32 players will do battle for a place in the history books at the 2019 Grand Slam of Darts.

It’s the ultimate crossover event; PDC meets BDO – and even a bit of WWE, judging by the 2018 final. After a build-up featuring complaints about the qualifying criteria, the BDO picks, the pre-draw lack of sponsor and anything Des Jacklin says or does, the Wolverhampton crowd can now focus on what they’ve been looking forward to. Which is booing Gerwyn Price. I mean…enjoying the Grand Slam darts.

Asp out to break the Wall

Even from the first arrow being pitched, the pressure is on. Nathan Aspinall and Martin Schindler are in the dreaded ‘group of death’, and they know it. Aspinall can fall back on some excellent 2019 performances where he’s blown opponents away with early burst of scoring. Schindler, who qualifies as last year’s World Youth Championship runner-up, has no such form to give momentum. It could be a short visit to the Black Country for the Wall.

Danny Noppert and Ryan Harrington are beneficiaries of the qualifying system’s quirks. Noppert displaced Mensur Suljovic at the last minute by making the final of the World Series Finals. Harrington, despite a whisper-quiet season, edged in through the Grand Slam qualifiers in Wigan. Neither will care one jot about all that. In fact, the winner of this one will feel hugely confident about reaching the knockout phase.

Close encounters

Gabriel Clemens spoke with dartsnews.com this week, and emanated a calm confidence in spite of a tricky group. The German is well-backed; but so is Brendan Dolan, who has produced sparkling stuff at times this year. It feels much like a ‘winner takes all’ sort of game, though that may be discounting Richard Veenstra a little prematurely. Whoever feels 100 per cent confident calling this one clearly hasn’t thought things through.

If Group H is the ‘group of death’, we might have to call Group E something even more terrifying and horrific, like the ‘group of endless Brexit talks’. Dave Chisnall has been excellent this year and could be a major winner soon. But with this group, he could also be heading home early too. Jamie Hughes is on a similar knife-edge. Yozza will be pumped up by essentially playing on home turf, and it could see him through this game. Chizzy isn’t one to get rattled, mind.

Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

Photo: Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

Take two for Gurney

Daryl Gurney, bafflingly, has only made one Grand Slam appearance to date. That’s fewer than Joe Murnan. It was back in 2017, when Superchin sauntered through his group and first knockout match, only to be humbled by Phil Taylor in the quarter-finals. He’ll want to better that run in 2019, and starts against Richard Veenstra. The Dutchman is one of the BDO’s big hopes and will aim to impress on debut.

Peter Wright might be quietly pleased with the look of his group, but he won’t take anyone lightly. First up for the 2017 runner-up is Wayne Warren, a player blessed with ability and bags of experience. In a race to five, the Welshman will know that a sometimes erratic Wright can be snared.

All eyes on Ashton

The last two games of the session should be a real treat. Lisa Ashton isn’t feeling any pressure , and is in fine form ahead of her long-awaited Grand Slam bow, which makes her a serious threat. Her various major appearances, including the PDC World Championship last December, highlight her ability in a best-of-nine format. She’s been handed a nightmarish group, with Rob Cross a titan of a first opponent. But one of the most talented women to play the game – maybe even the most talented – should not be written off.

Michael Smith is a seed, but won’t feel like it. Group H is likely to be a maelstrom of darting drama, and the Bully Boy will be desperate to weather the storm. Glen Durrant, making his final appearance as a BDO representative, doesn’t have to account for ranking gains or losses because none are involved. He has good form behind him and no pressure, other than his own determination to pick up PDC majors. This is likely to be fast and furious – and even an indicator of who could be in the Grand Slam for the long haul.

Grand Slam of Darts 2019, Day One

Afternoon session schedule

13:00 Nathan Aspinall v Martin Schindler (H)
13:30 Danny Noppert v Ryan Harrington (F)
14:00 Brendan Dolan v Gabriel Clemens (G)
14:30 Dave Chisnall v Jamie Hughes (E)
15:00 Daryl Gurney v Richard Veenstra (G)
15:30 Peter Wright v Wayne Warren (F)
16:00 Rob Cross v Lisa Ashton (E)
16:30 Michael Smith v Glen Durrant (H)

Kais Bodensieck/PDC Europe

Photo: Kais Bodensieck/PDC Europe

Tags: ,

Author: Ed McCosh