There’s a healthy mix of big names and local interest in the first evening session of the European Darts Matchplay.
The first of the home contingent appearing in Mannheim on Friday evening is Florian Hempel. The 29-year-old put in one of the best European Tour debut performances ever when he was last in the spotlight, pummeling Ryan Harrington 6-0 at the Dutch Darts Masters. To cause another stir at the European Darts Matchplay, he’ll have to see off Simon Stevenson. The Mirror Man has dropped off the radar since a sterling run at the UK Open, but is always a dangerous opponent.
Jamie Hughes didn’t have the best time of it at the Austrian Darts Open, losing narrowly to Luke Humphries in round one. A bid to match his Czech success starts against the Dutchman, Wesley Plaisier. That’s then followed by a tie that’s hard to call. Simon Whitlock has the pedigree, but in the last 12 months Keegan Brown has established himself as the opponent who can scuttle any size of opponent. The ‘Stoke City away’ fixture of old, if you will.
Maik Kuivenhoven, enjoying his first year as part of the PDC Pro Tour, will be aiming to pick up some ranking money at the European Darts Matchplay. He’ll have to disappoint the Mannheim crowd and see off Karsten Koch to do so, with the German hoping for a first European Tour win at the second attempt.
Lightning striking twice for O’Connor?
A truly tasty quintet of ties rounds off the first stage of this tournament. First among them is Robert Thornton against Kim Huybrechts. The pair go way back; in fact, the Thorn’s only European Tour title to date was in 2015, where he edged out Huybrechts in the final. Neither are at the peak of their powers, but both are capable of big things.
It’s surprising to see the recent World Championship and World Matchplay runner-up without a European Tour seeding. But here Michael Smith is. His European takings haven’t been mightily impressive – he’s only won one match in the European Tour this season. His time in darting purgatory will continue if he can’t go on a good run here, and there’s no guarantee of that when Steve Lennon is his first round opponent. Michael van Gerwen awaits the winner of this one.
There are a few interesting angles to Max Hopp’s game against William O’Connor. First, there’s the lingering memory of their European Championship bout, where O’Connor got very angry indeed. O’Connor might be in good spirits ahead of the European Darts Matchplay, however. He reached the final here last year, and gave Michael van Gerwen a run for his money. Hopp, meanwhile, sits on the precipice of the European Championship spots, and desperately needs to get some wins under his belt. With all that pressure, and some partisan home support, this could be another fiery encounter.
Things may mellow for the last game of the session. Jeffrey de Zwaan will fancy matching his run to the Austrian Darts Open quarter-finals, at the very least. And Wayne Jones, twice a first round loser this year, will want to get off the mark on the European Tour. The last time the pair met on stage, it was the Englishman who came out on top.
European Darts Matchplay 2019 schedule
Day one, evening session
Florian Hempel v Simon Stevenson
Jamie Hughes v Wesley Plaisier
Keegan Brown v Simon Whitlock
Maik Kuivenhoven v Karsten Koch
Robert Thornton v Kim Huybrechts
Michael Smith v Steve Lennon
Max Hopp v William O’Connor
Jeffrey de Zwaan v Wayne Jones
Tags: PDC, PDC European Darts Matchplay, PDC European Tour 2019
Author: Ed McCosh