Michael van Gerwen versus Peter Wright is one of the sport’s most iconic modern-day rivalries, and two of darts’ biggest hitters will go head to head on a spectacular semi-final Saturday at the World Matchplay.
The sub-plot is fascinating. Van Gerwen has enjoyed the monopoly over Wright for much of the last decade, claiming 64 career victories against the Scot – 10 of those in major televised finals.
History is firmly on the side of the Dutchman, though the form is with Snakebite. The 2017 finalist has advanced to his fourth Matchplay semi-final in serene fashion, relinquishing just 14 legs in disposing of Danny Noppert, Joe Cullen and Michael Smith.
Yet, despite boasting the highest tournament average of the remaining semi-finalists, Wright is rather blasé when assessing his exploits at the Empress Ballroom.
“Even with a 105 [average] the other day, it didn’t feel what potentially I could do. I’m still in the tournament, playing pretty consistently. I’ve had a few bad legs, but I will brush up on them,” he told Sky Sports.
“I used to watch Phil Taylor – the best. What I did, I analysed.
“He would hit all these amazing averages, blow everyone away, but what he could have done when he hit 85, it should have been 125.
“His ton could have been a 140, especially when he put the first one in. Those little things, so that is what I look at.”
Meticulous Wright walking the walk
There was plenty of scrutiny on Snakebite heading into this year’s showpiece, though he acknowledged it was largely self-inflicted given his pre-tournament boasts.
The Scot achieved the sport’s holy grail with victory over Van Gerwen at Alexandra Palace on New Year’s Day in 2020 – incidentally his last televised knockout clash against ‘The Green Machine’.
However, the Matchplay is absent from his decorated résumé, and Wright’s desire to lift a title named after his darting idol Taylor is fuelling his bid for glory.
“That is why I said I’m going to win it, and I will win it,” the world No 2 reaffirmed.
Wright vs Van Gerwen: The Stats
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Wright’s confidence can often be misconstrued for bravado, but as Wayne Mardle and Colin Lloyd can both attest to, his conviction is almost enchanting.
Having said that, one man who won’t be buying into the hype is a certain 31-year-old Dutchman, who is remarkably through to his first Matchplay semi-final in five years.
Van Gerwen has been nowhere near his irrepressible best in beating Damon Heta, Ian White and Nathan Aspinall, but as we approach the business end in Blackpool, the Dutchman is primed to prove he’s still the world’s best.
Van Gerwen: ‘Peter says so much nonsense’
“Peter is a phenomenal player and when Peter is on his game, he can make it really difficult, but he also knows when Michael van Gerwen turns up, he can’t win the game, that’s a fact,” he told reporters post-match.
“It is fact. It is truth. Peter knows it, Gerwyn [Price] knows it. Everyone in the world knows it. If I play my game, no one can beat me.”
Wright ran out a resounding 8-2 winner when the pair met in a Pro Tour final less than a fortnight ago, although Van Gerwen has prevailed in their two televised showdowns this year- both in the Premier League.
“He is playing really good darts, but he didn’t meet me yet. Normally when he plays me, his bum goes twitchy a little bit.”
MVG continues playful pre-match jousting…
Earlier this year, Snakebite declared that MVG would not lift a televised title in 2021, and the two-time Matchplay champion is incredibly without a title of any description since his Players Championship Finals triumph last November.
Nevertheless, the world No 3 is unperturbed by any provocation, insisting that he holds the psychological edge over his old adversary.
“Peter says so much nonsense every tournament, week after week, every televised tournament,” he added.
“He is playing really good darts, but he didn’t meet me yet. Normally when he plays me, his bum goes twitchy a little bit,” he quipped.
Saturday night would represent the perfect setting for a Van Gerwen masterclass – capacity crowd, big stage, and a blockbuster clash in one of the sport’s premier events.
This is the type of scenario that the three-time world champion has thrived in throughout the last decade, but Sky Sports’ Mardle believes Wright will begin the contest as favourite.
“He knows that Michael van Gerwen can go out there tomorrow and absolutely run riot and rout him. He knows that, but it’s not likely, is it?” Mardle reflected.
“It is not really something special for me, beating him in a tournament. It is just something that is normal. I just need to make sure I concentrate myself on my own game and beat him.”
Van Gerwen discusses Wright rivalry…
“Peter Wright showed against Michael Smith that relentless nature that he has got. Michael van Gerwen is going to need to up his levels from first gear to seventh gear.
“He won’t outscore Peter, which is what he normally relies on. He won’t out-finish Peter because under pressure, Michael van Gerwen looks like missing more than Peter Wright now.”
Defending champ Dimitri eyeing Ratajski scalp
“It’s going to be a big battle on Saturday but I know how good Ratajski is and he showed it again today. He’s fantastic and I’ve got to be focused and believe in myself. It would be unbelievable to be one of those players who defends this title but I’ve got to keep my feet on the ground.”
Van den Bergh dreaming of retaining his crown…
Saturday’s opening semi-final could prove equally as compelling, as reigning champion Dimitri Van den Bergh pits his wits against former World Masters winner Krzysztof Ratajski.
‘The Polish Eagle’ flew under the radar pre-tournament given his underwhelming form on the Pro Tour, but he’s been at his relentless best to secure a spot in his first major PDC semi-final.
The seven-time PDC event winner posted 101 and 99 averages in dispatching the in-form duo of Brendan Dolan and Luke Humphries, before breezing past debutant Callan Rydz to break new ground in Blackpool.
Van den Bergh vs Ratajski: The Stats
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Van den Bergh has reiterated that his debut success was no anomaly – firing in a combined total of 24 maximums to defeat Dave Chisnall and world champion Gerwyn Price.
The manner of his 16-9 victory over Price sent out a real statement. Not only did he comprehensively outplay the world No 1, he also showed composure beyond his years by refusing to be drawn into the Welshman’s histrionics.
‘The Dream Maker’ was Wright’s house guest during last year’s lockdown, and the brilliant Belgian credited Snakebite’s influence in his evolution into a major champion.
“Every player dreams of winning this trophy so I hope I can play the semi-finals with less mistakes and do better on my doubles. It will be the biggest match of my career.”
Ratajski poised for day of destiny…
Now the pair could potentially meet in Sunday’s showpiece, which Mardle concedes is the most likely outcome.
“I don’t want to rule out Michael van Gerwen and Krzysztof Ratajski of course, but that’s the likely final, isn’t it?
“Dimitri is doing everything right under pressure, so is Peter Wright, who has not really been under the cosh because he has made life pretty comfortable for himself.
“Ratajski will definitely give Dimitri a game, and if Michael van Gerwen plays his A-game tomorrow, he wins.”
Watch the World Matchplay from the iconic Winter Gardens all the way through until Sunday, July 25. Check out daily Darts news on skysports.com/darts, our app for mobile devices and our Twitter account @skysportsdarts