Michael van Gerwen insists he’s still the man to beat as he reflects on a challenging campaign

Michael van Gerwen is reluctant to declare that he is back to his blistering best, but the signs are certainly positive for the world’s premier player.

Having navigated his way through a potentially precarious group at the Grand Slam of Darts, the Dutchman is in positive mood as he prepares to renew his rivalry with Gary Anderson on Saturday, with a quarter-final berth the reward for the victor.

‘The Green Machine’ has not progressed beyond the semi-finals in his last five televised events, although following a series of dominant displays at the Ricoh Arena, Van Gerwen told the Darts Show podcast that there is reason for optimism.

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“I’m feeling better – about time isn’t it?” joked the world No 1.

Van Gerwen’s self-effacing assessment conceals his frustration at what has been the toughest period of his career since his major PDC breakthrough in 2012.

The 31-year-old has accrued four ranking titles in 2020 – his UK Open triumph in March accompanied by three Pro Tour titles during the Summer and Autumn Series.

For mere mortals this would signify a landmark success, yet it’s testament to the remarkable standards Van Gerwen has set that his current return is deemed worthy of such scrutiny.

During the previous four campaigns, the three-time world champion boasted a cumulative tally of 77 individual titles – elevating the game to new heights.

“I still enjoy what I do. Of course it didn’t go all my way this year, but it’s starting to get back gradually.”

Van Gerwen back in the mood…

However, his comparative struggles in 2020 have garnered criticism – world champion Peter Wright nonchalantly dismissed his rival’s World Championship chances this week, yet Van Gerwen remains unperturbed.

“You know me. It doesn’t really affect me. I don’t care whatever people say. I know better anyway,” he added.

“I know what I am capable of and they know it as well – a lot of the time they just say it because they think it is nice to say but that’s an easy target for them. They still know who the boss is.

“I know I’m starting to play better again, my throw starts to go more natural again. I’ve put a lot more focus into my throw and I feel good.

“I have been hard on myself. I am always hard on myself and maybe this was not the time for it. You always learn and even I learn.

Van Gerwen’s major results in 2020

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“I still enjoy what I do. Of course it didn’t go all my way this year, but it’s starting to get back gradually.”

There’s been a noticeable change in his demeanour over recent days – the insipid body language is no more, and his trademark intensity so integral to his success has returned.

Van Gerwen was one of the players most impacted by the sterile behind-closed-doors environment – for a player who thrives on adrenaline and spontaneity, it was a tough adjustment to make, but he’s philosophical about the situation.

“No one knew we were going to be in this situation, it didn’t really help me with no crowds in the last few months, because I think even if they are in front of me or against me, I like it.

“You can feel the adrenaline pump through your body but you have to deal with it. There is nothing you can do.

“There is a lot of other amateur sports – they can’t do anything at the moment so you need to be grateful you can still perform on the highest level.”

Van Gerwen has certainly been playing at a high level in Coventry. He relinquished just four legs in advancing through Group A with maximum points, boasting a tournament average of 99.45.

His next assignment is a showdown against Gary Anderson – a man with whom he’s shared some titanic battles. ‘The Flying Scotsman’ may not be the impenetrable force he once was, but it’s still a rivalry that whets the darting appetite.

“My absolute will to win is there and that’s important. I believe and I know exactly what I’m capable of and I know also my own ability,” MVG continued.

“Sometimes that also is my biggest danger. Then you’re thinking: ‘Come on, Michael’. I can be painful to myself because I want too much.

Happy to have topped the group with 3 wins from my matches. Tonight could have been better but I’m happy with the win as that brings confidence.

I will now play @GaryAnderson180 on Saturday night. Like always I have the best fans. All your messages have been amazing 💚💚 pic.twitter.com/Pb2aclJjcl

“I can look forward to the game against Gary Anderson on Saturday night now. Gary is a phenomenal player to play against and lately I’ve been playing quite well, I hope I can continue the good form.”

Given the criticism he’s endured over recent weeks, silencing his doubters with a second major title of the season is an enticing prospect for MVG, although he’s already got his eyes on next month’s Alexandra Palace showpiece.

Despite boasting three World Championship titles on his extensive résumé, the Dutchman could be forgiven for believing that his prolonged dominance has merited greater success in the sport’s holy grail.

It would be the ultimate irony to see him triumph in the most tumultuous year of his reign as world No 1, yet given his proclivity for producing the goods in adversity, it would come as little surprise.

“Christmas time – the Worlds. That’s the time I have to be good. This is all preparation for me towards that tournament. I want to win that title – simple as that. I will do everything in my possibility to win that,” he insisted.

“Any tournament I am competing in, I want to win – simple as that. I also noticed even though I wasn’t in my best form this year, there was no one really stepping up that was really dominant.

“Of course there are a few more tournaments coming up, I need to make sure I go through them nice and smoothly and then the World Championship I will be ready, trust me.”

Don’t miss a dart from the Grand Slam of Darts on Sky Sports as the action continues on Saturday – join us from 7pm on Sky Sports Mix and follow us @SkySportsDarts for updates and clips throughout the tournament.

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