Darts Preview: World Matchplay

The main course of the darting summer will start to be dished up this Saturday evening, as the iconic Winter Gardens in Blackpool once again plays host to the World Matchplay.

Widely regarded as the second most prestigious title on the PDC circuit, only the World Championship has been held longer on this side of the darts divide. Played to a legs format (unlike the sets system used at the Worlds), this year offers a record prize fund of £500,000, of which £115,000 will go to the last player standing.

I can’t remember previewing a major darts tournament and having so many doubts over a number of the top seeds. One thing is certain though, and that’s who has been priced up as the clear favourite.

World Number 1, World Champion and defending champion Michael Van Gerwen is odds on to add yet another trophy to his already preposterous collection. Now commonplace, this is the sort of betting territory Phil Taylor used to dominate in his pomp.

11 tournament wins this year already, it’s an ominous thought for opponents tackling MVG over long distances here. If they can’t beat him over the best of 11s on the floor, what’s their mindset facing him on the big stage in first to 10’s, 13, 16 or more?

The Dutchman is even stronger under these matchplay conditions, that’s probably why Taylor has enjoyed so much success here before too.

Talking of ‘The Power’, this is set to be his last ever World Matchplay before retirement at the end of the year. His self-confessed favourite event, the 15 time former winner has not lifted any major ranking trophy since his last Matchplay victory in 2014.

He would dearly love to parallel his World Championship haul of 16, but he faces a devilish quarter of the draw that sees him initially face the ever-improving Gerwyn Price, then potentially long time rival Raymond van Barneveld (who is still getting use to new darts) in the Last 16, and Van Gerwen in the Quarters.

Gary Anderson continues to blow hot and cold this campaign. One concern for me is the Two Times World Champion’s fairly average record in long leg formats.

Of his 8 previous appearances here, Anderson has yet to reach a final, passing the Second Round just twice. Saying that, those occasions were Semi-Final berths recently in 2014 and 2016.

In the PDC’s other long distance leg format at the Grand Slam, Anderson has made one final (2011) in ten attempts.
Peter Wright has enjoyed huge success in 2017 – his best year ever already, but since missing 6 match darts to beat Van Gerwen and win a maiden Premier League in May, the Scotsman has appeared a little less assured to me. His continuing changing of darts is nothing new, but I feel he needs to be stable in a grueling test such as this.

Adrian Lewis returns to the competitive scene having taken some small time off whilst recovering from surgery. Possibly the most unpredictable of all the star names, Lewis is on a prolonged period having not won a major singles trophy.
James Wade is somewhat of a Matchplay specialist having reached the final on 6 occasions; claiming the top honour in 2007. Like others, his recent form has been erratic, but he could very well turn it on here again. Like Taylor, he has admitted how comfortable he is with the venue.

In the last 11 finals here, only 6 different players have contested them, perhaps proving what a tough challenge it is and how unlikely, unlikely winners are. However, with so many question marks over some of the names at the top of the betting, it may be worth looking elsewhere.

Last week in Las Vegas on his World Series debut, in form Daryl Gurney made the final and gave MVG a significant scare there. In the bottom half of the draw he plays Number 15 seed Benito Van De Pas in the opening round. Should he win that, he could then meet Anderson – a player he beat last week in the States, and has defeated on TV before then too.

Elsewhere in that half is Michael Smith, who is experiencing a notable resurgence following a barren spell. A Premier League participant in 2016, Smith has re-found how to win on the European Tour this season, and now once again poses a threat in making a big-time breakthrough. Wade and Wright are in his quarter, but he should hold no fears on current form in my opinion.

Another name to look out for is rookie professional Rob Cross who plays Ian White first up. Cross has been making waves on the tour this year with a string of impressive results and performances. A cool looking customer, he has already bagged a brace of Players Championships and recently eliminated Van Gerwen from a European event a few weeks ago. I’m not saying he’ll win the whole thing, but you may want to see how he fares on his World Matchplay debut.


Title sponsors BetVictor can’t see past defending champion van Gerwen, who is odds on at 4/6 to take the title.

Spokesperson Charlie McCann said:”MvG has been irresistible so far this year and is a worthy favourite as he chases a hat-trick of Matchplay titles, but this year’s tournament is all about Phil Taylor as the fifteen-time champion makes his last appearance on the Winter Gardens stage.

“The Power is 20/1 to win the tournament, 4/1 to hit a 170 check out and 7/1 to hit a third nine-dart finish in the event – fifteen years on from the first ever televised nine-darter.”

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