Here are my top three picks from this Weekend’s Happy Bet German Darts Masters
1st round review: Jeffrey de Graaf 6-5 Ricky Evans
For some players, a European Tour event is not necessarily about making a run for the title or challenging Michael van Gerwen. The few thousand pounds’ difference between a good day at the office and a disappointing early exit can mean holding on to – or losing – a tour card, or qualifying – or not – for a major televised championship.
Such was the calculus involved in Jeffrey de Graaf’s German Masters campaign. De Graaf, a winner of multiple BDO events, had not even made a quarterfinal in his two-year PDC career and, with his ranking hovering around #60, faced the prospect of losing his tour card for 2018 if he could not put forward better performances.
De Graaf, having met his opponent only once four years ago, encountered in the first round almost for the first time the unusual challenge of playing the fastest darter in the world. The prospect of trading arrows with Ricky Evans did not daunt the Dutchman, however, as he threw two maxima in the first two legs. These scoring bursts earned de Graaf first crack at the doubles in both legs, but three darts failed to find their marks and Evans, hitting doubles 16 and 5 with admirable precision, took out 68 and 85 finishes to pull out to a 2-0 lead.
Thanks to anemic scoring from Evans, de Graaf narrowly averted disaster after missing the bullseye by eventually hitting double 2 to hold his throw in the third leg. Due to his failure to attempt a finish in his next two legs against the throw, and due to Evans’ incredible throwing speed, de Graaf soon found himself at the bottom of a 5-1 hole.
Winning five consecutive legs with an opponent throwing match darts is never a likely prospect, but with de Graaf, his confidence seemed to build as the deficit decreased. Evans suddenly began to throw erratic darts at the trebles, allowing de Graaf to miss the several darts at doubles that had cost him earlier in the match. Leaving 60 after 9 darts in the eighth leg, and 84 after 9 in the tenth, put breaks of throw out of throw for the rapidfire Englishman. The Dutchman was fortunate to survive a match dart in the ninth leg, but compounded fortune with skill by checking out 25 and denying his opponent more match darts.
Having reached an improbable last-leg decider, Jeffrey de Graaf fired off five perfect darts to begin the leg – a remarkable display of confidence under pressure. Even after a nervy visit in which he scored 24 points, Evans could not get to a double in five visits and conceded a spectacular comeback victory.
Although de Graaf was to fall victim to another player’s comeback in the third round – that of Jelle Klaasen, who survived four of de Graaf’s match darts – the £3000 haul from the German Masters was the biggest Pro Tour cash of his career, and made his tour card substantially less vulnerable.
Quarterfinal review: Michael van Gerwen 6-3 Raymond van Barneveld
Raymond van Barneveld threw his last stage 160 finish on the first day of this year, in an epic losing effort in the World Championship semifinal. He threw a second one tonight – in what is becoming a gesture of futility for him – against the same ruthless opponent.
Michael van Gerwen, having averaged above 110 twice in his two preceding games, seized a 3-0 lead against Barney in Jena in typically ruthless fashion, demolishing finishes of 114 and 164 in his first two legs, without allowing his opponent a single dart at a double.
From 3-0 down the task of beating MvG is impossibly daunting. But Barney, ever the battler, was keen to give it a go. A poor scoring effort from Mighty Mike in the fifth leg saw the elder Dutchman clear to a 14-dart hold of throw, and then van Barneveld denied his opponent a chance at a 70 finish with a spectacular 160 finish.
If that 12-dart break gave the impression that the tide of the match was turning, van Gerwen was all too happy to dispel that myth. Firing off seven perfect darts in the sixth leg (but not eight, much to the Jena crowd’s chagrin) failed to end the nine-darter drought on the European Tour, but allowed an immediate break for MvG, putting him 4-2 up and throwing first in three of the next five legs.
By missing a crucial dart at double 16 in the next leg, van Barneveld watched an opportunity to punish van Gerwen slip away. From that point, the younger Dutch star was all too happy to concede the eighth leg – against the throw – to Barney, and with the advantage of throwing first in the ninth, blow Barney off the stage with a second 11-darter.
It was all too reminiscent of that Ally Pally epic, even apart from the 160 finish. Raymond van Barneveld was producing top quality darts, especially on the doubles and averaging over 100 for most of the match. But it wasn’t enough in January and it wasn’t enough tonight. A comfortable 6-3 win for Mighty Mike against one of the Dutch darting legend left the Green Machine looking unstoppable in Jena.
Final review: Michael van Gerwen vs Jelle Klaasen
This was not the final anyone could have wanted. Watching two opponents play a match in which they pretend that the other does not exist is unnerving in an environment where cordiality is common and politeness, if grudging, is the norm.
Jelle Klaasen and Michael van Gerwen hate each other. Though they would each like to defeat the other as completely as possible, only one man is capable of inflicting a defeat as severe as the personal rift that separates the two.
Mighty Mike threw down the gauntlet in the first leg, capping off an 11-dart hold of throw with a two-dart 93 finish. Had he needed them, MvG may have had as many as 18 darts to win the leg, but the world number 1 was in no mood to waste time. After capitalizing on Klaasen’s missed darts at doubles 20, 10 and 5 in the second leg, van Gerwen struck back with a 70 finish, and within two and a half minutes of the match beginning, MvG was already a third of the way to lifting the German Masters trophy.
In his previous match against Simon Whitlock, van Gerwen’s earlier proficiency on the doubles seemed to desert him. Small signs of that uncertainty showed in the fourth leg, where MvG missed two darts at double 12, allowing Klaasen to finally get on the board courtesy of a two-dart 80 finish.
This proved to be an entirely academic concern, for even though MvG needed all three darts to clean up a 40 finish in the fifth leg, Klaasen would have needed a 140 finish to deny van Gerwen three more darts at the double. The Cobra, who managed only a single ton-plus finish out of the 26 legs he won on the weekend, posed no threat to the world number 1’s efforts on his own throw.
A 14-darter in the sixth leg and a 180 – Klaasen’s only one of the final – to start the seventh might have portended trouble for MvG, had the Green Machine not hammered out a second 11-darter, denying Klaasen even a chance at the 100 finish he had left after nine darts. An ominous bounceout in the final leg may in fact have cost Jelle a chance to save the match, but as MvG closed out the match with a 13-dart break of throw, a Klaasen comeback would have looked perishingly unlikely even had he saved the eighth leg.
In producing one of his highest averages of the year, Jelle looked remarkably untroubled by wrist problems which had dogged him in the Premier League. Somehow players always seem to put forward their best efforts when playing Michael van Gerwen, and Klaasen can certainly take comfort in his 98 average and solid performance.
But he’s lost too many times to MvG to be consoled by that, and a final victory over van Gerwen will continue to elude him.