When the world’s best darts players faced off at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in the U.S. Darts Masters on Friday and Saturday, there was only one woman among them.
That thrower, Fallon Sherrock of Britain, has been the only woman to regularly beat men at the biggest events in darts. Given that women had never had much success in men’s events in the past, it was easy to consider her groundbreaking victory over 77th-ranked Ted Evetts at the 2020 world championships a fluke. Until she also beat the world’s 11th-ranked player, Mensur Suljovic, four days later.
Those two wins, the first for a woman at the men’s worlds, created a sensation in darts-loving Britain. Sherrock, and her trademark black frame glasses, gained overnight celebrity. Well, sort of.
“It’ll only be when I’ve got my glasses and my makeup on that people go, ‘Oh my God,’” Sherrock said. “So my trick is now I’ll go out, no makeup on, hair up. People don’t recognize me when I go to the shop for a bit of milk.”
The fame has also brought a downside, she admitted. “The social media and all the pressure and stuff that they put on — I’ll get ridiculed before I’ve even thrown a dart. It’s kind of like 50-50. I’ll get loads of people who love it, but loads of people who hate it as well. That’s the only downside.”
Her success, however, has continued. Last fall, Sherrock became the first woman to make the final of a men’s tour event, after she beat the world’s fifth-ranked player, Dimitri Van den Bergh, in the semifinals of the Nordic Masters.
Sherrock, 27, started competitive darts as a teenager and played at first largely in women’s events, where the prize money is comparatively paltry. Her two early-round wins at the 2020 men’s worlds earned her 25,000 pounds (about $32,000), for example. The winner of the women’s world championships that year won less than half that.
Sherrock said of competing against men: “I actually prefer it because the standard’s a bit better. You know you’ve got to play better. The men, you end up bantering with them. You end up winding them up because they don’t want to lose to a girl.”
At the New York event, which included the top six players in the world, Sherrock lost in the round of 16 to the American Leonard Gates, 6-2. Gates also won the North American championship, which was held in conjunction with the Masters, earning himself a spot in the world championships in December.
Organizers in New York placed fans at long tables just beneath the stage to partly recreate the atmosphere of the Alexandra Palace, the boisterous London venue where the world championships are held.
While there were British expatriates in the crowd, many of the fans were from the significantly smaller community of American darts enthusiasts, delighted to have the world’s top players throwing in their country. They gamely aped the British darts traditions of costume-wearing, singing and, in many cases, beer drinking. They howled with pleasure whenever anyone made the maximum three-dart score of 180. That European flavor was seasoned with the more American sounds of “U.S.A.” chanting for Gates, who lost in the quarterfinal.
The winner was Michael Smith of Britain, who defeated the three-time world champion Michael van Gerwen of the Netherlands, 8-4, in the final.
Sherrock has gained a reputation as someone who performs better on big occasions on the stage than in lower-profile events, where she might be one of dozens of darters throwing on the floor at any given moment.
“I know it sounds really silly, but when I’m on the floor I feel like people are watching me from behind,” she said. “I feel like their eyes are on the back of my head.
“But when I’m on the big stage, I feel like I’m up away from everyone. I know they’re watching, but it doesn’t feel like their eyes are like digging in, so I feel more relaxed.”
Those watching crowds, whether in London or New York, are a big part of the fun for Sherrock.
“I just play with the crowds. I want to make them go. I step up, and I’m like, ‘Right, I’m going to make the crowd go.’”