We reflect on some of the biggest stories from the 2019 World Matchplay
By Josh Gorton
Last Updated: 29/07/19 10:55am
This year's World Matchplay provided some incredible drama as we crowned a new champion at the Winter Gardens, but what did we learn from a thrilling nine days in Blackpool?
In a tournament full of twists and turns, Sunday's showpiece followed a familiar pattern, as Rob Cross clinched his second major PDC title with an 18-13 victory over Michael Smith.
Cross stormed into a commanding 9-0 lead but Smith produced a stirring comeback to reduce the deficit to 15-13, only for the second seed to rally and become the fourth man in PDC history to win the World Championship and World Matchplay.
As we reflect on crowning a ninth different winner of The Phil Taylor Trophy, here are our six talking points from the World Matchplay...
Prior to the annual pilgrimage to the Winter Gardens, Cross had performed superbly without reward in 2019, as 'Voltage' remained without a ranking title since a Pro Tour triumph in June 2018.
He appeared in back-to-back major finals at the UK Open and Premier League - losing out to Nathan Aspinall and Michael van Gerwen respectively, but it was a case of third time lucky for the 2018 world champion - who became the fourth player in PDC history to win the World Championship and World Matchplay.
He eased past Chris Dobey and Krzysztof Ratajski to reach the last eight, before coming through three bruising tussles to triumph; surviving a major scare against Stephen Bunting before recovering from 14-7 and 15-9 down to stun Daryl Gurney in the last four.
He stormed into a seemingly unassailable 9-0 cushion against Smith in Sunday's showpiece but 'Bully Boy' won 13 of the next 19 legs to reduce the arrears to 15-13.
However, the common denominator for Cross throughout the tournament was his clinical finishing and composure under pressure, which saw him prevail. He now boasts the two biggest honours in the game, in just his third year as a professional. His meteoric rise shows no signs of dissipating.
Smith has now reached the final of the three biggest tournaments on the darting calendar in less than 15 months. The St Helens star is yet to land his elusive first major although it's surely a matter of when and not if for the former World Youth champion.
On the back of reaching the World Championship final in January, Smith endured a sluggish start to the season which was hampered by injury.
He struggled in this year's Premier League having made the final 12 months ago, although his performances in Blackpool could provide the spark for Smith to thrive in the latter half of 2019.
'Bully Boy' had never progressed beyond the second round in his previous six Matchplay appearances but he displayed immense resolve to defeat Jamie Hughes, Max Hopp, Mervyn King and Glen Durrant to reach Sunday's final.
He was plagued by another slow start in a major final as Cross stormed into a 9-0 lead, but the manner in which Smith fought back is testament to the way he's matured as a player over recent years. He has all the tools to triumph and it's only a matter of time until that translates into huge titles.
Strength in depth
This year's tournament was touted as boasting the strongest field in Matchplay history and that was evidenced with the names who missed out on qualification.
Five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld was the highest-profile absentee, but 2017 Auckland Darts Master Kyle Anderson also missed the cut, as did former Premier League duo Kim Huybrechts and Jelle Klaasen.
There were six seeded casualties in the opening round, as Gerwyn Price, Dave Chisnall, Nathan Aspinall, Jonny Clayton, Darren Webster and Adrian Lewis fell at the first hurdle - only once since 2011 have more seeds bowed out in round one.
Michael van Gerwen, Gary Anderson, Peter Wright and James Wade all missed out on a semi-final spot, yet it didn't dampen the quality, as the final four still comprised two world champions, a two-time major winner and a World Championship finalist.
There have been seven different major winners during the last 12 months and with the multitude of top players challenging for premier titles, darts is in a wonderful place.
Durrant's switch to the PDC in January generated huge publicity. The three-time Lakeside world champion dominated the BDO circuit in devastating fashion, but still a minority questioned whether 'Duzza' had the ability to thrive in the PDC.
However, less than six months since becoming a full-time professional, the 48-year-old has emphatically silenced any lingering doubters, winning two Players Championship titles and reaching a major PDC semi-final.
Durrant kicked off his campaign with a dominant 10-4 win over two-time world champion Lewis, before defying a stirring comeback from world No 1 Van Gerwen to prevail 13-11 in a classic.
The Middlesbrough man then eased past nine-time major winner Wade 16-7 to reach the last four and although the averages weren't as sparkling as his previous two encounters, the clinical nature of his performance was just as impressive.
Durrant's dream of Blackpool glory was curtailed by a ruthless Smith in the semi-finals, but 'Duzza' won the hearts of the Matchplay crowd with his tenacity and desire and he proved beyond any doubt that he belongs at the PDC's top table.
Van Gerwen's struggles
Van Gerwen's slump in form since he clinched his fifth Premier League title in May has been almost unfathomable and the Dutchman's woes continued at the Winter Gardens.
The world No 1 came to Blackpool on the back of a disappointing World Cup of Darts defence and early exits in the opening two World Series events in Las Vegas and Cologne.
When Van Gerwen is questioned he typically responds in emphatic fashion, relishing the prospect of silencing any critics. However, on this occasion, he appeared to lack conviction.
He recorded a scrappy 10-6 first-round win over Steve Beaton which featured 28 missed darts at double and he started sluggishly against Durrant in round two. Despite blistering bursts of brilliance, he was consigned to another premature exit in Blackpool.
'The Green Machine' remains the best player on the planet although he's enduring his worst spell of form since 2012. He's failed to register a ton-plus average in his last 10 matches and he'll be desperate to respond when he defends his World Grand Prix title in October.
Just over two years ago Stephen Bunting was on the brink of quitting the sport due to his battle with depression.
The former Lakeside world champion made an immediate impression upon switching to the PDC in 2014 but his form dwindled and 'The Bullet' claims that seeking the help of a sports psychologist saved his career.
Bunting had shown signs of a return to form by reaching the quarter-finals of the Players Championship Finals last November - his first televised quarter-final since the 2015 UK Open.
Nevertheless, Bunting's performances in Blackpool were testament to his resilience and new-found belief, as he followed up a dramatic 13-12 win over Grand Slam champion Price by recovering from 9-4 down to defeat Ian White 14-12.
He almost pulled off an improbable comeback from 9-4 down against Cross in the last eight, but his run to the quarter-finals guarantees his return to the world's top 16 and it augurs well for the sport to have another world-class operator back to their best.
Join us for coverage of the World Grand Prix from Dublin, which will be held from October 6-12 at the Citywest Hotel in Dublin. The unique Double in, Double out format will be shown live and starts on Sunday, October 6 on Sky Sports Action from 7pm.