Teenage darts sensation Luke Littler reflected on his “unbelievable” journey at this year’s World Darts Championship, after falling just short in his bid to become the youngest ever winner of the title.
The 16-year-old fought back the tears on stage after being beaten 7-4 by Luke Humphries in Wednesday’s dramatic final, bringing his fairytale run at the tournament to an end.
While disappointed he couldn’t get over the line, Littler said on Instagram that he was “happy with runner-up” and “happy to be a part of an incredible final.”
The teenager has become a global darling since making his tournament debut this year, with the sport’s new star defying the odds by beating opponents with decades’ more experience.
However, fellow Englishman Humphries proved one step too far as Littler was unable to find a way past the current world No. 1.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Littler told reporters after the final, reflecting on a transformative few weeks.
“No one likes losing and I’ve not really lost much, but to lose on that stage, you can’t really be angry with yourself.”
Littler’s performances at this year’s competition have catapulted the youngster into a different stratosphere, where he’s had to quickly learn to deal with the pressure that comes with being the man of the moment.
In the build-up to the final, social media was awash with well wishes for Littler, who has infatuated the general public with his laid back style and wonderfully normal approach to life.
Talk of the youngster celebrating his wins with kebabs endeared himself to the masses and he took all the attention in his stride.
He continued to produce moments of magic in a pulsating final which saw momentum swing between the two world class players.
The crowd inside Alexandra Palace was very much in Littler’s corner and the teenager had led the match 4-2 at one point.
However, Littler wasted a golden opportunity to make it 5-2, allowing Humphries to win the set and roar back into the match.
After the final, Littler agreed that the missed dart was the turning point in the match, saying his “mind went blank” as he stopped his rhythm to double-check with the referee what he needed to aim for.
The relentless Humphries went on to clinch the next four sets to win the match, punishing Littler every time his standards slipped.
The 28-year-old, who has spoken about how his anxiety almost led him quitting the game, fell to his knees when his final dart hit its target.
“I could not put into words how great this feels,” an emotional Humphries told Sky Sports.
“In the back of my mind throughout the whole of the day I’m just thinking ‘get this one now because he’s going to dominate world darts soon.’”
“[Littler] is an incredible talent but I had to win this one tonight and he’s going to win plenty I’m sure.”
Littler’s route to the final
Speak to those in the darts world and they knew Littler had potential to compete at this level, but very few, including Littler himself, could ever have imagined him finishing the tournament as the beaten finalist.
It all started with a first round victory against Christian Kist, where Littler produced a memorable display to brush aside his Dutch opponent in straight sets.
It was impressive, yes, but few thought the world junior champion could keep up that high level of darts as the tournament progressed.
But the Littler steam train kept on chugging away and Andrew Gilding was the next player to be defeated.
The win ensured Littler would return to the tournament after the brief Christmas break, where the youngster reverted back to being a normal 16-year-old
“To be honest, it was just Xbox and more Xbox,” he told reporters when asked how he spent his Christmas.
After the break, attention had started to ratchet up around the youngster. A straight sets victory against Matt Campbell in the third round raised eyebrows and secured an encounter with darts legend Raymond van Barneveld.
The Dutch veteran is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the sport and was Littler’s hero growing up. But the teenager had no time for sentiment, dispatching the 56-year-old with relative ease to cement himself as a real contender for the title.
The quarterfinals then brought a matchup with Brendan Dolan, but Littler wasted little energy in bulldozing his way past the Northern Irishman. The match was the most watched quarterfinal in the tournament’s history on Sky Sports, with a peak audience of 1.4 million.
Undeterred by the noise and excitement building, Littler then kept his cool to produce arguably his best performance, beating 2018 champion Cross in a match of world class quality.
According to Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) chairman Eddie Hearn, the semifinal was watched by a record 2.32 million people.
“It would be unbelievable to win this title. I set myself the target to win one game and be back after Christmas, and I’m still here,” Littler said at the time.
Speak to Littler away from the stage and he’s just like any other teenager. He was softly-spoken when interviewed by CNN Sport ahead of his third round match, just giddy at all the attention he was receiving on social media.
But when in front of a board with darts in his hand, Littler transforms into a machine, mature beyond his years and fearless in front of the boisterous Alexandra Palace crowd.
“I love it,” he said. “People are chanting, necking beers, it’s crazy. It’s hard to focus, they are chanting your name, but you have to keep it out of your head and somehow have to focus.”
The crowd continued to chant his name after defeat in the final, a sign of just how much Littler has done for the sport of darts over the past few weeks.
One thing is for sure, Littler will have many more opportunities to win a world title in the future and his hordes of adoring fans will be back to watch him.