Michael Smith said his stunning nine-dart finish in the World Championship final gave him belief he could beat Michael van Gerwen and claim a first title.
The 32-year-old, a two-time runner-up including a painful defeat to Peter Wright 12 months ago, hit darting perfection in the second set and continued to produce some mesmeric scoring as he won one of the greatest finals ever 7-4.
He became just the second player to hit a nine-darter in the World Championship final and the first since Adrian Lewis in 2011 as he took his place in the history books.
In taking his maiden title at the third attempt he also became world number one and gained revenge for the 2019 final defeat to Van Gerwen, who attempted the nine-darter moments before Smith landed it.
THE BEST LEG OF ALL TIME! 🤯🔥
MICHAEL VAN GERWEN MISSES D12 FOR A NINE-DARTER, AND THEN SMITH PINS A PERFECT LEG HIMSELF!
ONE OF THE GREATEST THINGS YOU'LL EVER SEE IN SPORT. pic.twitter.com/WyKWFcxq5VAdvertisement
— PDC Darts (@OfficialPDC) January 3, 2023
Smith said: “When he missed the double 12 I gave him a little low five and it was like, ‘If I hit this now he will know I am in the game and I am not going to shy away from it’.
“I lost the first set on my darts and I was like, ‘Is it going to happen again?’. But when that nine went in it kickstarted me and gave me that belief I needed and also gave him that doubt that I was not just here to get another runners-up trophy. I am here to play and try my best to win the World Championship.”
After losing finals in 2019 and 2022 amid a run of eight successive major final defeats, Smith could have been forgiven for thinking that a night like this would never happen.
But he remained positive and knows all the heartache was worth it.
“I don’t think I can describe it,” he added.
“I have finally done it, all that heartache I have been through and finally I have been able to lift the trophy and put the star on the shirt that I know I have worked hard for.
“It wasn’t just for the World Championship tonight, it was for the world number one so it is special.”
Van Gerwen was the heavy favourite for a fourth title after a brilliant year and an even better tournament, where he averaged over 100 in every round up to the final.
I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt, I had my chances and did not take them. But tonight is not about that, tonight it is about congratulating @Michael180Smith well done mate enjoy the moment. Thank you for all the support and I will be back in 2023 💚💚 pic.twitter.com/NPv2VVABLy
— Michael Van Gerwen (@MvG180) January 3, 2023
But he faltered at the last hurdle as after playing his part in an incredible opening to the match, where he missed an attempt at a nine-darter before Smith threw his, his level dropped off, allowing his opponent to race to the promised land.
“I think he played really well, of course I had my chances, we all know that,” Van Gerwen said on Sky Sports.
“When you don’t hit them it is going to hurt you, of course I was not playing too well in the last two sets and I can only blame myself for that.
“It wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but that’s part of the game and you have to take it on the chin. It’s part of the job, when you celebrate it’s a nice job but when you lose games it’s hard. I have to take it on the chin.”