Reigning champion Smith relishing title defence in Dortmund

Ross Smith (Stephen Bartholomew/PDC)

Ross Smith insists his confidence is sky-high as he prepares to begin his defence of the Machineseeker European Championship against Ricardo Pietreczko on Friday evening.

Reigning champion Smith celebrated a breakthrough victory in Dortmund 12 months ago, defeating a host of high-profile names to secure his maiden televised title.

The Dover darter overcame Joe Cullen, Dimitri Van den Bergh, Peter Wright and Chris Dobey en route to glory, before denying world number one Michael Smith in a memorable final.

Smith produced the performance of his life to triumph at the Westfalenhalle, averaging 101, landing eight 180s and converting four ton-plus checkouts to etch his name into the darting history-books.

“It was my proudest moment in darts, so to be going back as reigning champion is amazing,” said Smith, the 19th seed in this year’s showpiece.

“I’m taking my parents [this year] because they weren’t there when I won it, so I think it will be a very special moment.”

Smith has recently broken into the world’s top 16 for the first time in his career, having also claimed a brace of ProTour titles in 2023 to underline his progress at the top level.

Yet, despite statistically being one of the consistent performers this year, Smith is yet to reach a televised quarter-final since his European Championship exploits.

“I wanted to do better,” admitted the 34-year-old, who defeated Jonny Clayton at the recent World Grand Prix, before succumbing to eventual semi-finalist Joe Cullen.

“I know my statistics have gone up in every single category so I’m going in the right direction, but results haven’t always gone my way.

“I’m playing well, and I think I’ve played well all year. I feel like I can beat anybody, but you need a little bit of luck at times, and I’m still learning that you’ve got to dig deep.

“It is not all about stats. It is about getting results over the line and producing big shots at the right moments, which is down to mentality as well.”

However, Smith arrives in Dortmund in buoyant mood, having beaten Damon Heta in last Saturday’s Players Championship 28 to clinch his second ranking title of the campaign.

The Englishman recorded five ton-plus averages throughout the day at the Barnsley Metrodome, which included a 104 average against the Australian number one in the decider.

“You can’t beat that feeling of winning,” claimed Smith, who is expecting a tough test against home favourite Pietreczko, a recent winner at the German Darts Championship.

“I am going into this tournament with loads of confidence, so the timing has been absolutely perfect, but I have got to keep my feet on the ground.

“Ricardo is a really nice guy. He’s playing fantastic darts and he was brilliant in Hildesheim, so full credit to him.

“His ability is amazing, and I’m going to be up against it playing in front of his home crowd. I need to be at the top of my game.”

Smith is bidding to become the first player to retain the European Championship title since Michael van Gerwen lifted the title on four consecutive occasions between 2014 and 2017.

Nevertheless, in each of the last four years, the reigning champion has crashed out at the first round stage, a streak Smith is desperate to snap at the Westfalenhalle.

“It would mean everything to me to retain my title,” continued the Kent thrower.

“Not many players retain titles now, apart from Phil Taylor back in the day and obviously Michael [van Gerwen].

“It is so difficult to do because the standard is so high, but I am definitely pushing and striving because I want that second major [title]. 

“It is about winning trophies. All top sportspeople will say the same, and that is what I want to achieve.”

2023 Machineseeker European Championship
Friday October 27 (1845-2300 CEST, 1745-2200 BST)

First Round x8
Damon Heta v Gian van Veen
Krzysztof Ratajski v Joe Cullen
Josh Rock v Daryl Gurney
Jonny Clayton v Jose De Sousa
Dirk van Duijvenbode v James Wade
Luke Humphries v Brendan Dolan
Michael van Gerwen v Madars Razma
Ricardo Pietreczko v Ross Smith