Devon Petersen on his form, 2020 and the potential of South African Darts
The Ladbrokes Players Championship begins on Friday with 64 of the world’s best battling it out to win the penultimate event before next month’s World Championship.
Ahead of the tournament, we spoke to 25/1 shot Devon Petersen about his form in 2020, Darts during lockdown and the potential for the sport in South Africa. Here’s what he had to say…
Ladbrokes News: Hello Devon! Firstly, how are you doing after your debut in the Grand Slam, and how much are you enjoying Coventry at the moment?
Devon Petersen: My Grand Slam debut was great, especially topping a tough group. After the Winter Series, I would’ve ripped your arm off if you told me I was going to qualify, so obviously getting through to the knockout stages after finishing top of the group was a bonus.
LN: It must be quite hard to keep yourself occupied while you’re not playing?
DP: Staying in Coventry is a bit like a holiday if you want to call it that, because you’re doing nothing! Where you’re away all the time, you’re either sitting in a room or practicing, and it’s tough. You eat the same food, talk to the same people, sit in the same places, so it becomes a routine, but it’s a mind-numbing one to an extent. So yeah, you don’t get to see a lot aside from Tesco and Nandos!
LN: Although maybe you didn’t progress as far as you may have liked, getting out of the group stages means you’re now a top-32 player, you must be chuffed with that?
DP: Yeah, no doubt! I set out at the start of 2020 with the ambition of breaking into the top-32 by the end of this year. I knew it was going to be a massive task, but I knew with my form and practice from 2019, it was something that I could achieve. And now, lo-and-behold, it’s happened before the World Championships.
Being in that top-32 and being seeded is a dream come true, and to do it at a time when the sport is probably at the best it’s ever been in terms of depth, makes me really chuffed. You only have to look at the standard of play in the Grand Slam on Sunday as testament to the quality in the sport now and calibre of players we have. I think the achievement of making it into the top-32 will motivate me to go on and do a lot more.
LN: It does feel like another landmark a year of big moments for you; what would you say is next in terms of the things you want to achieve?
DP: I think the most immediate goal is obviously to win a major. Winning the European Championship in Germany was great; it ticked a box mentally for me and it proved that I can win those titles. We’ve now got two majors, one being the Ladbrokes Players Championship and then the big one in December.
My eye has always been on the World Championship. Obviously, you don’t throw all your eggs in one basket, but if there was a trophy I was going to win, if that could be my first major, then I’m going to swing for the fence and put in the work!
LN: It wouldn’t be a bad first one to win, would it?
DP: Having that star on your shirt, not just in terms of your profile, but the ripple effect it would create to have a world champion from Africa would inspire more youth players, open doors and help Darts become a sport to be reckoned with in Africa. I think it would give me a lot more momentum to help push Darts in Africa and enable me to show how great the sport is and the different avenues that are available if you are successful.
You only have to look at lockdown to show how accessible it is as a sport, and I think if I was to become a world champion it would only increase that momentum and we would see a lot more African champions come through in the future.
LN: I think you’ve been reading our questions, because we wanted to touch on how you’re blazing a trail for South African Darts! It must give you an enormous sense of pride?
DP: Yeah, 100%. I’m the only African player on the tour and the first African player to reach the top-32 on the PDC Tour. There are loads of firsts for Africa, and from an African perspective we want to dominate. There’s so much potential there – I know exactly what sort of quality is coming through and I think once we get exposure to that, the players will come through thick and fast. It’s no secret that I’m proudly South African and I do like to speak a lot about the talent that we have and the work I’ve been doing in Africa itself.
I think the lockdown has also helped in a way because it’s given people an opportunity to focus on Darts and see how great the sport can be. Hopefully in 2021 it can continue that momentum and I can continue to be the trailblazer for the sport in Africa.
LN: Just how big is Darts back home?
DP: In South Africa alone, we have 5,000 to 6,000 registered members of the DSA, which is Darts South Africa. But I think the number of people playing the game is probably somewhere towards 10,000 to 15,000 people. And now with me having launched the academy, we should get a lot more schools participating too. Our five-year plan is to get most of the schools involved on a Darts journey where we can have the kids join the academy and grow from there.
Hopefully in the next five years we’ll see a lot more South Africans and Africans coming through. In terms of size and potential, it’s kind of an untapped goldmine. Once South Africans get into a sport, we’re like a dog with a bone, and I think that once that happens with Darts, it’ll go from strength-to-strength and we’ll see a lot more Africans come through.
LN: Do you think the next step for the PDC would be to have a World Series event in Cape Town or Johannesburg after the success of Australia, New Zealand and Japan?
DP: Cape Town is ready for it now. I’ve already hosted some Last Man Standing events where we’ve had 2,000 people turn up, and that’s bearing in mind the sport is still on an amateur level in South Africa. Take that into account and I think we are ready for a World Series event and it’s something the PDC will be looking at.
I think it also comes back to the fact that by me achieving what I am it will give the PDC more motivation to want to explore that possibility because now there’s someone there – a role model, for lack of a better word – who’s actually doing something on the big stage. The World Series isn’t too far away and in the next five years we probably will get to experience that, but obviously it has to be financially viable first. Hopefully it happens because it’s a dream and it would bring the Darts to the people.
LN: You speak so passionately about the potential of South African Darts, so we have to ask you, are there any players who should be on our radar?
DP: Cameron Carolissen is coming over for the world champs after winning the South African qualifier where he played fantastically well. We’ve also got Carl Gabriels; he partnered me at the World Cup, but we probably haven’t seen the best of him yet on the big stage. Then there’s Charl Petersen, plus a few young lads from Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg. If you’re talking about players under the age of 30 or 35, then there are loads of guys who I could talk about, like Lance Rustin and Vernon Bouwers, who you may already be familiar with.
I’ll throw some more names out, because they’ll probably read this and go ‘wow, he’s actually mentioned me’, but there’s loads of players. Of the younger ones, there’s a kid called Athen Moodley. He’s from my hometown and he’s shown some tremendous potential. He has an ambassador role because he’s quite respectable and plays the game in a high regard, but these are the little things that are important alongside the talent aspect when it comes to being a professional. I also think that once you show them that there’s an opportunity for them to make a career out of it and that it’s not just about the World Championship, then you see players putting more time in and getting the results.
LN: Looking forward to the weekend and this will be your third appearance at the Ladbrokes Players Championships, how are you feeling going into the event? Are you confident?
DP: In the Winter Series I injured my wrist and played on through with the help of a physio, and although I performed ok, I felt like my rhythm was lacking. I have a couple of days off now to rediscover my rhythm and hopefully I can have a deep run in the tournament.
LN: You have Luke Humphries first up in what looks like one of the ties of the round; are you looking forward to it?
DP: Luke’s a fantastic player who has also come through the ranks in recent times. I played him in the worlds last year in a game that got away from me but where he was great on his clutch finishing. I think this time around the wheels have turned. My form has picked up and I’m a lot stronger on my scoring, so I think we’ll both be expecting a great game. Hopefully I can deliver the performance I want, and if I do there are going to be some fireworks.
LN: Do you think the behind closed doors format gives players who might not otherwise perform quite as well on the big stage a better chance? Would you say it has helped you at all?
DP: I think that playing without a crowd maybe gives you more of a fair reflection. You don’t have those outside influences which would otherwise have an impact on the game itself. There’s a lot to be said about not playing with crowds, but obviously as Darts player you want the atmosphere that gives you a little butterfly in your stomach. Once the fans come back it’ll be an interesting comparison to see what people’s form is like with and without that crowd influence.
LN: After the year you’ve had, do you now have the belief that you can win this weekend and make a serious dent at the worlds next month? You’re now in the 10 most likely players to win the whole thing at Ally Pally.
DP: I think so with the way I’ve been playing this year. Look, the last two weeks hasn’t been great, but I know there’s a reason behind that and it’s not to do with my form. It’s simply because I have a slight niggle with my wrist, which is an old injury that has flared up because of the relentless use of my arm in all of these events where there’s little time off. I feel as though the Players Championship will be a great set up for the worlds and it should provide us all with a good measuring stick in terms of where we’re at.
Having said that, obviously my goal is to win the Players Championship, although with the potential and quality we have in the line-up, that’s not going to be easy. If I can produce my best in every single game, then I feel like I can win, and that goes for the worlds too. It’s a different animal and there are different pressures, but it’s the one I’ve always wanted, like most players. I think if you win the worlds you’ll have a good Christmas and a good New Year, so fingers crossed it’s me lifting the Sid Waddell Trophy above my head and having that moment documented forever in history.
LN: And finally, with the amount of time you’ve spent in hotel bubbles this season, how are you spending your free time? You must have a Netflix recommendation for us?
DP: It’s PlayStation for me really. I enjoy Call Of Duty and FIFA 21, where Liverpool are my favourite team. I play all the time with them and I’m a big fan. The worst thing about it all [hotel bubbles] is the diet because you don’t opt for the healthier option, so it’s always crisps, chocolate, sweets and so on and so forth. We do have a pool table, table tennis and foosball, but sometimes it just gets boring. Everything since the lockdown has changed the way you look at the sport, but there’s not really a lot you can do when you’re in a bubble. We’re just happy the games are going on and what the PDC has created.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing