The Dan Dawson Interview: Ross Smith

By Dan Dawson 16/12/2020

WHEN the PDC first introduced a youth system, Ross Smith was among the leading lights. He was young, talented, with a beautiful throw, and had the knack of winning things. In 2013 ‘Smudger’ claimed four titles across the 18 Challenge Tour events, the forerunner to nowadays Development Tour. That tally was more than any other player, including multiple title winners Benito van de Pas and Josh Payne, as well as the current World Matchplay champion Dimitri Van den Bergh.

Unlike those names though, Smith walked away from the game just three years later, taking a two-year break from the sport. It was not clear whether he would be seen on the PDC circuit again.

Smith told The Good Darts Podcast: “It was a number of things. I’d just had my son and I wanted to spend more time at home, but some silly little things as well. “I wanted a lads’ holiday because I’d never had one in my whole life; I even just wanted to play Sunday league football and watch a bit of football - normal things.”

The first phase of Ross’s career saw him juggling darts, his personal life and working as a lorry driver. He nearly lost that job when he made his first major quarter-final at the 2019 UK Open, but he has now decided to concentrate solely on his darting career. He added: “I knew I’d had far too much time off work through darts, so I had no idea whether I’d be asked when I got back to work to choose between one and the other… which obviously is a no-brainer - I’m really happy I took that decision to take the darts on.” The change in circumstances also led to a change in attitude, with Smith working on his physical fitness in an effort to find  the extra level he needs to reach the top.

He said: “I think I got a few things out of my system, I needed that break away, and when I came back I wanted to be fitter and to approach the game better. I felt like I wasted a lot of years playing the game. I looked at other players similar to my age and they’ve all kicked-on, why haven’t I? “No disrespect to them, but I grew up with a lot of the lads - even those who have played in the Premier League. I feel like I’ve been held back in my career while they’ve gone on to better things, and it suddenly gives you a kick up the backside to tell you ‘you can do this as well - there’s nothing stopping you’.

“I had to have a look at myself, I’m working harder, and I feel a lot more mentally strong as well.” Four ranking quarter-finals this year for Smith, including a superb tournament average of almost 100 at the recent International Darts Open (where he was only beaten by eventual champion Joe Cullen), suggests Smith is back on the right track. Cullen himself admitted after taking the second European Tour title of his career that Smith may well have been the man to beat that weekend in Riesa, after a series of stunning displays that took him to the last eight.

Smith added: “That’s a massive compliment. When the champion says that, I have to take that on board. But I have to forget those runs because at the end of the day I didn’t win (the tournaments). “I’ve watched a lot of other players’ interviews and you have to change your mentality. I don’t just want to be there to make the numbers up, I want to start winning these tournaments - like Joe - getting further and going into the later stages of events. “I want to push for a top 16 spot and really want to kick-on in my career over the next few years.”

He has produced standout moments: a Lakeside quarter-final back in 2011, the first broadcast nine dart leg on the Euro Tour in Gibraltar 2013, and a sensational victory over Michael van Gerwen at last year’s European Championship.

Sky Sports darts analyst and Good Darts Podcast co-host Wayne Mardle thinks the only thing that is holding Smith back, like quite a few other players, is the ability to produce those moments more regularly. Mardle said: “I think a lot of players get confused between getting better and becoming more consistent. He’s a brilliant player and everyone knows that. I think if he can be more confident for longer spells, I think you could see him go up a couple of levels.”

There was a temporary hiatus, but the second coming of Ross Smith could yet fulfill the immense promise of his early days in professional darts.

---------ENDS-----------
*Ross was talking to The Good Darts Podcast with Dan Dawson and Wayne Mardle, available weekly on various podcast providers and at gooddarts. captivate.fm

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