Dimitri Van den Bergh on lockdown, form and winning the Matchplay
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 16/1 shot Dimitri Van den Bergh about his form in 2020, Darts during lockdown and coping with the pressure of being one of the frontrunners in the tournament. Here’s what he had to say…
On recent form
“It’s been a good few months for me. It’s going differently to what we expected, especially with what I’ve achieved.
“A lot of things have happened that we didn’t expect to happen this fast, but it’s just because I’ve worked hard and I recognise I’ve got to give myself a lot of credit. But the team behind me – especially my manager and my sponsors – also deserve credit, too.
“Throughout the Matchplay, my preparation remained the same. I made sure I was doing the same thing every day: calling back home, speaking to my manager, eating the right food then getting to bed. Wake up nice and early, have some breakfast then it’s on to the practice board.
“Once I’d reached the quarter-finals I said to myself straight away ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to win this’. I don’t know why but that’s how I was feeling.
“Of course, I was nervous in the final but that’s OK; it’s good to be nervous, it just shows how much it means. I was feeling ready and although we didn’t exactly play a fantastic final, I showed I was ready to win and my confidence built throughout the game.
“From the moment I got off stage I was living the dream. I was doing all of my interviews with a big smile, lots of happy feelings. I was very proud I could show the world why I’m called ‘The DreamMaker’.
“Hard work pays off, and I started to reflect on everything I’ve done over the years and now I’m a major champion. It was also my first senior title, so there were a lot of insane thoughts – obviously all positive – then when my interviews were done I said “OK, guys, now I’m gonna have a big celebratory pizza.” That’s all we did. We celebrated with a pizza. Lots of garlic, lots of chicken, ham, red onion and peppers.”
On Tour Mates
“Without a doubt one of my best friends on the tour at the moment is Jose De Sousa. He’s so insane, he’s so crazy and funny. We’re also cracking some jokes with Damon Heta and his partner.
“Glen Durrant, Ted Evetts, Keegan Brown, Justin Pipe, Jermaine Wattimena – we’re a tight group, we’re together all the time. Our management, our stable – we’re a tight group of good friends and we always wish each other the best and support one another.
“When we play against each other you’ve got to do the business and there are no friends on stage when you’re playing the game. But afterwards you congratulate each other. We crack so many jokes and play so many games – we’re all really focused but you have to sometimes take your mind off things and those guys are great to do that with.
“Jose showed the world why he’s called ‘The Special One’ on Tuesday night in the Grand Slam final. He didn’t even finish the match and he was already crying before the double 19 went in. He’s such a funny man.
“We listened to his interview on talkSPORT this morning and they asked him why he’s called ‘The Special One’ and he just said “because I do crazy things. Sometimes I do things that even I didn’t know I was going to do.” He’s such a great person – he’s very down to earth and he doesn’t change for his successes.
“That just makes him even more beautiful. None of the players we have in our stable have turned into divas because of their success. I can remember earlier in this tournament he needed 136 and he went treble 20, treble 20 and I was looking at double 3 but saw him throw for double eight and walk up like he’d won the leg until the scorer said “no score”. He gets another attempt and he goes back to treble 20 – I’m like what the hell is he doing!
“He was buzzing after he won. He’s still buzzing now. He was sat outside this morning and he just said “I am living the dream. Oh my God, I’m a champion.” And that’s what he is. He’s made his dreams come true.”
On growing up around darts
“I’ve always loved and followed darts. From the moment I was born my Dad was playing at a high level. He represented Belgium a few times in the World Cup. My mum actually played and she was very good as well. Yeah, back in the day it was always on our TV.
“I’ve watched all the games there from Les ‘McDanger’ Wallace to Richie Burnett. Marshall James, Raymond van Barneveld, Co Stompe, Vincent van der Voort, Mensur Suljovic. I’ve even watched back the game where Paul Lim hit his nine-darter. I think it was against an Irishman, Jack McKenna. I can remember an old man, with white hair, The Tazmanian Devil – I think it was Roger Carter? So yeah, I’ve followed the darts for a long, long time.
“My Dad used to always video tape them. We still have all the tapes back home that we can watch again. We’ve even got the year that Jelle Klaasen won his BDO World title against Van Barneveld.
“I’d love to play in more venues where a lot of history has been made. The Circus Tavern; I’ll probably have exhibitions to play there now and again, and to play at such historic places like that – knowing that Barney played that final there against Phil Taylor, Kevin Painter played a final against Taylor, all amazing and brilliant games which I can remember so well, I love being at those venues with that history.
“I hope I can one day play in the venue of the old Desert Classics in Vegas – that would be insane. I remember Darren Young playing against Mervyn King and Mervyn hitting four 180s in a row! And remember when Barney hit that 180 in the dark on a nine-darter? I can remember that so clearly – I’d love to play at that venue.”
On Grand Slam Performance
“It wasn’t to be at the Grand Slam but there were a lot of positive things to think about and reflect on. I’m in a good headspace, I’m definitely not negative.
“Everyone wants to do well and reach the semis and the finals, and I’m no different. But no, it’s all good. We keep working hard. The tournaments are coming think and fast so there’s no time to be negative. I can reflect on my performances and I’m feeling fine. I’m ready to move onto the next tournament and that’s how it is.
“I’m still in Coventry now ahead of the Players Championship Finals. I’ll just be chilling out and relaxing as much as I can. I have to do another COVID test, then I’ll be going back to the practice board just to loosen up the arm for an hour, and then Thursday will be a proper practice day.
“Maybe a couple of two-hour sessions. I’m taking it as a job. I’m not taking it as a time to relax because we still have big tournaments to come. I don’t have a PlayStation with me because I know myself; if I had a PlayStation here or something like that, I’d get into a different rhythm and I wouldn’t be focused on the tournaments in question and it’d be a huge distraction for me.”
On the Ladbrokes Players Championship Finals
“It’s going to be weird not being at Minehead but it is what it is. At the end of the day we’ve just got to do our business and focus on our games; do what we do. It’s our job. The venue is different and of course it’s difficult not having fans. We’re missing them, we want them back with us, so we’re hopeful things will change soon so things can go back to how they should be.
“I’ve got a tough first round match against Ryan Searle. He’s a quality player, and we’ve already had an encounter at the Autumn Series. It was a good game, he finished very well. But when it comes to the stage game, I just know I can beat anybody.
“I have a lot of belief in myself when I’m up there and it’s where I produce some of my greatest darts. I’ve got to go up there and do the business. I’ve got to stay focused but I’ll definitely be up there with a lot of confidence and self-belief.”
On being a frontrunner in the outright betting
“It’s nice to see that people believe in me, but at the end of the day I’m just focused on myself. It’s a new experience, of course, to be going into tournaments as one of the favourites, but as I always do I just focus on my game and my preparation.
“I’ll never be a diva when it comes to that kind of thing. It’s nice that people think of me as one of the frontrunners, but I’m happy just being myself and not letting anything affect me.
“My year so far has been amazing and the fact that I’m so high on the list of most likely people to win these tournaments according to the odds, that’s just so nice to see. It means I’m doing well. I think they make those decisions for odds based on the way we’re playing and performing, so it can only be a good thing for me. My hard work is paying off.”
On ones to watch
“I believe Adam Gawlas is one to watch. Ted Evetts is one of them; he’s doing fantastic on the Development Tour, I hope Mike De Decker is up there, too. He is definitely capable.
“I hope Rowby-John Rodriguez bursts back onto the scene as well, and his brother Rusty-Jake. If the young lads from Gibraltar keep working hard, then they’ll get there, too. Justin Hewitt is one to watch, for sure.”