MICHAEL VAN GERWEN is targeting a fourth Unibet Premier League title in Thursday’s Play-Offs, with Michael Smith, Gary Anderson and Rob Cross also chasing the £250,000 first prize at The O2 in London.
The world number one will be out to avenge his World Championship semi-final defeat to Cross when he takes on his Alexandra Palace conqueror in the opening match of the evening.
Van Gerwen recorded two 7-2 victories over Cross in the league stage of this year’s tournament, and the Dutchman is bidding to make it a hat-trick of wins to progress to his sixth consecutive Premier League final.
“I’m feeling quite confident ahead of my game with Rob,” said Van Gerwen, who has topped the league stage every year since his debut in 2013 and is the 1/2 favourite with sponsors Unibet to scoop Thursday’s title.
“He’s not in the best form of his life, he’s not got that edge to him that he had in the World Championship when he beat me, but you always have to be careful with him because he is a danger.
“I need to make sure I keep doing what is good for me, I have just one thing on my mind – to beat them all.”
In contrast, Cross will be making his Play-Offs debut, having recorded eight wins in his maiden Premier League campaign to secure his spot at The O2.
Cross recovered well following a slow start to the season, and now the reigning World Champion is eager to go all the way on Thursday night.
“I want all the biggest titles in darts and it would be an amazing one to add to my portfolio,” said Cross, a 7/1 chance who will be playing in his fourth televised semi-final.
“I will go into the match with a fearless mindset - if you want to win it you’ve got to beat the best players.
“I’m happy to be playing Michael in the semis, because he never loses many of the finals he plays in but he has lost a few semis.”
The second semi-final will see close friends Anderson and Smith go head-to-head, and the Scot is in familiar territory having qualified for The O2 for a fifth successive year.
Two-time Premier League champion Anderson secured his Play-Off spot with a win over Van Gerwen in Aberdeen last week, and the Scottish star knows he will have to be at his best to beat his protégé Smith.
“He’s like my adopted son but I will be playing to win,” said Anderson, who recorded a 7-2 win over Smith in their last Premier League meeting in Rotterdam and is 7/2 to claim the title for a third time.
“He’s my mate and we get on really well, but it doesn’t matter what game we’re playing I always want to win.
“It’ll be great playing Michael on such a massive stage and whichever one of us loses will be there cheering the other on in the final.
“Whoever wins will be on the wind-up for the next fortnight and neither of us wants to be on the receiving end!”
Smith will also be making his debut Play-Offs appearance, although he has experience of playing on stage at The O2, having won the World Youth Championship final in 2013 against Ricky Evans.
The St Helens star has enjoyed a memorable second Premier League campaign, which saw him end the league phase in second place, and Smith is now focussed on making Thursday the biggest night of his life.
“I believe I can win the Premier league,” said Smith, who beat Anderson 7-5 on the opening night of the season in Dublin.
“I’ve won two games in a day against the world’s best players many times before so there’s no reason why I can’t do it again at The O2.
“I would love to be introduced to the stage at the World Matchplay in July as the reigning champion of the Premier League.”
A crowd of 10,000 fans will pack The O2 on Thursday to see the tournament’s conclusion, with a £250,000 first prize on offer for the eventual champion.
The Unibet Premier League Play-Offs will be held on Thursday May 17 at The O2 in London. For tickets, visit www.axs.com or call 0844 856 0202.
The Unibet Premier League will be broadcast live on Sky Sports from 7pm on Thursday, and aired worldwide through the PDC's international broadcast partners and for PDCTV-HD Subscribers outside of the UK, Ireland & Netherlands.
In addition, the Unibet Premier League will feature radio commentary throughout the season on talkSPORT and talkSPORT2. For further details of coverage, please visit www.talksport.co.uk.
Unibet Premier League Play-Offs
Thursday May 17 (7pm)
The O2, London
Michael van Gerwen v Rob Cross
Michael Smith v Gary Anderson
Best of 19 legs
Van Gerwen/Cross v Smith/Anderson
Best of 21 legs
Tickets via www.axs.com or call 0844 856 0202.
Unibet Match Odds
Michael van Gerwen – 1/6
Rob Cross – 4/1
Michael Smith – 9/4
Gary Anderson – 7/20
Unibet Outright Winner Odds
Michael van Gerwen – 1/2
Gary Anderson – 7/2
Rob Cross – 7/1
Michael Smith – 10/1
Odds courtesy www.unibet.co.uk and correct at time of writing. Subject to fluctuation.