Michael Smith speaks of big weight off his shoulders after Grand Slam
ST HELENS darter Michael Smith was overcome by emotion after clinching his maiden TV ranking title with a comprehensive victory over Nathan Aspinall in Sunday’s Cazoo Grand Slam of Darts final in Wolverhampton.
Smith – who had lost in eight previous big-stage ranking finals – fulfilled his darting destiny with an emphatic 16-5 success against Aspinall in Sunday’s showpiece at the Aldersley Leisure Village.
St Helens star Smith was featuring in his fourth televised final of 2022, having succumbed in World Championship, UK Open and European Championship deciders earlier this year.
However, the 31-year-old produced a dominant display to scoop the £150,000 top prize and become the seventh different winner of the coveted Eric Bristow Trophy.
“I’m used to giving the runner-up speech,” joked Smith, who averaged 96, landed nine 180s and converted 50% of his attempts at double to seal a landmark victory.
“I was so nervous. In the first few legs I was shaking like mad, but then Nathan started to miss doubles and let me in.
“Nathan is a quality player and if he had got going it would have been a totally different game.
“Every time I got a shot I took it out, and then I started to find my scoring but my doubles stayed, so happy days!”
Neither player found their range in the early stages, although Aspinall was relieved to only trail 3-2 at the first interval, after Smith wired double 14 for a roof-raising 145 checkout in leg five.
Aspinall was struggling for consistency in the scoring phase and that pattern continued after the break, as Smith followed up a two-dart 88 finish with a 13-darter in leg ten to extend his lead to 7-3.
The Stockport star posted 13 and 15-dart holds in a bid to reduce the arrears, but Smith was unfazed, following up an improvised 69 checkout on double nine with a 14-dart hold to retain his four-leg buffer.
The world number four then moved into double digits in a crucial 15th leg, completing a two-dart 84 combination via double 12, after Aspinall had missed the same target for a 138 finish.
This proved to be the defining blow, as Smith reeled off the next six legs without reply to storm to the title in supreme style.
The fourth seed continued his charge with a 12-darter to move 12-5 ahead, and Aspinall’s woes were compounded when Smith sank a two-dart 76 finish to edge closer to his elusive first TV win.
Smith continued the procession to move to the cusp of glory at 15-5, and after firing in his ninth 180, he sealed the deal with a two-dart 56 outshot on tops to spark emotional post-match celebrations.
“The hard work starts again now,” insisted Smith, who will aim to make it back-to-back titles at next week’s Cazoo Players Championship Finals in Minehead.
“Nobody can take this away from me now. It’s a big weight off my shoulders.
“I’m going to enjoy this until Thursday and then on Friday it’s a new event, and now I’ve got this title, who knows?”
Smith performed magnificently throughout the week in Wolverhampton – earning a £3,500 bonus for topping Group C – and he sealed his place in the final with a 16-12 semi-final success against 2012 champion Raymond van Barneveld.
Smith opened the tie with legs of ten and 12 darts and raced into a 5-0 lead before Van Barneveld battled back, punishing a host of missed opportunities from the St Helens star to level at 12-12.
However, the Dutch veteran paid the price for squandering three darts at double to level again in leg 26 as Smith reeled off four straight legs to triumph, averaging 104 and crashing in an incredible 17 180s.
Aspinall, meanwhile, produced a stunning late surge in his semi-final win over Luke Humphries to reach a second televised final in as many months, following October’s run in the World Grand Prix.
Aspinall converted 90 and 124 combinations for successive 12-darters to lead 14-11, before wrapping up a 16-12 victory with a brilliant 121 finish on the bull to cap off a classy display.
The former UK Open champion was unable to replicate that performance in the final, but having feared for his career after suffering a serious wrist injury 12 months ago, his remarkable revival continues.
“From where I came from in January, I’m really proud to reach two major finals in three tournaments,” declared Aspinall, who regains his place in the world’s top eight after pocketing the £70,000 runners-up prize.
“I just couldn’t find it. It was just one of those nights, but if I’m going to lose to anyone I’m glad it’s Michael, and hopefully we will play together at the World Cup in June.
“I love Michael to bits. I’m so proud of him. It’s hard to get over the line, and he’s finally done it.
“I said to him before the match, as soon as he wins one he is going to dominate, and I’m really sorry to the rest of the Tour Card Holders, because we’re all in trouble now!”