The world is talking about Luke Littler, the 16-year-old darts prodigy who has smashed his way to final of the the World Darts Championship. But there is still one man standing his way, one last boss to defeat: the new world No 1, Luke Humphries.
Humphries was among the favourites coming into the tournament after a stellar year which included three titles – the World Grand Prix, the Players Championship Finals and the Grand Slam of Darts – along with a big rise up the rankings, and it is his run to this final that will ensure he jumps to the top after the tournament, whatever the outcome.
Nicknamed ‘Cool Hand Luke’ – a riff on the 1967 prison-drama film of the same name – Humphries is a calm, understated figure, which has led to accusations from some quarters that he lacks the domineering personality to take over the darts world.
But the Berkshire-born thrower has come through plenty of adversity to get to the top of the game. For a long time, Humphries struggled with anxiety attacks on stage, which is partly why he is only now, aged 28, enjoying a breakout year at the elite level. Such was his torment that he almost quit darts entirely.
Humphries also used to tire in the latter rounds of tournaments, until he put himself on a strict fitness regime to transform himself into a leaner, more energetic player. He is now one of the few players at the top of the circuit who looks more like a footballer or a tennis player than a darts champion in waiting.
He recently told Sky Sports: “I think that being fitter and healthier helps with longer days and it is no coincidence that I never used to be able to get to those quarter finals, semi-finals because I would run out of energy.
“The European Tour finals, they are the longest possible days you could imagine and I am doing them at a canter now and I could probably go three more games after the final. So losing the weight is a key part of where I am now because I don’t think I would be where I am now as the unfit and unhealthy version of me. It is another piece of the puzzle to make me where I am now.”
All of which makes his ascent to the top of the sport even more impressive. He thrashed Scott Williams 6-0 in their semi-final on Tuesday night and now faces one last challenge.
Luke ‘The Nuke’ Littler has been a sensation. In recent days a picture has circulated on social media showing Littler and Humphries together after a match in a pub in Hayling Island four years ago, when Littler was only 12. How far they’ve both come.
“The way he’s played, I’ve seen it many times,” Humphries said of his opponent in the final. “When you come up on this stage it can be a lot tougher but he’s just proved he’s got a lot of bottle. Nothing is going to faze him. If he plays like he did tonight, tomorrow is not going to faze him at all, so I will probably have to play the game of my life.
“I will probably have to play like that again to stand a chance of beating him. I know what’s in front of me and what the task is. I’ve got to play at my best tomorrow but I’m hoping I make him play his best as well and we give the fans hopefully one of the best world finals we have ever seen.”