Darts world champ prevails in NZ then issues a challenge
WORLD champion Michael van Gerwen has challenged the best players in Australia and New Zealand to "come play with the big boys", after taking out the final leg of the World Series of Darts' Oceanic tour in Hamilton, New Zealand on Saturday night.
Van Gerwen followed up his Melbourne Masters win last week with an 8-1 victory over fellow Dutchman Raymond van Barneveld in front of more than 4000 people at Claudelands Arena.
The result ensures van Gerwen will start favourite in November at the World Series of Darts finals in Amsterdam.
Joining him there will be new Australian star Damon Heta - the winner of the Brisbane Masters two weeks ago - and Ben Robb, from Christchurch.
The Kiwi defeated Australian No.1 Simon Whitlock on night one in Hamilton before losing 8-3 to Rob Cross in the quarter-finals on Saturday night.
Van Gerwen was not only impressed with Heta and Robb, but also saw a marked improvement in the other qualifiers from Down Under.
"The Aussies are getting good and so are the Kiwi guys," he said.
"Raymond and I spoke about it this evening. You can see there is a little change because they are not afraid anymore.
"It's good for darts. I want to say keep the good work going and make sure they make it hard for us, and if you fancy it come to Europe and play with the big boys.
"Ben Robb is a good player but he needs to cool down a bit. If he can get the right people around him he can do really well.
"It's not easy," van Gerwen said of playing on the PDC European tour.
"You need to be prepared for everything that goes with it."
Van Gerwen, who beat his fellow Dutchman 11-4 in the World Series of Darts in Auckland last year, backed up last week's Melbourne Masters win to secure his 50th World Series of Darts title or TV tournament victory.
It was van Barneveld's 36th world series event. The 52-year-old has never won one and his other loss in a final came against Adrian Lewis in the 2015 Auckland decider.
Set to retire after the world championships later this year, the five-time world champion had hoped for a fairytale finish Down Under in a TV tournament but it was not to be.
Van Barneveld reached the final with an 8-6 win over Daryl Gurney in the last eight before getting past 2018 World Series of Darts finals winner James Wade 8-5 in the semi-finals.
Van Gerwen secured a 8-5 win over Gary Anderson in the quarter-final with a 106 average before seeing off Cross in the semi 8-3.
The Dutchman was much happier with his performance on Saturday night after only scraping into the last eight with a scrappy 6-5 win over Kyle Anderson on the opening night in Hamilton.
"I can't complain," he said.
"I played well especially against Gary (Anderson) - that was a class game.
"I can't really complain, everyone around me has been phenomenal.
"I worked hard for this so I am so glad I managed to get a win.
"Yesterday I played really poorly, but you only can learn from things like that. You have to stand up, get a good rest and make sure you play better afterwards.
"It was phenomenal support. I think the venue was great and everything was brilliant in Hamilton.
"I hope I can play even better in Amsterdam in the finals in November. It's an arena like this. It has a lot of character - looking forward to it."