One of the most popular events on the darts circuits begins on Saturday, and fans are thrilled at the prospect of a return to the Winter Gardens, Blackpool after a 2020 absence. As a result of Covid-19, the event took place behind closed doors in Milton Keynes in 2020, but this year will see the event, and most importantly fans, return to Blackpool. Technically defending his title is Dimitri Van den Bergh, the 8th seed, who defeated Gary Anderson in last year’s final to win a maiden major title. He faced disappointing injury problems following that victory which affected the latter months of 2020 and the beginning of this year, but a not too shabby fifth placing at the Premier League demonstrated that he is not a one-hit wonder and is hungry for more big titles. He opens against the ever-improving Devon Peterson in round one on opening night in a clash which could prove tricky. Van den Bergh will be playing in front of the Blackpool crowd for the first time, with his only appearance in the competition having been in 2020, and he will be hoping to avoid a first round exit in a tricky encounter.
Now, note how I said DvdB was ‘technically’ defending his title. Rob Cross, victor in 2019, is arguably defending the title he won at Blackpool two years ago and he enters the fray as the number 5 seed. He plays Ross Smith in the opening round who enters the competition off the back of winning his first Players Championship title. He will be optimistic that he can put on a valiant display on return to the Winter Gardens but, like Van den Bergh, faces a very tough opening encounter in a competition which has been known to produce shocks. Gerwyn Price faced the frustration of missing out on the Premier League due to Covid isolation and thus missed out on the potential opportunity to be introduced as the World Champion in front of a crowd for the first time. He will no doubt be fancied, as a result, in a draw where he is seeded number 1 for the first time, but will have to be wary of wily Jermaine Wattimena in round one.
A second round encounter could follow against Masters and Premier League champion Jonny Clayton. The plasterer from Wales is a PDC high flyer and has firmly established himself as one of the PDC’s very best in recent months. He will be looking for a third PDC major crown in just 6 months but will have to come past World Grand Prix finalist and World Championship quarter-finalist Dirk van Duijvenbode first. Elsewhere in the draw, Michael van Gerwen will be keen to pick up his first World Matchplay trophy in 5 years. The competition has not been a happy hunting ground for MvG in recent years, with one quarter-final appearance, a first-round defeat and two second-round losses since that last title. He faces debutant Damon Heta in round one and could potentially face Daryl Gurney, Gary Anderson and Peter Wright on route to the final.
Former champions Gary Anderson and James Wade will also be hoping to repeat World Matchplay successes of old when they open their campaigns against Stephen Bunting and Luke Humphries respectively. Since the last World Matchplay, Wade has reached finals at the European Championship and Grand Slam and won the UK Open, and remains a danger in any major tournament draw. Gary Anderson has yet to find the form that took him to the World Championship final over Christmas and will be hoping to be boosted by the potential return of full crowds. Another dangerous player in the draw is Jose de Sousa. He is arguably the PDC’s most improved player and very nearly backed up his 2020 Grand Slam title with a Premier League crown. Could be do the business in Blackpool? Time will tell but it wouldn’t be a big surprise.
Pick of the rest:
Glen Durrant v. Callan Rydz – victory for Duzza would mean a lot after his struggles of the last year but Rydz is another very talented debutant, who will win this Tyne-Tees derby?
Joe Cullen v. Chris Dobey – Joe Cullen is desperate to get over the line at a major tournament and the World Matchplay could be his chance, but Chris Dobey is an excellent opponent and could just as easily pull off a shock
Nathan Aspinall v. Mervyn King – Nathan Aspinall has never surpassed round two of the World Matchplay but remains a top quality player, but if Mervyn King could produce arrows of a similar level to that which we saw at the Masters earlier this year he could come through this tie
It should make for a fabulous event and I can’t wait to see what occurs.
RIP Andy Fordham
It would be remiss of me not to mention the very sad passing of Andy Fordham, the 2004 BDO World champion, at the age of 59. Andy was a much loved legend of the darts tour and his 2004 BDO World title, as well as his return to the oche after health issues at the 2015 Grand Slam, have been fondly recalled by fans since the news of his death. dartsweb sends our best wishes to Andy’s family at this sad time.
dartsweb will be reporting during the World Matchplay as events unfold
Image Credits: PDC