If there’s one thing the World Matchplay guarantees, it’s top quality darts.
The top 16 from the PDC Order of Merit clash with the Pro Tour Order of Merit’s top dogs, and that can only add up to the most premium tungsten tossing. With the unseeded ranks looking ominously strong, we’ll probably see more seeds topple than the two that exited at the first hurdle in 2018. World Matchplay aspirations can sprout with a good first round performance; or they can wilt completely.
Here are five first round ties that are definitely worth a watch.
Adrian Lewis vs Glen Durrant
The moment the World Matchplay draw came out, all eyes were drawn to this meeting of world champions. Adrian Lewis, twice the king of the hill in the PDC, has been on a steady slide downwards since. His top 16 spot will most likely be surrendered if he loses in the first round in Blackpool.
He’s got possibly the toughest draw of the lot. Three-time BDO world champion Glen Durrant is out to make a significant dent in a PDC major. He has the quality, and the form, to do something. But Lewis’ decent Players Championship performances in the week point to this tie being much harder to predict than first thought.
Rob Cross vs Chris Dobey
Rob Cross has been to the World Matchplay twice, and dropped out in the second round twice. As the second seed this year, he’ll want to put in a performance befitting his PDC Order of Merit standing. There’s absolutely no doubt that he’s good enough to win. But he won’t get past the first round if Chris Dobey has anything to do with it.
Like Durrant, Dobey is a debutant at the Winter Gardens. But a rousing Premier League Darts performance in February showed that the Bedlington star isn’t fazed by the big stage. He came oh-so-close to dumping Gary Anderson out of the 2019 World Championship. A World Matchplay shock is not out of the question here for Hollywood.
Michael Smith vs Jamie Hughes
Jamie Hughes is another of the first-timers who are primed to shake up the World Matchplay. It looked heavily unlikely that the Black Country thrower would be present, but winning the Czech Darts Open has propelled him into contention.
It’s not a bad first round draw for him either. Michael Smith is, of course, phenomenally good. There’s a lot of talk about when – not if – he will get the major title he seems destined to claim. But Smith isn’t infallible by any means. A remarkable capitulation against Dave Chisnall at last year’s World Matchplay might prey on his mind. Hughes just needs to be ready to pounce, and convert those killer doubles.
Both strike the treble 20 bed for fun, so this should be worth a watch no matter the outcome.
Peter Wright vs Vincent van der Voort
A lot is made of Peter Wright’s quote-unquote ‘bottle’. He has won a major – the UK Open – which detractors claim lost its lustre through the absence of Michael van Gerwen. Snakebite has won plenty of titles but missed out on more at the final hurdle. That includes the World Matchplay. In fact, he’s made at least the semi-finals of every major or big stage finals, and has converted it into one trophy.
His World Matchplay run starts against Vincent van der Voort, who just about clung onto a qualifying spot. Wright has won three tournaments in the space of a week, and is sticking with a set of darts. Perform well here, and win comfortably, and this first round game could turn Wright into a legitimate favourite for the title.
Daryl Gurney vs Ricky Evans
There are a few ties which have a sort of dark horse element; Kim Huybrechts vs John Henderson didn’t look like a big deal last year, but it turned into an all-time classic. Henderson’s meeting with Whitlock could be primed for a repeat, as could Jonny Clayton playing Keegan Brown or Ian White playing 2018 World Matchplay quarter-finalist Joe Cullen.
However, for the last game we’ve gone with the third seed, Daryl Gurney. His fans will have watched a dismal whitewashing at the hands of James Wade during the German Darts Masters from behind their sofas. It’s an ominous portent for a player who otherwise is among the favourites.
He’s been pitted against another debutant, and a man who epitomises darting entertainment. Ricky Evans is a constant source of fast-flinging, face-pulling, maybe mask-wearing fun. To be honest, this one needs to be watched just for whatever walk-on Evans produces.
The match should be pretty good, too.
TOP FIVE!Here are the top five matches from the 2018 World Matchplay!What was your favourite match from last year? ⬇️
Author: Ed McCosh