The turn of the year has definitely seen a rise in the popularity of darts. Perhaps it began as a fun pastime during the lockdown. It’s easy enough to set up a dartboard at home, and with the PDC World Championship taking place behind closed doors for the 2021 title, you only have to look at viewing figures for Gerwyn Price’s victory to see there was a sudden interest.
Flash forward 12 months, and some normality was back on the horizon. Coronavirus restrictions were eased, and once again, Alexandra Palace could open its doors to dart’s boisterous crowds. The capital was booming as Peter Wright beat Michael Smith and claimed a second world title in front of thousands of adoring fans. And with the UK Open a great way to whet their appetite, spirits were high ahead of another tournament.
While many would have predicted Smith to right the wrongs of Ally Pally and deliver a show-stopping performance as one of the clear favorites in the darts betting, this wasn’t the case. Although Butlin’s Minehead Resort is hardly the picturesque backdrop to set the scene on his tale of redemption, Smith would have at least wanted a major honor to put on the mantlepiece. But it was Danny Noppert who came to spoil the party, winning his first televised title 11-10 in a memorable final.
Indeed, few of the darts predictions had touted the Dutchman to perform as valiantly as he did. The 31-year-old saw off the likes of Damon Heta and William O’Connor en route to the final, and although the underdog sometimes chokes on the big occasion, it was Noppert who kept his cool, even when things went against him. We’ve seen Smith — even right up until the final against Wright back in January — have difficulty putting the game to bed, and after struggling for a 124 checkout, he granted Noppert the chance to turn things around.
In dramatic fashion, Noppert capitalized on some more Smith errors and snatched the win, inflicting further punishment on ‘Bully Boy’ who just can’t seem to get over the line. On the other hand, Noppert was overjoyed.
“I am over the moon; this is a special moment for me,” he said. “It’s unbelievable; I have always wanted to lift a trophy, but never thought it would come at such a large tournament like the UK Open.
“It was a tough game when we were already very tired from the day of games, but neither of us wanted to give up. There is always room for improvement but I think I can take some big steps forward in my career.”
It means the Dutchman rises through the PDC rankings, and while at 12th he’s still on the periphery of darts elite, the fact he outlasted former world champions like Price is testament to what a player he is. It will be interesting to see if the first TV win will serve as a catalyst for future success, especially as the Grand Prix and Players Championships draw closer, or the win was a flash in the pan. Either way, it’s a tournament that Noppert will never forget.