Taylor fighting fit for world No.1 battle
Phil 'The Power' Taylor has admitted losing his world number one status to Michael van Gerwen had been a well-needed kick up the backside - but now he is fighting fit and ready to regain what he considers rightfully his.
Twice in the last three years Taylor has been dumped out of the PDC World Championship at the second round stage while carrying the tag of tournament favourite, but in typical Taylor fashion he returned in between early exits to seal a record 16th world crown.
However, subsequent to his defeat to Michael Smith at Alexandra Palace in December, Taylor has lost his world No. 1 status to his latest arch rival. There have been many of them over the years, but now van Gerwen possesses two prestigious titles which Taylor wants back.
Hearn: The world is our oyster
- There is no denying that, year on year, darts has consistently increased in its popularity. Yet again, PDC chairman Barry Hearn has upped the prize money, with the 2014 calendar now carrying over £7 million in winnings.
- The Premier League has been extended to 16 weeks instead of 15, and Hearn believes the sport will continue to grow further.
- "The Premier League has just grown and grown," Hearn told ESPN. "Every year I just wait for the bubble to burst. It's everyone's Thursday night. The game has grown beyond our wildest expectations and the players are benefiting from seeing hugely increased prize funds.
- "It's like a snowball going down the side of a mountain and picking up more snow and when it gets to the bottom, it's a huge size. That seems to be what's happening with darts, it's a global expansion that I've not seen since perhaps the early days of snooker since the 1980s. The world's our oyster, to be quite honest with you.
- "It's giving people a chance to achieve their dreams. It's all about ability, level playing fields and if you're good enough, you're going to change your life. And if you're not, you better get another job."
With the 16-week Premier League circus making its annual return on Thursday, these two tungsten heavyweights collide at Liverpool's Echo Arena on opening night - a replay of the 2013 final in which Taylor narrowly lost out to Van Gerwen.
Armed with a new set of arrows and a fresh, ravenous attitude, Taylor is firmly focused on winning everything in his sights throughout the new season.
"I've got a new lease of life, the whole shebang is different," Taylor told ESPN. "I've been in retreat for three weeks; I've been in the mountains of Portugal, miles from anywhere, and loved it. Walking ten to 12 miles a day, swimming, and the sauna - it was like a training camp. Like a boxer would, really.
"I'm really looking forward to getting back on top again. I've lost my world number one which I'll be challenging for again this year, which is good. I do think Michael deserved it. Now it's up to me to get off my backside and put it right.
"It was a good kick up the backside for me. The beauty about it is, the older I get I'm still learning and trying to improve."
It is no surprise that players constantly switch equipment. During this year's world championship at Ally Pally, Peter Wright used two different sets of darts on his way to the final. That run earned him a debut spot in the Premier League.
And despite possessing over 75 major titles to his name, Taylor is not immune to adapting his game either. The old equipment - and sponsors - which helped him dominate the sport for so long have since been replaced, for now Taylor realises he cannot afford to rest on his laurels. He needs a fresh challenge.
Barry Hearn, the chairman of the PDC who also manages Taylor, cannot help but agree.
"To be honest with you, it's exactly what he needs," Hearn told ESPN. "When you've won as much as Phil's won over the years - 16 world championships and 200 other titles over 25 years, you've gone past the kick up your bum stage.
"He's number two in the world - he doesn't like being number two, he wants to be number one. He likes to win, he's a competitive animal. Now he's come out with a new range of darts - he likes them - they've motivated him to play and practise. That's good news for me but it could be bad news for some of the other players, so let's wait and see."
Changes do not just come with equipment, but also status. Van Gerwen dominated the headlines with his maiden world championship win and went on to clean up at the annual PDC awards dinner recently. It was not exactly a baron year for Taylor, but like a true champion of any sport he admitted he was not properly satisfied - and he hated seeing someone else lift the Sid Waddell Trophy.
"I think six out of nine majors wasn't bad, you know," Taylor said. "People always say I could've done better, which I could have done. But the big one was the world championships and I'd give up all the other six for that one. I won more money than [the winner of] the world championship, but that's the big one - that's the one everyone wants to win.
"I had to go away, I wasn't very well to be honest with you, so I went away to get myself right. Barry didn't like it, don't get me wrong - he gave me a bit of a telling off but that's tough - I've got a tough year ahead of me.
"I'm 53 now, so I've got to think about what I'm doing and I've got to time it all properly. But I feel better now than I've ever felt in my life - I'm absolutely buzzing."
There is no doubt Van Gerwen will go on and win plenty more majors - he has too much talent not to - but to suggest Taylor is finished would be naïve. At 53 years old, he is just getting started again.