PDC World Championship: Phil Taylor's farewell & Michael van Gerwen on fatherhood
|2018 PDC World Championship|
|Date: 14 December 2017-1 January 2018 Venue: Alexandra Palace, London|
|BBC coverage: Daily reports on the BBC Sport website and app, plus live text commentary of the final on 1 January|
The end of an era.
The 2018 Professional Darts Corporation World Championship will be a time for celebration, but also reflection, as the sport's biggest star takes to the oche for the final time.
Phil Taylor, winner of 14 PDC world titles and a record 16 in total, will retire at the conclusion of the 2018 event.
Taylor's farewell is one of the stories which makes the 25th PDC World Championship one of the most intriguing yet.
Time to say goodbye
The day was inevitably going to come but, until Taylor announced in January that 2017 would be his final year on the PDC circuit, the prospect of darts without its pre-eminent player seemed unthinkable.
Few people have transcended their sport, or had such an influence on the state of its existence, than "The Power".
He was in the group of 14 dissatisfied players who, in 1993, broke away from the British Darts Organisation because of what they perceived to be a decline in the game.
They helped to form their own governing body - what is now known as the PDC - and changed the sport forever.
Taylor's dominance made him the playing figurehead of the new organisation, which now boasts an annual prize fund of more than £11m and sells out arenas all over the world.
"He deserves every respect you can give him," said Michael van Gerwen, the world number one and defending PDC world champion.
"It is the perfect rivalry. There is respect and I think Phil knows my top level is higher than his, but he has won more than me so I can't say anything.
"I will never get his world titles but it's not just about that. It is more difficult to win tournaments now. The level has now been raised.
"I still love to play Phil, he is the most enjoyable man to beat because he's the greatest."
The 57-year-old reduced his playing commitments in 2017, but has still been a regular in the latter stages of major tournaments during the past year.
For one glorious week in Blackpool in July, Taylor was at his imperious best to clinch his 16th World Matchplay title.
He couldn't win the world title one last time, could he? Fellow Englishman Chris Dobey, ranked 38th in the world, is Taylor's first-round opponent on Friday.
"I've spoken to Chris and he fancies his chances," former Players Championship winner and BBC pundit Paul Nicholson told BBC Radio 2.
"It's Phil's last World Championship and there is a lot of pressure on him to seal the deal with World Championship number 17, but Chris is up for it. Watch out for that match."
New father Van Gerwen the man to beat
Those who deal in sporting fairytales will be backing Taylor to finish his career in style, but those basing their judgement on form and results will pick Van Gerwen as the man to beat at the Alexandra Palace.
The Dutchman beat Scotland's Gary Anderson to win a second world title in January and, in a year in which he became a father for the first time, the 28-year-old retained his Premier League and Grand Slam titles during an excellent 2017.
Van Gerwen said: "Daphne and I were trying for a baby for a long time and that was frustrating for both of us but finally it worked and you can only be happy that she is healthy. I'm a happy man.
"There is a lot of pressure, it changes our life totally. Before, I had my wife but now there is someone with my own blood and I want to give her a great future.
"I want to do well for myself but also for my family. If I don't do well, she probably suffers so I have to keep winning."
Van Gerwen plays his first-round match against former BDO world champion Christian Kist on Thursday - the tournament's opening night.
"I think people have nothing to lose against me," he added. "If I win it's normal, if I lose people say I am rubbish! They don't have the pressure so it makes them play free."
There are some familiar names in the list of leading contenders - Gary Anderson, Raymond van Barneveld, Adrian Lewis and Peter Wright will again be among the favourites.
However, a few new faces have pushed themselves into the group of world title challengers during 2017.
England's Rob Cross is another for whom 2017 has been a breakthrough year. In his first 12 months as a professional, the 27-year-old from Sussex has won four Pro Tour events, reached the European Championship final and climbed into the world's top 20.
The PDC World Championship in short
- 72 players will compete for a £1.8m prize fund, with a record first prize of £400,000 going to the winner.
- The top 32 in the PDC rankings were guaranteed entry, as were the top 16 players on the Pro Tour Order of Merit. The other 24 spots are taken by qualifiers.
- 24 countries are represented in the draw, including Singapore, Hong Kong and Brazil.
- Five of the seven previous PDC title winners - Taylor, Van Gerwen, Anderson, Van Barneveld and Lewis - will be in action at the Alexandra Palace.
- There have been nine perfect nine-dart finishes in PDC World Championship history, although nobody achieved the feat in the 2017 tournament.