World Championship Contenders- Michael Smith

Michael Smith.jpg

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

With the 2016 PDC World Championships just nine days away, today I assess the World Championship chances of another St Helen’s star, in the shape of Michael Smith, who enters this tournament as eighth seed.

9. Michael Smith

Michael Smith has enjoyed the best year of his PDC career so far, winning two European Tour events and reaching his maiden PDC major semi-final, just last month. Can Smith come of age and win the big one at Ally Pally in January?

Michael is unquestionably one of the most naturally-gifted players in the PDC. Under the stewardship of Tommy Gilmour and World Champion Gary Anderson, he has matured into a genuine contender for top honours and has a great chance of appearing in the 2016 Premier League.

One of the most impressive facets of Smith’s season has been his consistency on the Pro Tour. He finished 2015 second on the Pro Tour Order of Merit, behind only Michael van Gerwen.

The floor tournaments are a gruelling environment and the depth of quality is considerable. Smith’s Pro Tour ranking illustrates the high-level he has consistently produced this year.

‘Bully-Boy’ began his year in sparkling style, winning the fifth UK Open qualifier in Barnsley, before winning the International Darts Open in June. Smith defeated Steve Beaton, Terry Jenkins and Ian White, before beating Benito van de Pas 6-4 in the final.

Smith then won his second European Tour title in September, as he defended his European Darts Trophy crown. He beat the likes of Wes Newton, Kevin Painter, Mervyn King and White in the semi-finals, to set up a final against van Gerwen. MvG had monopolised the European Tour prior to this contest, winning 5 of the 6 events.

However, the 25-year-old St Helen’s star produced a magnificent display of finishing, to record an emphatic 6-2 victory over the World Number One. Smith defeated van Gerwen in the 2014 final, so this was no flash in the pan.

Michael’s biggest obstacle has been improving his mentality on the big stage. He admitted earlier this year that he has worked on the mental aspect of his game and it’s abundantly clear that he has made a significant improvement in this regard.

The World Number 8 reached the semi-finals of the Grand Slam of Darts last month, and claimed a number of notable scalps. He finished top of Group C, which featured Adrian Lewis, Andy Fordham and Wayne Jones.

Smith produced a top-class performance in beating fellow St Helen’s ace Dave Chisnall 10-7 in the last 16, averaging just under 105. Smith then defeated Adrian Lewis for the second time in the tournament, winning 16-11 against the Two-Time World Champion. Lewis scored superbly, but Smith was clinical, capitalising on profligacy from Jackpot.

In the semi-finals, ‘Bully-Boy’ met old adversary Michael van Gerwen. MvG was rampant, whilst Smith didn’t produce what he’s capable of. Nevertheless, Smith wasn’t deterred and he continued to battle valiantly. Twelve months ago, I think his reaction to going behind would have differed considerably.

Michael’s growing maturity is one of the main factors as to why I don’t think he can be discounted from challenging for the title. His natural talent is undeniable and he has the ability to beat anybody in the world. However, it would take an astounding effort for Smith to claim World Championship glory.

He takes on Jeffrey De Zwaan in a tricky opening-round tie. De Zwaan is mentored by Five-Time World Champion, Raymond van Barneveld. The young Dutchman is a prodigious talent and has beaten the likes of Phil Taylor and Jelle Klaasen on tour this year.

De Zwaan is an extremely fluent thrower, which should suit Smith. Michael notoriously struggles against the more methodical players, as evidenced against Mensur Suljovic at the Players Championship Finals, so he should thrive on the rhythm created by the 19-year-old star.

Steve Beaton would be Smith’s likely second-round opponent. Beaton is a legend of the game, but his TV performances over recent years have been particularly underwhelming.

‘The Bronzed Adonis’ has won just 2 of his last 18 TV fixtures, so the former World-Youth Champion would be red-hot favourite to progress through to the last 16.

Ian White is Smith’s potential last 16 opponent. The Stoke-on-Trent ace is a tenacious competitor, possibly one of the most underrated players on tour. They have met on four occasions in 2015, with the current scores level at two apiece.

Smith’s potential quarter-final opponent is MvG. This would be an extremely difficult task over such a long format and Michael would probably have to produce the performance of his career to defeat the World Number One. If Smith can hit his preferred D20 and D10 with great regularity he could be a major threat in this competition.

His temperament is constantly improving and he’s a prolific scorer. However, all of these components may still not be enough to overcome van Gerwen.

Nevertheless, I don’t think Smith has received the plaudits he deserves for his performances in 2015, and at 50/1 with title sponsor William Hill, Bully-Boy represents good value!

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