Michael van Gerwen is the man fuelling Billy Harris’ pursuit of UK Pro Classic success, writes Will Jennings.
The Isle of Man’s Harris is an avid darts fan away from his sport but is currently competing at St. George’s Hill Lawn Tennis Club in the inaugural event, stunning British No.8 Liam Broady with a straight sets victory on Wednesday.
The British No.41 swapped backhands for bullseyes in lockdown and is using three-time world darts champion Van Gerwen as a source of inspiration in Weybridge.
“I’ve got a dartboard in my house so I’ve been playing a lot of darts - I’m on about 45 180s since lockdown!” the 25-year-old said.
“I played a little bit before lockdown but I put in many hours on the board - it was a solid couple of hours, if not a few, a day.
“I watched the World Matchplay competition - I’m keen on the darts! Michael van Gerwen’s probably my favourite player.
“Concentration is definitely a lesson we, as tennis players, can learn from darts players - getting that last treble is like match point for us! My quickest leg is a 12-darter, so I was happy with that.
“My tennis went downhill a bit but my darts level is sky high!”
Van Gerwen competes in the Premier League of darts and now Harris is one of 24 leading players duelling it out in the widely-billed tennis equivalent, appearing alongside a glittering array of talent including Harriet Dart and Eden Silva in the women's draw and James Ward and Liam Broady in the men's.
The innovative format was devised by Andy Murray’s coach, Jamie Delgado, with players on Classic Week being split into two boxes of six ahead of finals weekend on August 15th and 16th.
The event is run by innovative organisation River Media Partners, who pay players to play in the lucrative event - with a total $500,000 prize fund up for grabs - to help them get back on track after lockdown.
Harris, who now lives in Nottingham, is a huge advocate of the event and hopes the idiosyncratic format can lay the foundations for more of the same in years to come.
“These tournaments are just good to play some matches - without these, everyone would be sat at home with no tournaments to play,” he added.
“It’s definitely helped me out financially - compared to the British Tours, these are a lot better for money.
“If you had to stay in a hotel to play the British Tour you’d end up walking away with about £50 or something, which is ridiculous, so it would be great if there were more of these events.”
12 of the UK’s top women and men have qualified through the UK Pro Series for the UK Pro Classic - www.ukproseries.com. The final 3 days of competition will have national free to air coverage: Freeview Channel 64, Sky Channel 422, Virgin Media Channel 553, TalkTalkTV Channel 64, BT TV Channel 64 and on download app FreeSportsPlayer.tv