Cross: It doesn’t really feel real

Rob Cross at the oche during his victory over Phil Taylor in the 2018 William Hill World Darts Championship final. Picture courtesy Lawrence Lustig/PDC
Rob Cross at the oche during his victory over Phil Taylor in the 2018 William Hill World Darts Championship final. Picture courtesy Lawrence Lustig/PDC
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Darts star Rob Cross admitted being the world champion feels ‘a bit unreal’.

The 27-year-old from St Leonards clinched the 2018 William Hill World Darts Championship by beating 16-time champion Phil Taylor in the final on New Year’s Day.

Speaking to Observer Sport the following afternoon, Cross said: “It’s a bit unreal, it doesn’t really feel real. It’s not gone in yet.

“It’s really been weird. It’s something that will settle in in the next few days. It will probably be one of those things where I’m sat at home and I realise what I’ve done.”

Despite the pressure of playing in the sport’s richest ever match on his debut in the competition, Cross produced an outstanding performance to defeat Taylor by seven sets to two in the Stoke man’s final outing before retirement.

“I actually like the pressure,” continued Cross, who watched last year’s event on television as he prepared to join the Professional Darts Corporation ProTour. “If there’s no pressure on a game, I find it hard to produce.

“I knew I had to be ruthless last night against Phil. If he started to get a hold of the game, I was going to find it really hard to break him down and stop him. When I got that early lead it made it a bit easier.

“I needed to be aggressive, like I normally am, and I felt I bossed the game. I was really happy with the performance. No disrespect to Phil, but I always felt in control.

“With it being Phil’s last game, I did want to be respectful for him. I wanted him to lift it (the trophy) first, but it didn’t quite work out like that.

“Not only was it my night with the win, but that was the last time you’re going to see Phil Taylor playing an TV tournament. He’s phenomenal.”

Cross certainly earned his title, winning three of his six matches after a deciding set, and surviving missed match darts from Michael Smith in round two and world number one Michael van Gerwen in a classic semi-final.

“I needed a bit of luck early on with Michael Smith and Dimitri Van den Bergh (who Cross beat 5-4 in the quarter-finals) - he played really well - but actually I think with your first major win, you need that luck,” Cross went on.

“As soon as I got past Michael, I knew I would play well in the final and if Phil was going to beat me, he would have to do something special.

“A lot of people speculate ‘he can’t beat Michael’, but in all fairness I’m losing to the best player in the world and everyone else is losing to him as well. I won this one and going forward I know I can win now.

“There’s only so many times you can play someone and keep playing well and losing. In fairness it was my turn this time. That got the monkey off my back.”

As well as lifting the Sid Waddell Trophy, Cross secured the £400,000 first prize - almost double his career earnings to date.

“I’ll try and save it for a rainy day because you never know what’s round the corner,” added Cross, whose 66 maximum 180s in the tournament was comfortably the most of any player in the 72-man field. “We’ll try and be sensible, but I’m sure the kids will get gifts or if it’s a little holiday we’ll go and do that.

“I know the money will change my life, but it’s not about the money. How many people can say they’re a world champion?

“I will go in next year as world champion, the pressure’s going to be there a bit. But I believe there’s still more there and if I find that, I feel I’ve got every chance. It’s not just about the world title, it’s about trying to get to number one in the world and win everything.

Cross has also earned a place in the 2018 Unibet Premier League, a 16-week roadshow event involving 10 of the game’s top players which will start in Dublin on Thursday February 1 and conclude at The O2 in London on May 17.

“That’s going to be special too,” added Cross. “It’s going to be a big change because I’ve never played it before. It’s probably going to be a bit tiring at times, but at the same time I think it will bring me on maybe a bit faster.

“You’re going to be on TV every week and with the belief I’ve got now after winning my first major, that’s going to help.”

His next outing will be at the 2018 Unibet Masters in Milton Keynes from January 26-28.