Wellingtonian rattles world champion darts player

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 31/12/2013
Rob Szabo
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ

BULLS EYE: Upper Hutt's Rob Szabo hones his skills in the garage. In the background is a board signed by darts legend Phil Taylor.

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A sleepy summer's day in Rob Szabo's Upper Hutt garage seems a world away from the colourful chaos of darts mecca 'Ally Pally'.

But Phil "The Power" Taylor's signature on the back of his Puma board is evidence that yes, the 48-year-old builder really did have the world's greatest darts thrower on the run.

"I was quite astounded really, I didn't realise I had him so flustered," said Szabo, who lost 3-1 to Taylor a fortnight ago in the round of 64 at the world championships at London's Alexandra Palace.

"The disappointing part for me was I didn't even show my game. Against Phil Taylor, it was almost like you were watching yourself ... I was enthralled in the battle of the game and I wasn't distraught that I lost. It was an absolute honour playing Phil."

It was the first world champs for Szabo, who is ranked 189th by the World Darts Federation, but he hopes it is not his last.

His tangle with Taylor - who said he had "never tried so hard in all my life" to beat the unfancied Kiwi - has put him on the darts map.

Szabo's next big tournament will be June's World Cup of Darts in Germany.

"I've come back with a meaner attitude towards my game. I want to try and stamp my authority, let people know it wasn't just a one-off, and try and get up the next couple of levels. You can't just turn up to a tournament and expect to win, you've got to play phenomenal darts. So I'll improve my game, do some more training. Germany is a big opportunity and people over there will know who I am now."

Szabo has been humbled by the attention he has received and hoped it showed Kiwis that darts was big business and not just a pub sport.

His response to the perception that darts throwers weren't athletes?

"Well you don't see any thin shotputters do you? They have to have a bit of power behind them and it's the same with darts. It takes a lot of stamina too. Don't judge a book by its cover."

Szabo lives with his partner Carolyn and has four children; Natasha, William, Oliver and Annabel.

He started throwing seriously as a 22-year-old, when he began playing for the Wellington Working Men's Club.

It is more time consuming than your average hobby and Szabo's surprise showing against Taylor was certainly no fluke.

"There were some days where I'd start work at 6, get home about 7, have a bite to eat, out in the garage training at 8 and I'd be in there till 2. I'd do that two or three times a week and then start work at 6 or 7 again. After two or three hours you start to warm up. You have to be mentally tough as well as having a bit of natural ability."

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