Merv^s in the mood
Mervyn King is confident he is running in to form at the right time - ready for the biggest event of the year.
King, from Bradwell, goes into the PDC World Championship spurred on by some fine recent results that include winning the Dutch Darts Trophy and a semi-final appearance in the ITV-televised Grand Slam of Darts.
And the 42-year-old feels that if he takes his best game into the showpiece championship then he should be a man to be feared.
"I^m always confident," said King. "The trouble with my game is that I never know how I^m going to throw on stage.
"I can feel really confident and end up just not playing but I seem to be coming into form at the right time."
Alexandra Palace is again the setting for the PDC^s Ladbrokes.com World Championship - the No 1 tournament for the professional version of the game - which runs from December 19 to January 4 and King has been pitted against either Hannes Schnier of Austria or China^s Shi Yongsheng in round one, following yesterday^s draw.
Living legend Phil Taylor is again the bookies^ favourite for the Sky Sports-televised title having won it an incredible 13 times but King is among a crop of players ready to mount a challenge - and the Norfolk player^s self-belief is evident.
King, ranked No 12 in the world, said: "It^s not just a case now of a few players being able to challenge Phil, there are a lot of top quality players.
"And I^ve always felt that my ^A^ game is better than his. It^s just that I don^t often produce my ^A^ game when I play him on stage. I have beaten him on the floor this year quite convincingly and have taken the game away from him."
King has beaten Taylor a couple of times this season - including on his march to the Scottish Players Championship title in April - although 2008 hasn^t been quite as productive as he would have liked.
King, who switched from the amateur ranks of the BDO association to the PDC in February 2007, said: "I was very apprehensive about making the switch but it^s proved to be the right decision.
"I set myself realistic targets and I had a good first 10 months in the PDC and did more than I hoped to do. But I had a slow start to this year and things were not going to plan.
"I got to a few quarter-finals and last 16s but not as far in tournaments as I^d hoped to get.
"Towards the end of the year I have found my stage game again. On the floor my game can be exceptional but I was struggling on stage. Now it^s picking up again, I played some very good darts at the Dutch Trophy against some quality opponents and I played some reasonably good darts at the Grand Slam."
King has headed to Tenerife for some winter sun but is heading to Holland for three days on his return for some intense practice with big rival and world No 2 Raymond van Barneveld.
That kind of commitment is proof not only that darts is taking itself more seriously but that the game is also becoming much more professional.
Tournaments are more often that not played in front of sell-out crowds - 8,000 packed into the Liverpool Echo Arena earlier this year to watch a night of Premier League action - and the sport is enjoying big-time exposure once again after its heyday in the 1980s.
King added: "A lot of players are using the gym nowadays and the sport has definitely moved on. It^s not about the beer-swilling players of old anymore.
"It^s not just the sport that is more professional, the players are now too. You have to approach it as a profession, not just a hobby, as the standard is getting higher and higher all the time.
Story By: Norwich Evening News