Gerwyn Price may not have watched, but he waited. He wouldn’t allow himself to watch, not as the Premier League campaign unfolded without the world champion there to try and add to his haul of accolades.
The world No 1 kept his distance both physically and mentally after being ruled out due to a positive test for COVID-19, instead using the unplanned recess to plot his assault on an opportunity-rich second half of the darting calendar.
“I consider myself a big watcher of darts but I just couldn’t put myself through that, it was so frustrating for me, I watched one or two of Jonny’s games but that was it,” he told Sky Sports. “I couldn’t put it on and I was keeping myself busy, it just wasn’t for me to watch. As you can imagine it was frustrating.”
Price’s setback was cushioned by perhaps two positives: the first being a fairy-tale winning debut for fellow World Cup victor and Welsh compatriot Jonny Clayton; the second a bonus surge of fire to bolster his already-rampant pursuit of silverware.
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Live World Matchplay Darts
July 17, 2021, 7:00pm
His absence in Milton Keynes not only prolonged the wait to be introduced as the reigning world champion on stage, but dealt an untimely disruption to his momentum at the oche.
Price wants to win everything, he had become used to winning next to everything, and suddenly he was powerless.
“I like to keep playing week in week out and that’s when you can play your best and be on top of your game but stop start all the time and having three months off while the Premier League was going on has been frustrating,” he added. “When I’m away in the Premier League and away on the Pro Tours that’s my match practice.
“I’m probably scoring better than anybody at the moment, it’s just because I haven’t played and I’m a little bit rusty those doubles have deserted me a little bit.”
The Welshman has clinched six titles and reached three finals, seven semi-finals and six quarter-finals in his last 37 appearances at a televised event. He has meanwhile won 49 and lost just 15 of his 64 games since beating Gary Anderson in the final of the World Darts Championship.
His consistency over the past 12 months unrivalled, his upward trajectory unrelenting, and yet he enters the World Matchplay looking to buck an unwanted trend.
Price arrives in Blackpool on the back of four successive first-round exits, a second-round defeat in 2016 and a quarter-final loss on debut in 2015.
Gerwyn Price’s World Matchplay record
For where it falls in the school calendar the Winter Gardens showpiece has always presented itself as an ideal opportunity for Price to take his wife and young daughters along for the ride, but in 2021 it is strictly business.
“I was watching a documentary on the football the other day and I listened to Sven-Goran Eriksson and he says you should never mix your professional life with your family life and over the past two or three years I’ve always taken my family away to Blackpool and it’s going to be a bit different this year, I’m going to be up there to play darts and it’s work only, no leisure for me this year,” he added.
“The Matchplay is the only event where my two daughters, my wife and my dad and my family comes and it can take your mind away from the job you’ve got in hand and that’s why I’m doing things a bit different this year.
“The kids are off school from Friday so they could well come up there with me but I just need to focus on what I’m doing. Obviously last year it was the first TV event without a crowd and it was a bit hard to get into, but I think I approached it wrong the last couple of years. Like I said, I just need to stop mixing professional life with my leisure life.”
“On the playing side of it, even though I haven’t done very well there the last couple of years it’s probably one of my favourite events to go to.”
Price ready for Blackpool return
It’s not uncommon for players to claim they approach every tournament with the same mentality, whether it be in front of thousands on stage or tucked away on the Pro Tour. When Price says it, you believe it.
He issued a reminder of that across last week’s four Super Series events, averaging a day-best 102.15 before losing to Stephen Bunting in Monday’s final followed by 102.38 as he was defeated by Wednesday’s eventual winner Ross Smith.
“People are playing out of their skin to beat me as well,” said Price. “I lost two games where I played really bad which were against Stephen Bunting and Boris (Krcmar), but leading up to the Stephen Bunting game I don’t think I went under a 103 average.
“That’s the problem, it’s consistently I’m firing averages like that and then I’ll drop down to a 90 and I’ve got to iron that out over the next couple of weeks ready for the Grand Slam and Worlds. If you slip up once them boys are good enough to topple you over.
“I don’t mind how other people play, sometimes the better people play the better I play, it brings the best out of me. Sometimes when people play rubbish it can drive you down.”
Price admits he lacks the kind of match practice he would have ideally liked, the odd loose double here or there last week maybe reflective of that. But this is the stage of the year he relishes.
Awaiting him in round one is Jermaine Wattimena, who has stepped up as a late substitute following the withdrawal of Mensur Suljovic. Price’s reaction to a re-jig? Unsurprisingly, unfazed.
“The thing is if you start worrying about what other people are going to do that’s when you’re going to slip up,” he said. “I know 100 per cent in my own head I’m going to win, I tend to take every game exactly the same whether I play Jermaine Wattimena, Michael Van Gerwen, Peter Wright, I’m going in there to perform the best I can and I can’t control anything they do. I just need to concentrate on my own game.”
Price prefers watching rugby over football, but recently found himself struggling to enjoy the crowd-less British & Irish Lions action in South Africa, instead favouring the raucous atmosphere inside Wembley as England beat Denmark in the Euro 2020 semi-finals.
He is relishing a similar vibrancy on stage on Blackpool, even if a tad apprehensive about a long-awaited return to darting normality as he previously knew it.
“It’s a little bit nerve-wracking because we haven’t had it in so long but the boys in the Premier League who got through to the latter stages have had the luxury of having a crowd there and they’re already warmed up to them,” said Price.
“I’m quite happy I’m playing on Saturday rather than Monday when they’re all back, just easing myself into it a bit!”
“It’s a totally different game no matter the sport when you’ve got the crowd, the atmosphere, even the boys that are playing the sport it brings that extra energy out of them.”
Price relishing the return of fans
After a somewhat frustrating start to the year, the World Matchplay will also evoke memories of Price’s Alexandra Palace triumph when John McDonald welcomes him out as the champion of the world.
“I feel like a world No 1 and a world champ but it is going to be a bit better now with the crowd and with John calling me out because I haven’t had that yet where he called me out in front of a crowd,” he said.
“This week is probably going to be a bit more emotional than usual and especially when the Premier League starts next year and I get to do it in front of a Cardiff crowd. As soon as I get the feeling of him calling me out in front of the crowd it will start to sink in a bit.”
But sentiment will soon turn into steel as Price locks his eyes on a prize that cannot evade him forever.
“I’m in everything to win it,” he said. “If I play anything like I did at the weekend and take my opportunities I don’t think I can be beaten.”
Darts is back on your Sky Sports screens this month, with nine days of coverage from the iconic Winter Gardens and the World Matchplay – the action gets under way on Saturday July 17.
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