We all had a lot of questions about Rob Cross at the start of this year, but in arguably the most stunning debut season the PDC has ever seen, “Voltage” has been making a habit of answering them emphatically.
Back when we first saw him, as an amateur at the 2016 UK Open, there were only a couple of questions: namely, “who are you?”, and “will you make it any further than a couple of rounds?”.
Even then he surpassed expectations, only losing to the eventual winner Michael van Gerwen in the last 32, with the world number one hitting two 170 checkouts and a perfect nine-darter against him.
However, the journey had begun.
Cross took to The Challenge Tour, and after a tentative start, bulldozed his way to the top of the rankings with three titles that secured him an automatic tour card for 2017.
Still there were questions though – valid ones.
Winning the Challenge Tour is one thing, but the week-in, week-out grind of the full tour is a very different matter… would he be up to the task? In his second game as a full pro, Rob Cross beat the in-form ex-European Champion Simon Whitlock 6-1.
In just his fifth event, he beat multiple major winner James Wade, multiple major finalist Dave Chisnall, three-time major champion Robert Thornton, and former Lakeside champ Jelle Klaasen, in a run to the semi-finals.
He was answering these questions very, very quickly.
Cross returned to the UK Open, this time no longer as a Riley’s amateur qualifier, and once again the only person to beat him was the eventual champion, Peter Wright.
It only took 10 events as a PDC tour card holder for Cross to enter the winners’ circle, claiming the third Players Championship event of the year – beating the likes of “Barney”, Welsh number one Gerwyn Price, and Mervyn King to claim the title.
But there were still more questions: for example, could he do it on the big stages of world darts?
Well, aside from the Premier League, the crowds do not come any bigger than on the European Tour – and Cross made the quarter-final stages of his first three events.
Speaking at the time, he admitted that he was not prepared for the atmosphere, the noise and the different demands on a darts player that the Euro Tour presented. He admitted he had to learn, but the process was already underway, and Cross is a very quick learner.
A second PDC title followed in May, with victory over one of the most consistent floor players in the sport, Ian White.
Then, back on the Euro Tour, a huge moment came: Rob Cross’s first victory over the best player in world darts, Michael van Gerwen. Both of them averaged in excess of 102, but a 6-2 win in Saarbrucken meant that Cross had ticked another big name player off his list of targets.
He had consistently spoken all year about believing he could beat them all, and now he was showing everyone else that he could back his words up with actions.
Still, some doubted him though; there were more questions; could he do it on TV? – that was where it would really matter.
A first-round win over Ian White on his debut at the World Matchplay partially answered that, and an average of 104.08 in a thrilling 11-8 defeat to two-time World Champion Adrian Lewis meant Cross left Blackpool with more credit than any other player to go out in round two.
Two more titles in the Players Championship series and two Euro Tour finals (both of them lost to MvG) were to follow before Cross silenced any doubts about his abilities to perform on televised stages at the European Championship.
Schindler, Chisnall, Smith, Gurney – none of them were good enough to stop the former electrician powering through to his first major final, but once again it was van Gerwen who proved to be his undoing.
Rob Cross has beaten 18 of the world’s top 20 players in his first few months as a professional darts player (only Gary Anderson and Phil Taylor remain on his list), but he has quickly established himself as a genuine rival to the man at the very summit of world darts, Michael van Gerwen.
At the time of writing, the only person who has beaten Cross in his last four tournaments (all on big stages, and three of them televised), has been van Gerwen.
The Dutchman himself believes that Cross is in the top four best players in the world right now, illustrating how fast his rise has been in the early stages of his career. Rob Cross will go to Minehead for the Players Championship Finals as the top seed.
He could well make his debut at the World Championship as a player in the world’s top 20 – an unprecedented achievement.
But if his magical first few months are anything to go by, Rob Cross’s achievements will far outstrip that which he has already accomplished.
The incredible performances from Rob Cross this year have answered almost all the questions that were asked of him, but there is still one that remains – and it may be the most exciting one to see answered… just how much could he win?
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