The European Tour was back in Vienna at the weekend for the Austrian Darts Open.
Michael van Gerwen claimed back-to-back European Tour titles after beating Michael Smith 6-5 in a dramatic final last night.
Here, I look back at five things we learned from the seventh European Tour event of 2017.
1. MVG BACK IN TOURNAMENT WINNING GROOVE
While the first three months of 2017 were arguably dominated by Peter Wright, it is hard not to say that the second quarter of the year has belonged to Michael van Gerwen. The world number one racked up seven titles out of the 12 PDC tournaments he entered between April and June, with the latest of those in the Austrian Darts Open this past weekend.
Van Gerwen was not really tested in Vienna until the final, when he came up against a rejuvenated Michael Smith, winner of last month’s Gibraltar Darts Trophy. Yet, despite a sublime 170 checkout from Bully Boy, it was van Gerwen who pulled out the goods in the decider with a 12-darter on throw to win the deciding leg. It was an ominous sign for the rest of the field that the Dutchman is back to his scintillating best.
2. SMITH HAS THE BELIEF BACK IN HIS GAME
2016 was a year which, for the most part, will not live long in the memory of Michael Smith’s professional career. It was a tough 12 months for the former PDC world youth champion, who was relegated in his first season in the Premier League and struggled to rediscover his 2015 form which had earned him a spot in the invitational tournament.
But this season, particularly in the last couple of months, Smith has started to show the great potential he has. A victory in Gibraltar last month was as clear a sign as any, and this past weekend’s run to the final in Vienna is another. He may have been pipped to the title by van Gerwen in the final, but he put in some brilliant performances throughout the tournament and will be pleased with where his game is right now.
3. REYES MAKING BIG PROGRESS ON THE TOUR
Few players are making bigger strides in the PDC this year than Cristo Reyes. The Spanish number one is now into his third season on the PDC circuit and is still climbing up the rankings. A run to the last four in Vienna made it successive European Tour semi-finals for the Spartan.
Reyes held his nerve to see off Rene Eidams and Simon Whitlock in deciders, before posting a 100 plus average to knock out Daryl Gurney in the quarter-finals. It took another excellent display from world number one Michael van Gerwen to end his run, much like at Alexandra Palace last Christmas, with the eventual champion averaging an eye-watering 115.57 to beat Reyes 6-1. Reyes was one of the most consistent performers over the course of the weekend, averaging between 95 and 100, and he looks to have found a consistent game which will take him far.
4. KIM MAKES THE MOST OF HIS CHANCES
Without a doubt, the biggest shock of the weekend was world number three Peter Wright being dumped out by Finland’s Kim Viljanen in the last 32 on Saturday night. The world number 91 may have finished with an average 12 points lower than Wright’s, but he took his chances when they came to cause an upset.
Viljanen was 6/8 on the doubles in that deciding-leg win against Wright, and finished the weekend 22/42 on the doubles, over 50 per cent. It took a 160 checkout from Joe Cullen for the Finnish ace’s run to come to an end in the quarter-finals, but he certainly showed that he is capable of taking his chances when they come around.
5. RUSTY-JAKE COULD BE ONE TO WATCH
Teenager Rusty-Jake Rodriguez announced himself on the European Tour stage on Friday evening with an impressive debut victory against Ritchie Edhouse, hitting five 180s and firing in two 100 checkouts on his way to a 6-2 win in front of his home crowd. The 16-year-old was among a trio of Rodriguez brothers to come through the Host Nation Qualifiers on Thursday night, the first time the trio had played in the same tournament on the European Tour.
The youngest of the trio, Rusty-Jake, was the only one to progress past the first round, with that win against Edhouse setting up a clash with Kim Huybrechts in the last 32. It proved to be a step too far for the teenager, losing 6-3, but he showed more than enough in his first round game to suggest that he could be one to watch for the future. His darting brothers, Rowby-John and Roxy-James, have been singing his praises over the last few years, and it is easy to see why.