And if you win, it gives you such a kick and recognition. From the royal family, the cabinet, the press and your environment,” says Jaspers.
Like darts, billiards is a sport you can physically perform for a long time. “But self-discipline is everything. If I get lazy and train less, I immediately notice it in my performance.”
Van Barneveld agrees. “I used to want to be the best. Well, then you’re gonna be world champion a few times, and you’re gonna be fine. You’ll have a wife, a baby, you’ll travel sometime.”
“If you actually have to train, do you think: joh, it’s going well, isn’t it? I’d rather go play golf for a day. Or I could go out for dinner. Before you know it, don’t touch another arrow. But at some point, you’re gonna have to get back to work, because talent isn’t enough.”
Advice and an unanswered app
Van Barneveld tried to pick up Van Gerwen on the phone the other day. “I picked him up. Come on, champ! But I haven’t gotten anything back yet. You don’t have to. But I’m not someone who’s going to append again. All right, man.”
The Brabander Jaspers has some advice for his county mate. “A dip is unavoidable in a long sporting career. You have to accept that. But the passion for the sport always helps you get over it.”