Simon Whitlock reflects on his resurgence ahead of the Grand Slam meeting with Michael van Gerwen



Simon Whitlock offers to advance to the semifinals of the Grand Slam of Darts for the first time in his career.

Michael van Gerwen appears to be a man on a mission at the Grand Slam of Darts, having only sacrificed six legs to reach the quarterfinals, but the prospect of meeting world No. 1 does not fear Simon Whitlock.

‘The Wizard’ has drawn the Dutchman at this year’s World Matchplay and World Grand Prix, and he is convinced to conjure more magic to complete a remarkable hat-trick of major victories over the three-time world champion.

Before his extensive 11-4 victory over Van Gerwen in Matchplay, the friendly Aussie had lost his last 15 meetings against MVG – a record back to October 2016.

So what’s the secret behind his recent success against the world’s leading player?

“I think it’s just faith and trust,” Whitlock said Darts Show podcast.

“I’ve been practicing well, I’ve been playing a lot of online darts this year, so my game is at a really good stage. I’m actually happy with my setup with my darts, as everything is going towards confidence.

“I beat Michael [van Gerwen] the last two times on TV in major majors, so I definitely played. It only works during the day. If I’m fine and everything clicks, I can beat anyone.

Whitlock’s Matchplay success against ‘Mighty Mike’ generated plenty of headlines, though his Grand Prix triumph was undoubtedly more impressive.

“I’m not done playing the game. I’m still as eager as ever – I still play pretty much three, four times a week.”

Whitlock on his passion for the sport …

The Australian was in inspired form and became the first player outside of Van Gerwen and Phil Taylor to post a ton plus on average in the doubles start event over a best of five sets format.

The two-time world finalist kicks off his fourth Grand Slam quarterfinal on Sunday night, but he has never progressed beyond the final eight out of 10 appearances.

His three previous quarterfinal defeats came against the trio Phil Taylor, Scott Waites and Gerwyn Price – all three of whom lifted the title.

Whitlock hopes the story does not repeat itself, but he enjoys his latest dust-up with the 31-year-old – admitting he prefers cut and thrust of knockout darts as opposed to the unpredictable round-robin format.

“I do not really like the format. I do not like round-robin stuff – it does not really work for me,” admitted the former European champion.

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“It’s not really in your hands sometimes, but if you get through it, it’s good, because you get to the longer game, the knockout, and I enjoy that part of it.”

However, the elongated format presents difficulties. Matches over the best of 31 legs are usually a test of resilience, but this task is reinforced by the players’ current intensive schedules.

Despite topping Group B with maximum points, the former World Cup finalist was worked on in his 10-6 win over Adam Hunt on Friday, averaging a weak 87 in a scary affair.

Since the World Darts Championship started in Salzburg on November 6, Whitlock has only had three days without playing competitive darts, and he admits it is gradually taking its toll.

“This is hard. Coming back from Austria, we only had an hour of sleep, and then I also had to qualify that day, which was really hard, but I’m really happy about that because I qualified and I’m in the last eight, “he added.

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Simon Whitlock beat Adam Hunt 10-6 to reach the final eight at the Grand Slam.

Simon Whitlock beat Adam Hunt 10-6 to reach the final eight at the Grand Slam.

“I fought the last two games, but I think it’s just because I’ve played too much. I just need a good rest. My body is getting older.

“I’m probably the oldest player still in the tournament. It’s hard work. Hopefully I get out and shoot and I want to feel really good.”

It is a testament to Whitlock’s insatiable passion for the sport that he thrives under such test conditions.

Australia’s most successful darting import is the oldest statesman in the world’s top 20, but he proves that age is just a number with a touching resurgence in recent months.

The 51-year-old has reached three major quarter-final finals this season – a record matched only by World Cup Matchit Dimitri Van den Bergh and Van Gerwen himself.

Sunday’s quarterfinals – Afternoon session

Michael Smith vs Jose De Sousa
Damon Heta vs. James Wade

Sunday’s quarterfinals – Evening session

Dimitri Van den Bergh vs Nathan Aspinall
Michael van Gerwen vs Simon Whitlock

However, he is not the only Australian to make waves. His world championship Damon Heta is through to the quarter-finals of his Grand Slam debut, with two Australians to be played in the last eight of a major tournament for the first time since October 2017.

The pair blossomed together at the World Cup before succumbing to final champions Wales, and Whitlock praised his compatriot taking over James Wade for a place in Monday’s semi-finals.

“It’s amazing. I hardly knew Damon [Heta] before he came over here, but we have to become pretty good friends for me.

“He’s a great player. It’s just good to have another Aussie here who is doing well.”

Whitlock’s focus, however, is on his own fortunes. He offers only to lift his second major PDC title and given his consistency over the last decade, he could be forgiven for feeling that his accomplishments have deserved greater reward.

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Whitlock threw Van Gerwen 3-0 in the World Grand Prix quarterfinals in their final competition meeting

Whitlock threw Van Gerwen 3-0 in the World Grand Prix quarterfinals in their final competition meeting

‘The Wizard’ has reached several major finals since claiming his lone TV PDC title in 2013 – succumbing to James Wade and Daryl Gurney in the European Championship and World Grand Prix finals respectively.

This may have deflated many professionals entering the twilight of their careers, but it has simply boosted the desire of Whitlock, who insists he has been given unfinished business as he offers to sign the season in style.

“I want to win them all. I want to do well in all of them. Rankings are important and it’s important to win money too.

“I think it is [passion] right inside you. I’m not done playing the game. I’m still as eager as ever – I still play pretty much three, four times a week.

“You’re never done, I think – not unless you’re a world champion, then you can think I’ve reached the top of the game and now I can rest a little bit.”

Do not miss an arrow from the Grand Slam of Darts Sky Sports as the action continues on Sunday with all four quarterfinals – join us from kl. 13 and at 19 Sky Sports Arena and follow us @SkySportsDarts for updates and clips throughout the tournament.

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