Fallon Sherrock is no ordinary opponent.
The 25-year-old created history at the Alexandra Palace in December, becoming the first female player to win a game at the PDC World Championship.
Due to her remarkable popularity, opponents found it difficult to deal with the added pressure.
‘The Queen of the Palace’ rode a wave of momentum as she swept aside Ted Evetts and Mensur Suljovic at the World Championship before eventually getting stopped by Chris Dobey, who resorted to wearing earbuds to block out the noise of his opponent’s noisy followers.
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“It was like going into any other match,” recalled ‘Hollywood’, her victor in the third round. “The only thing that was different was you were playing against 3,000 or 4,000 fans as well as Fallon. That was the tough part.
“After the first couple of sets…I focused on the board a lot more. The first two sets were a bit iffy, dealing with the crowd. I think I held my nerves nearer the end, and that’s how I got through.
“The crowd weren’t that bad when I was throwing, it was when I was going for the doubles, that’s when it was getting to me more.
“It always helps if you quieten the crowd. I thought to myself, all you need to do is try and get a 3-0 set under my belt, and the crowd will start to quieten down. I think it was the fourth set that was 3-0, and that’s exactly what happened. And the crowd went a bit quiet, and it helped me relax a bit more, focus on my game, and get the job done.”
Sherrock’s quality can present as much of a problem as her supporters, as Evetts discovered at Ally Pally.
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Speaking to Sky Sports in the build-up to his now-famous defeat, Evetts had said: “Practice is going really well at the moment so I can’t complain, but it will definitely be different playing a lady because I haven’t played one for a very long while in any competition.
“I’ve just got to treat it like any other game, hopefully play my best and put on a show. It will certainly be different because I’ve been quite fortunate with the crowd on my side, whether that be at the World Championship, the European Tour or anywhere really.
“If they’re against me it’s going to be what it will be, but fingers crossed they realise I’m actually an alright guy and don’t mind me too much!”
Duzza: I’ve got a job to do
On Thursday evening, it’s the turn of Glen Durrant to face the history-making Sherrock on the big stage as he aims to build on victory over Michael Smith in Aberdeen.
Three-time BDO world champion Durrant follows that win with a contest against the Milton Keynes sensation, who was given the nod as one of nine ‘Challengers’ in this year’s Premier League.
“Fallon has come from nowhere,” said ‘Duzza’. “But that’s what the PDC does – the production, the marketing, now she’s got exhibitions coming out of her ears, she’s got some of the biggest ladies names in the world [supporting her], ie. Billie Jean King. It’s been absolutely stratospheric for ladies darts at the moment. And I’m proud of her.
“But come next week, I’ve got a job to do. Losing against Fallon would eradicate everything I’ve done [against Smith] so I’m in a better place going into that game. Really excited for it, but a tough, tough, tough game.”
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February 13, 2020, 7:00pm
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Night Two Fixtures, Nottingham Rob Cross v Nathan Aspinall Gerwyn Price v Michael Smith Gary Anderson v Peter Wright Glen Durrant v Fallon Sherrock Daryl Gurney v Michael van Gerwen
The Middlesbrough native recorded a 7-3 win over the ‘Bully Boy’ in his opener and said: “If I can beat Fallon next week, four points, going into Gary Anderson in Cardiff, I think I’d be a lot more relaxed.
“I’m very aware of the [Sherrock] game. Huge challenge, exciting challenge, I’m not so sure if it’s the game that nobody wanted, or the game that everybody wanted. But to have 5,000, 10,000 people booing me is going to be a first. But I’ve got two points on the board. I think I’ll feel a hell of a lot better now than I would have done if I got a drubbing [against Smith].”
The World Matchplay, Grand Prix and Grand Slam semi-finalist has consulted Dobey on the peculiar challenge of taking on Sherrock.
“Obviously we’ve spoken about it,” Dobey said. “I just said to him, ‘just don’t think about it, don’t get annoyed with the crowd booing you or whatever. You’ve just got to play your game and forget about it’.
“You’ve seen what he’s done in the darting world. Obviously he’s got a lot more experience than Fallon as well. So you’ve got to put that down to being a three-time world champion; he’s got a better mentality than a lot of players on the tour. I think Glen should possibly win that, but obviously you don’t know how he’s going to react to the crowd. But that’s one bit of advice I gave him – ‘don’t get sucked into the crowd’.”
Sage advice, perhaps, but when the world’s top players are going to extra lengths to prepare for a darts match, it’s clear they’re feeling the heat.
Fallon Sherrock is no ordinary opponent.