Phil Taylor believes he heads into the Ladbrokes World Darts Championship final on New Year’s Day in the unusual position of being underdog.
Taylor is widely considered to be the greatest player in the sport’s history and is bidding to be crowned world champion for an incredible 16th time in his career.
The 52-year-old started out as tournament favourite and demonstrated his composure and battling qualities to beat Raymond van Barneveld 6-4 in a semi-final that threatened to slip away from the man from Stoke-on-Trent.
It’s the blistering form of fellow finalist Michael van Gerwen, though, that has generated the most interest over the past few days as he came within one missed double of scoring back-to-back nine-dart finishes in his last-four victory over James Wade.
Taylor is 4/5 to win on Tuesday evening and he admits that Van Gerwen, priced at evens, is an exciting talent capable of winning the biggest prize in darts.
“Do I make myself the underdog against Michael van Gerwen?” said Taylor. “Well, I do actually.
“Michael is exceptional. I absolutely rate this kid.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a freak, but he’s a Jonah Lomu – he’s brilliant. I know I’ve got to concentrate when I play him.
“I’ve not seen a player like him. I’ve seen some who can score over a few games, but no-one like him. I think he’s the next one.
“For me to beat him, it’s going to take a lot of concentration and a lot of effort. I can do it, but it’s going to be hard. I played him on the tour in the final, averaged 109 and lost, but I can get him.”
Van Barneveld came from 5-1 down to seriously test Taylor’s title credentials, with the man nicknamed The Power struggling with depleted energy levels due to illness.
He added: “I keep saying this, but I’m not very well.
“I’m full of cold, and I feel shattered. It took every bit of energy I had that game, especially when I needed to win that set to stop it being 5-5.
“If Barney had took that set, I think he would have had me.
“I was more shaky than Shakin’ Stevens out there, and then the crowd turned against me then people were singing for me.
“I mean, everything was going against me. Then, Barney kept hitting the last dart. Fair play to Barney; if he can get his confidence going, hitting his doubles, as his confidence goes up, he’s going to get away from you.”
Despite Van Barneveld’s spirited comeback, Taylor held his nerve to reach a 19th world championship final.
Taylor has won on five of his previous six appearances in the final of the PDC World Darts Championship, but he concedes age is catching up with him.
He said: “It’s harder for me now, obviously. I’m a little older now and as I get older, I respect other players’ ability more, whereas when I was younger, I couldn’t really care less who I was playing.
“I was like a boxer, going in there knowing I was going to beat them.”
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