Searle bidding to banish last year's Ally Pally demons

Ryan Searle (Kieran Cleeves/PDC)

Ryan Searle is confident of breaking new ground at this year’s Paddy Power World Darts Championship, as he bids to round off an impressive 2023 campaign in style.

Searle has produced some terrific performances on the big stage over the last 12 months, progressing to July’s World Matchplay quarter-finals with victories over Raymond van Barneveld and Peter Wright.

The Somerset star also landed a nine-darter on his way to reaching the knockout stages in November’s Grand Slam of Darts, and he’s now hoping to transfer that form to the Alexandra Palace stage.

“It’s been my best complete season as a professional so far,” claimed Searle, who clinched his fourth PDC ranking title in the year’s opening Players Championship event in February.

“I was on a bit of a low at the end of last year, but I think I turned that around well by winning the first ProTour of the season, and I think overall 2023 has been pretty good.

“I have always improved averages wise as the seasons have gone on, and I believe I’m heading in the right direction.

“I’m feeling good. I always really enjoy playing at Ally Pally, and when you’re on stage, you’ve sometimes got to pinch yourself, because the atmosphere is amazing.”

Searle has made at least the third round in each of his five World Championship appearances, although his dramatic defeat to Jose de Sousa 12 months ago was a bitter pill to swallow.

The former Players Championship Finals runner-up raced into a three-set lead, but after looking poised to seal a whitewash win, De Sousa completed an astonishing turnaround to celebrate a 4-3 success.

“It was one of the toughest defeats of my career,” admitted Searle, who has vowed to use last year’s heartbreak as motivation for his title challenge.

“I don’t really know what happened in that game. I probably thought I had won, and it was almost like I was waiting for him to give me the game, rather than finishing it off properly like I should have.

“Defeats like that can hurt for a long time, but I think I bounced back pretty well from that.

“That definitely gives me more hunger going into this year’s tournament. If I play Jose [de Sousa] again, he isn’t coming back from 3-0 down, that’s for sure!

“At the end of the day, that was a good experience for me going forward, because I now know what to do in that position. You don’t lose you learn, as they say!”

Searle’s last two defeats in televised events have come at the hands of a red-hot Luke Humphries, who ran out a 10-7 winner in both meetings en route to Grand Slam and Players Championship Finals glory.

Humphries has won 20 of his last 21 televised matches, scooping a hat-trick of premier televised titles during an incredible 49-day spell to reaffirm his pedigree ahead of the sport's flagship event.

The 28-year-old has averaged 98.63 in ranking tournaments across the season – a record bettered only by Gerwyn Price and Searle’s practice partner Gary Anderson.

Scottish legend Anderson has enjoyed a welcome return to form in 2023, and when asked whether he’d relish the chance to take on the two-time World Champion at Ally Pally, Searle was refreshingly candid.

“Yes and no, because I think he’d probably hammer me,” joked the 36-year-old, who was beaten 4-3 by Anderson in the 2019/20 tournament.

“I wouldn’t mind someone doing me a favour and knocking Gary out in the semis!

“He is playing fantastic darts, and I believe he is naturally the best player on the tour. I think the practice sessions have really benefitted us both.

“Gary won’t pick his darts up between our practice sessions, so he may go four or five days without picking up a dart.

“He will get up, throw nine darts, then we’ll throw for the bull and he will hit the bull, and then his first three darts will be a 180, and you’re thinking: ‘How can you do that?’

“He is just that good, and now he’s putting the work in, it is showing in his game for sure.”