Rob Cross fended off a valiant fightback from Michael Smith to prevail 18-13 and claim his maiden World Matchplay crown in a dramatic finale at the Winter Gardens.
Cross fought back from the brink to defeat Daryl Gurney in the semi-finals and he stormed into a 9-0 lead against Smith in Sunday’s showpiece.
Smith appeared in genuine danger of suffering the heaviest defeat in a World Matchplay final, although he fought back bravely to play his part in a thriller, in what almost proved to be a complete role reversal for Cross given his exploits 24 hours earlier.
Smith was appearing in his fourth major televised final, having finished as runner-up in the Premier League, World Series Finals and World Championship over the past 15 months.
He was plagued by a slow start on all three occasions and that pattern continued in Blackpool yet despite Smith’s best efforts, Cross kept his cool to claim The Phil Taylor Trophy and clinch the £150,000 top prize – his second major PDC title.
The 2018 world champion becomes the ninth player to lift this coveted crown and he also joins the illustrious trio of Michael van Gerwen, Gary Anderson and Phil Taylor – who are the only players to lift both the World Championship and Matchplay titles.
It was a case of darting déjà vu in the opening two legs, as Cross converted clinical 72 combinations – albeit via different routes, with Smith sat on tops after 15 darts on both occasions.
‘Voltage’ extended his lead after following up his third maximum with a classy 81 kill for a 12-dart hold, before exploiting six missed doubles from Bully Boy in the next two legs to complete a clean sweep in the opening session.
Smith’s doubling woes continued after the break – the fifth seed squandered three more darts at double in leg six and after Cross won a sixth straight leg via double 16, he fired in back-to-back 14-darters to stretch his lead to 8-0.
Having won the last eight legs of his semi-final against Gurney, Cross was enjoying a remarkable streak of 16 straight legs on the Winter Gardens stage and that was extended to 17 after the 2018 world champion took out 69 for a 9-0 lead.
Smith’s performance was in direct contrast to his dazzling display against Glen Durrant in the last four, where he sank 10 of his first 11 attempts at double, but the St Helen’s star finally opened his account in leg 10, courtesy of a clean two-dart 84 combination.
Cross was not performing as emphatically as the scoreline suggested and Smith enjoyed a three-leg spell of his own, before the Hastings ace took out 73 to restore his seven-leg buffer at 10-3.
The former World Youth champion was going through tungsten turmoil as he eyed his elusive first major title and after landing his third maximum en route to a 14-dart hold, Smith let out a huge roar in sheer frustration.
There was little to separate the pair in terms of averages despite the significant disparity in the scoreline, but the key factor was their contrasting fortunes on the outer ring, which was evidenced in the next two legs.
Cross converted a classy 115 checkout to increase his lead, before Smith spurned four more opportunities at double ten in the following leg, which was typically punished by the world No 2.
Nevertheless, Smith is capable of producing brilliant bursts and he displayed his enigmatic brilliance across a stunning three-leg sequence.
He conjured up an inspired 147 checkout culminating on double 15 to break back, before rattling in three maximums in two legs – producing legs of 13 and 12 darts to cut the deficit to 12-7.
Cross halted his World Cup partner’s charge with a crucial last-dart double 16, yet for ‘Voltage’ it was a complete role-reversal to his showdown against Gurney.
This time he was feeling the pressure as his opponent continued to claw away at the deficit and Smith produced another blistering spell to make it 13-10, registering legs of 14, 15 and 11 darts to pile the pressure on the second seed.
‘Voltage’ produced a nerveless 110 finish to restore his four-leg cushion, after Smith had failed to take out the same outshot. Nevertheless, that advantage was immediately eroded as the fifth seed broke back on double 18.
Smith had won 11 of the last 16 legs although the interval appeared to quash his momentum as Cross closed out a clinical 13-dart leg to move to within three legs of victory.
The pendulum swung once again as the world champion uncharacteristically squandered nine darts at double across two legs which saw Smith reduce the arrears to 15-13 and for the second night in succession, ‘Voltage’ was embroiled in an astonishing tussle.
However, he ensured he wasn’t on the receiving end on this occasion, landing his third 72 combination of the contest to edge closer to victory.