Defeated Szabo returns a hero
Our man on the world's biggest oche sounds like he'll return home a hero.
The Porirua Club's Rob Szabo might have lost 3-1 to Phil "The Power" Taylor, at the Darts World Championships in London, but his performance was a double-bull for the game in this country.
The 48-year-old Szabo took the first set off Taylor, then won the first leg of the next, to stun the Alexandra Palace crowd and 16-time world champion Taylor.
At that stage, Szabo's supporters back in Wellington thought the greatest upset in darts history was in the offing.
"Hell yeah. When he got that triple 20 and he just missed the next one - wow," Capital Area Darts Association president Helen Makira said.
"Had he got that next 60 in there, he would've got double-tops. Oh yeah, we were all jumping off our seats."
Ranked 162 in the world, Szabo had qualified for the world event by winning the national chartered club tournament earlier this year.
Makira, who ran that tournament, is also a Wellington selector and a noted darter for the Upper Hutt Cosmopolitan Club and was with Szabo on a trip to Australia in August.
It was there that Szabo beat Simon "The Wizard" Whitlock in a qualifying round, before "going to pieces" when the pair later played in front a partisan Aussie crowd.
But that experience steeled Szabo and, coupled with the form he was showing in training, he went to London with the confidence of everyone in the game here.
"It's amazing what he did, for himself and for darts in New Zealand. He's played darts quite a while now [26 years] and to be recognised after a long, long time is so damned awesome," Makira said.
"They talked about him [on the TV commentary] as a nobody. Well, he's a somebody now.
"We've had representatives go over there and make fools of themselves, but he hasn't. He put New Zealand up there on a high level."
Taylor paid Szabo the ultimate compliment by comparing his method to that of the great Jocky Wilson, and presenting him with a signed dart board.
"I'm going to take this and really enjoy it," Szabo said.
"What could have been? But, hey, I hope there are more opportunities down the line."
Along with Wilson, Taylor is regarded as absolute darts royalty and was fulsome in his praise of Szabo's performance.
"I've never tried so hard in all my life. I'll be honest, he was very difficult and there are a lot of players this week who wouldn't be able to handle him - me included," Taylor said.
The Dominion Post