Rob Cross ended Michael van Gerwen’s reign as William Hill World Darts Champion in an epic 11-set semi-final last night as he set up a decider with Phil Taylor, whose dream finale continued with a 6-1 defeat of Jamie Lewis at Alexandra Palace.
Cross has enjoyed the most spectacular debut year in the sport’s history since turning professional at the start of 2017, winning four events and reaching the European Championship final during his rise into the top 32.
The 20th seed will now contest the richest-ever darts match in Monday’s final as he takes on legendary 16-time World Champion Taylor – who will be competing in his final game before retirement.
Cross ended Van Gerwen’s bid to retain the World Championship title in a two-hour slugfest which left a capacity Ally Pally crowd captivated.
The 27-year-old former electrician matched Van Gerwen every step of the way as they traded heavy blows time after time and in the end they could only be separated by one single game of sudden-death 501 after remaining locked at five-all in the final set.
Both men won 27 legs and they combined for a semi-final record 31 maximums, but the key stat is the six match darts which Van Gerwen missed as he saw his title slip away in the dramatic finale.
Van Gerwen missed five of those chances in the tenth leg of the final set, allowing Cross to force the sudden-death leg where he punished a further miss from the Dutchman before landing double eight to seal a momentous victory.
“Words can’t explain it, they really can’t,” said Cross. “Obviously I’ve lost to Michael a fair few times but tonight was my turn.
“At a point I felt inexperienced, I really did, but I managed to get through it and I’ll make sure I’m right again for a couple of days.”
Cross has not been able to get the better of Van Gerwen in a televised game previously, including losing in October’s European Championship final, but showed his class in adapting to the big stage in Saturday’s triumph.
“I’m confident in my own ability and I actually think if I come out and play like I can, near my best, then I actually believe I can keep up with Michael every day,” said Cross.
“Obviously there are factors that mean I’ve not been able to do that but that just comes with being more comfortable. I feel I could be better than I have been but that comes with being more comfortable.”
Van Gerwen landed one more 180 than Cross with 16 and achieved a higher average of 102.44, but crucially was left to rue his late missed doubles
“I hate losing, especially in this tournament,” admitted Van Gerwen afterwards. “I think I was better than Rob but on the important moments I could not bring something extra.
“Missing these doubles was extremely painful. There was nothing I could do about it. He played really well, all credit to him. But I should have won this. I can only blame myself and nobody else.
“Of course he’s a great winner. But I think I deserved to win this match to be quite honest. I had six match darts and normally I don’t miss that many. I’m sick of it.
“I think this is just his year. He had the luck going for him. It’s that simple. Those doubles were so close on the wire. I’m sick about that. Normally that doesn’t happen to me and I’m the only one to blame for it.
“My scoring was good at the right moment but my doubles let me down. I can only blame myself for that.”
That unforgettable clash had come after Phil Taylor’s amazing last tournament continued as the 57-year-old’s bid to win a 17th World Championship saw him power past Jamie Lewis 6-1 in their last four tie.
Taylor maintained his proud record of having never lost a World Championship semi-final as he made it into the final for the 21st and final time, although his win was harder than the scoreline suggested.
Lewis claimed the game’s opening set but agonisingly lost the next three in a deciding leg as Taylor moved ahead, and the young Welshman eventually paid the price for nine missed set darts.
“It’s surreal to be honest with you, it’s like I’m not even here,” said Taylor. “It’s like winning the lottery.
“It was a struggle. Jamie’s one of the players who’s very steady, very accurate, he doesn’t show any emotion, doesn’t show any fear, he’s fantastic.
“I played on Jamie’s lack of experience, that’s all it was. He missed a couple of crucial doubles there. He had me, in first two or three sets there I didn’t know where I was and I was struggling.
“At 1-1 I thought I was a lucky boy and I just kept on picking away. The way Jamie was playing I thought I was going to be 4-0 down. He showed a lot of bottle there.”
A naturally disappointed Lewis, who became the first player to win through to the semi-finals after starting in the preliminary round, admitted that the enormity of the game, in his first televised semi-final, hampered him.
“I was trying to blank it out but the occasion got the better of me,” Lewis conceded. “Deep down I was thinking that I could be the last man to beat Phil Taylor in a World Championship.
“I had chances early on and misses a few crucial doubles, and Phil punished me. The pressure got to me a little bit but I will learn from it.
“My doubles have been good all week but I missed some today at important times as well, which you can’t do against Phil.
“It’s a stepping stone for next year, I know the darts are there now so I just need to produce them next year now.”
Taylor admitted that he never thought he’d be able to reach the final on his farewell visit to Alexandra Palace but the clinical nature of his darts has returned him to the showpiece once again.
“The first round against Chris Dobey I knew I was in for a battle, but I thought if I got passed him then I could have a run at it,” said Taylor, who retires following Monday’s final.
“Then when I got to Gary Anderson I thought “that’s you done now” because he’s a younger, stronger, fitter and better player than I am at the minute but he didn’t perform and I took advantage.
“It’s a bit like John Part when he beat Kirk Shepherd in the final, I’m just picking up the pieces to be honest with you. It will be massive, and the best thing for me, I’ve got a day off so I can rest up tomorrow.”
Taylor is now the 4/5 odds-on favourite with sponsors William Hill to win Monday’s final, with Cross rated at Evens to capture the Sid Waddell Trophy and the £400,000 first prize.
William Hill World Darts Championship
Saturday December 30
Jamie Lewis 1-5 Phil Taylor
Michael van Gerwen 4-5 Rob Cross
Monday January 1 (8pm)
Rob Cross v Phil Taylor
Best of 13 sets