ALEXANDRA PALACE — What was a dream now feels like destiny. Sixteen-year-old Luke Littler appears to be floating towards the Sid Waddell trophy on a duck-down bed of his own mammoth talent and delicious narrative, as if ordained by the darting gods. It has to happen now. The story is just too big to fail. Darts needs this. We all need this.
The Littler legend has carried the nation, the darting world, and most importantly of all the bearded teen himself with it. He now believes this is happening, and there’s no evidence to tell him otherwise. Sky Sports had a pre-match graphic saying he was “about to do the unthinkable”. Might never came into it.
Former world champion Rob Cross became just a footnote in an eventual 6-2 victory for the Nuke. You can’t win without a loser, and this was Cross’ unfortunate role on Tuesday evening. Luke Humphries is next, having just hit the tenth-highest average in PDC World Championship history, but there’s every chance he will take on the mantle next.
Littler was the more confident walking out at the People’s Palace, grinning and swaggering his way onto the stage, imbibing in the moment, knowing what could come next. He fist-bumped the Warrington rugby league mascot wearing a “Littler 180” shirt. He knew the 3,000-strong crowd loved him, and they obliged, booing Cross as he attempted to follow the headline act.
And then reality hit, and reality was a 33-year-old former electrician. Littler’s first dart strayed into the treble five sliver, and while he recovered quickly, nervy throwing belied his serene exterior. Yet Cross averaged 108.67 to take the first set with brutal consistency.
Littler has started remarkably well previously, going at least 2-0 up in every match of this World Championship, and 4-0 up against Brendan Dolan in the fourth round. He still started well here – averaging 103.18, hitting two 180s and hitting 50 per cent of his doubles – but it wasn’t enough.
This was the first time the 16-year-old had been tangibly trailing throughout the tournament. The world waited to watch whether the first sign of adversity would shatter a potentially fragile, super-inflated ego.
It didn’t. Cross still averaged 108, but Littler’s ability to manufacture then hit his preferred checkouts, particularly double 10, meant he rallied to win the second leg. First, he found his treble 19s, conspicuously absent in the first leg, then his treble 18s. He found his big checkouts, finishing the game having hit 149, 142 and 132. A one-set deficit became a 3-1 lead thanks to an 11-dart leg. His check-out percentage at this point was 65.
Unsurprisingly, former world champion Cross played like a man who had overcome a 4-0 deficit just a day earlier. He maintained an average above 100, but was it ever going to matter? Maybe Littler believed he had this under control the whole time. Maybe he just wanted to make this an event. A 6-0 win is just showing off.
The final three legs were simply too easy for Littler, who averaged over 105 (106.05) for the third time this tournament. The youngest player to win a PDC World Championship game is now its youngest finalist.
Why is Littler quite so good? We’ve heard the stories about throwing darts before his second birthday, but playing in nappies doesn’t somehow fate you to one day hold Alexandra Palace in the palm of your hand.
By his own admission after beating Dolan, his board management is elite, regardless of his age. There is a mathematically preferable route to check out from every number below 301, and Littler just seems to know what they are, either through natural gifts or an inquisitive mind which started playing so young. His ability to hit big checkouts in big moments is extraordinary. His consistency is unbelievable. If he’s not finding one big treble, he has plenty more to choose from.
There are really no weaknesses in his game – those are to come. You become your own worst enemy in darts, playing against yourself as much as any opponent. You create weaknesses in trying to improve, in attempting to perfect perfection, in the natural human anxiety of regressing and falling behind. You try to take one step forward and instead end up six miles back. That will happen to Littler at some point, but not now.
Stumbling blocks on his remarkably smooth yellow brick road to the final have fallen away with remarkable regularity. No 8 seed Cross was the was the first player in the world’s top 10 Littler had to face until now.
Dolan had downed two former world champions to reach the quarter-finals, then spent much of the match averaging below 75. Michael van Gerwen was favourite, then fell to No 52 seed Scott Williams. Reigning champion Michael Smith went home in the fourth round. Littler started at 150-1 but was the favourite coming into this game.
And so the sheer weight of glorious narrative rolls on to the final, bringing with it £200,000 for the runner up and £500,000 for the winner. There is increasingly the feeling his opponent doesn’t matter. This is history being written, and Luke Littler has the pen.