Luke Littler lights up Premier League but Van Gerwen wins epic final | Luke Littler
The coronation will have to wait. Michael van Gerwen claimed the spoils on night two of the Premier League, beating Luke Littler in a deciding leg that felt like a self-contained epic all in itself. Both men began with visits of 57. Both came back with 180s. Both men missed darts for the match. Littler, on 80, let slip two darts at his favourite double-10, and ultimately those were the margins.
Perhaps it would simply have been too neat for Littler to win his first Premier League event in the city that gave the world the doner kebab. But here again was evidence that the emergence of the precocious 17-year-old is pushing everybody to new levels of quality and nerve. Van Gerwen averaged 107 in his semi-final win over Michael Smith without – and this is a very Van Gerwen trait these days – ever quite looking that good. And on a night when every single match of the night finished 6-4 or 6-5, van Gerwen owed his triumph as much to good fortune and the tenacity to endure.
The very nature of the Premier League, with its byzantine round-robin-ab-absurdum format in which everybody plays everybody, and then everybody plays everybody some more, makes it difficult for cogent narratives to emerge. Last year the triumph of Van Gerwen, the sustained excellence of Gerwyn Price and the late surge of Michael Smith proved largely illusory in terms of portending how the year would shake out. That said, after only a few weeks of the new season, we can already say one thing with confidence. The kid can be beaten. The kid will be beaten. But nobody on the planet is playing better darts than him right now.
And weirdly, the arrival of the kid seems to have loosened everybody else up. Tonally and texturally, there is something genuinely fresh and exciting about this sport right now. There are wisecracks and backslaps on stage, a few more shots being fired in the interview room. Players are united in their fealty to the new teenage overlord. They’re thinking about the ratings and the buzz, the uplift in prize money, a rising purple-and-yellow tide that will raise all their boats. They’re not thinking – not yet at least – about the trophies they’re going to lose to him.
From the world beyond there has been the usual bouquet of chatter and comment. Last week the former world No 1 Peter Manley warned Littler to lose weight in order to prolong his career. “Littler, to me, just looks a big unit,” he told the Daily Star. “If he isn’t careful and doesn’t look after himself, he won’t last long because of that. And it won’t look good. You want to look good.” If only we could all look as good as a 61-year-old man fat-shaming a 17-year-old child.
Meanwhile, the travelling circus rolls on. No time for Brandenburger Tor or the Gropius Bau museum: from Berlin it’s straight to Wigan, where Littler takes part in his first ranking event of the season on Monday. And for now it’s working like a dream, or like working in a dream. Once again the Germans turned out in their hordes, straining at the guardrails to catch a glimpse of this curious new darting specimen. In a way the obsession with darts over here is another example of the general German cultural fascination with all things British, from Monty Python to Phil Collins to Eric Dier. They sing “Stand Up If You Love The Darts”. They sing the Kolo Touré song. They’ll be whistling the thrower next.
Rob Cross was Littler’s first scalp, beaten 6-5 in a deciding leg after fighting back bravely from a break down. Humphries had his chances in a thrilling semi-final, averaging 115 at one point before going slack on the doubles and allowing Littler to level the match at 5-5. Again Humphries took the initiative in the decider, only for Littler – on 182 – to pull a brilliant 162 out of his back pocket, followed by his favourite double-10. Since the world championship final a month ago Littler has already played Humphries three times, and won them all.
As for the rest, Peter Wright and Nathan Aspinall remain winless after losing their opening games to Humphries and Van Gerwen respectively. These two already look the likeliest to struggle. Smith was edged out by Van Gerwen in the other semi-final, after winning a richly entertaining quarter against Price in which each traded 170 finishes.