He has 16 world championships among his 200 trophies but Phil Taylor wanted another this year. Instead, the greatest ever player in the history of darts lost out to his fiercest rival, Dutchman Michael van Gerwen, 29 years younger than the legendary Englishman.
But anyone thinking of writing Phil Taylor's career obituary better think again. At 53, Phil Taylor is back in winning form, reducing Michael van Gerwen to tears when he thrashed him in the World Matchplay Championship a couple of weeks ago and winning the title for the seventh time. "I'll do everything to get the world championship and my number one ranking back," he said. "Losing the world championship gave me a good lesson and I'm as hungry as ever now."
With an estimated £10 million fortune, he could have retired years ago to his £1 million house in Cheshire and his holiday home in the sun but retirement is the last thing on Phil's mind. He has just signed the biggest sponsorship deal in the sport's history — with Target darts — and has embarked on a strict diet and fitness campaign which would daunt many younger men.
He trains every day in his specially built home-gym, has taken up swimming and practices at least four hours a day before tucking himself into bed by 9pm. He even tried using a sports psychologist before declaring: "You can't teach people to win. It's in you. You've either got it or you haven't."
No one has ever doubted that Phil Taylor had it since the moment he first seriously threw a dart at the age of 26. Before that the lad from the Potteries city of Stoke-on-Trent who left school at 16 had shown he wasn't afraid of hard work. He worked in a factory making ceramic toilet-roll holders during the day, pulled pints in a local pub in the evenings and repairing cars at the weekend. After his wife Yvonne gave him a set of darts for his birthday in 1986 Phil began to play occasionally at a pub owned by darts legend and five times world champion Eric Bristow, who detected a darts genius in the making and lent him £10,000 to get him started as a professional player.
Two years later, Phil Taylor won the Canadian Open, the start of a career which is never likely to be surpassed in his sport. A bitter-sweet moment came in 1990 when he met world number one Eric Bristow, the man who had made it all possible, for the world title and beat him six sets to one. From then on, if there was a title to be won or a record to be broken, Phil Taylor, now nicknamed "The Power", would do it. His three-dart average per match record is the highest in the history of the game, no player has a winning head-to-head record against him and he was the first darts player to win more than £1 million in prize-money.
Outside the game he has become an A-list celeb, even appearing as a darts player in Coronation Street's Rover's Return pub, competing in TV's A Question of Sport and voted runner up as the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year. Sadly, Eric Bristow and Phil Taylor fell out last year after Bristow accused his former protégé of cheating at the Gibraltar championships after the players and referee failed to notice that one of Phil's shots had landed outside the wire.
Phil has said that he hoped the rift could be healed but "I have a lot of other things on my mind at the moment." Indeed, he admits that failing to win the 2014 world title — he was beaten by Michael Smith in the second round — was a massive wake-up call.
"I was very hurt and disappointed because I didn't perform as I can in front of the people who had paid good money to see me play. I went into the world championships playing my best darts and thinking I would win quite easily but I made mistakes and didn't play properly. It won't happen again." To make sure it didn't, Phil made huge changes in his lifestyle, including a three-week fitness regime in the mountains of Portugal. "It was very peaceful and quiet and you lived on juices. I took my darts and dartboard but I hardly played at all.
"I loved it. I was walking 10-12 miles a day swimming, having saunas and living a very healthy life. It was like a training camp for a boxer. I feel better than I have ever felt in my life – I'm absolutely buzzing.
"I had to go away and get myself right. I've got a tough year ahead of me. I'm 53 now and I've got to think about what I'm doing and time it all properly. It's not just respect for myself but respect for the people who are putting money behind me in sponsorship and endorsements. You've got to think about these people as well as yourself."
This season, Phil is pinning his faith on new darts made by Target to his specifications. "Even though the shape is similar the grip is completely different. No one has invented this grip before and I really love it.
"You need confidence in your equipment. The game is not all about standing up there on the oche and simply throwing darts. You need everything to be right in your preparation and having the right people with you and the right equipment." So how long can the superstar of darts continue at the highest level? Last year he said that he would finally put away his darts when he was 57. "I have done really well out of the game. It has set my family up for life and that's all you can hope for, really.
"In a way retirement will be terrible but it would also be terrible if I started being beaten. These young kids are coming through and if they started beating me regularly it would break my heart. I can't be one of those players who just make the numbers up. I have to go in to win."