Michael Smith fought back brilliantly from 5-1 down to defeat his former mentor Gary Anderson and claim his first ProTour title of 2023 in Monday’s Players Championship 13 final in Hildesheim.
Smith – featuring in only his fifth Players Championship event of the year – converted a 116 checkout in a thrilling last-leg shoot-out to sink Anderson and scoop the £12,000 top prize at Halle 39.
The World Champion averaged 98 and 99 in 6-4 wins over Richard Veenstra and Andy Boulton to move through to round three, where he demolished Keegan Brown 6-1 to continue his progress.
Smith then recorded hard-fought victories against James Wade, Danny Lauby and Connor Scutt to set up a mouth-watering showdown against two-time World Champion Anderson, which lived up to the billing.
The pair exchanged holds to kick off Monday’s decider, before Anderson punished a host of missed darts at double from his former protégé to hold throw in 23 darts.
The Scot extended his lead to 5-1 after following up 76 and 95 finishes with a 13-darter, only for Smith to respond with a blistering four-leg barrage of his own.
The world number one produced legs of 15, 14, 12 and 13 darts – including a 121 finish in leg nine – to restore parity at five apiece, although the pendulum continued to swing.
Anderson remarkably hit three consecutive bulls to set up double six and move a leg away from victory at 7-6, but after holding throw in 14 darts, Smith sank a nerveless 116 finish to complete the comeback.
“When I first made the Premier League semi-finals Gary was 5-1 up and I beat him, and that’s all I kept thinking,” revealed Smith, celebrating his tenth Players Championship success.
“Something got into Gary’s head. He was annoyed, he was fuming and I couldn’t punish him, but luckily enough that 116 checkout keeps saving me.
“I like to look good as well as play well, but I had to find something from somewhere, and in the last few weeks when I’ve not been at it, I’ve been working really hard behind the scenes.
“The effort won me this title today. It wasn’t about talent, it was about hard work. I was 64th on the Players Championship Order of Merit before today, and now I’m the champion!”
Anderson, meanwhile, fell agonisingly short in his bid for back-to-back titles in Hildesheim, having claimed the spoils at Players Championship 8 at this venue in March.
The 52-year-old defeated Scott Williams and Dutch trio Maik Kuivenhoven, Geert Nentjes and Raymond van Barneveld to reach the last eight, where he survived match darts against Chris Dobey.
The two-time World Champion then produced an imperious display in his semi-final rout of Damon Heta, averaging 101 and conjuring up three ton-plus finishes to run out a comprehensive 7-3 winner.
Heta defeated Premier League runner-up Gerwyn Price in reaching a second straight ProTour semi-final, while surprise package Scutt produced a string of superb displays in his run to the last four.
The 27-year-old opened his campaign with a thumping 6-1 win against European Champion Ross Smith, while also whitewashing Keane Barry and Mike De Decker to scoop £4,000 in prize money.
Price produced the performance of the day in Hildesheim, averaging 113.57 in his opening round demolition of Mensur Suljovic, and he was joined in the last eight by Masters champion Dobey.
American ace Danny Lauby also made his first ProTour quarter-final alongside PDC Asian Champion Christian Perez, who impressed on his long-awaited Players Championship debut.
Elsewhere, top seed Dave Chisnall landed a nine-darter in his third round clash against Ricardo Pietreczko, although it came in a losing cause as he succumbed 6-3 to the diminutive German.