The Grand Slam of Darts holder and tournament favourite both get their campaigns underway on Saturday evening.

With Groups E-H now a third of the way through, attentions switch to Groups A-D. The latter group kicks off the evening session. Darren Webster, who has suffered throughout 2019, could do with a positive Grand Slam campaign. There’s no reason why the Demolition Man can’t do it. He’ll know that William O’Connor, who comes in and out of scintillating form, is the man to beat to set up his chances of going through.

Mikuru Suzuki will become the fifth female player to appear at the Grand Slam when she steps out for her opening match. It’s a big moment for her, for Asian darts and the women’s game. The Miracle will have a lot of backers – but that might also be down to her opponent. Gerwyn Price has tried baiting the crowd, and has tried ignoring the crowd. He’s finally admitted that it might be time to let his darts do the talking. Hopefully, at the scene of his greatest triumph to date, he’ll win over the Wolverhampton faithful. It’d be about time too, as crowd treatment has long since crossed the line. That being said, even a newly converted Iceman will have to take second spot in the affection stakes behind the inherently likeable Suzuki.

Making things White

Ian White has a problem. His failure at major tournaments isn’t just unfortunate now; it’s pathological. It’s also hard to explain. How was a magnificent Matchplay mauling of Joe Cullen followed by Stephen Bunting being handed the match on a platter? How could nerves of steel, which helped him see off Ricky Evans and Peter Wright, melt away against Danny Noppert at the World Series of Darts Finals? The Grand Slam’s group stage is unforgiving. If Steve Lennon is giving an opening, the methodical Irishman will probably take it. With White’s quality, that only happens if the Stoke star gifts those openings. And that’s the Achilles heel that has so consistently snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. One of these days, he may just find the cure.

It’s not really clear what we’ll see from Gary Anderson. At the World Series Finals, he wasn’t just off-form but off a cliff. There were murmurings that he wouldn’t be able to turn up at all in Wolverhampton. But this is the same man who made last year’s final, and is determined to take the Grand Slam crown at some point. Dave Parletti is also a bit of an unknown quantity on this stage. The BDO ace could take a big scalp if he can sniff out the opportunity, though Anderson in full flight is hard for any player to deal with.

David Callow/PDC

Photo: David Callow/PDC

Wade aiming to bounce back

The good news for James Wade is that Jonny Clayton isn’t at the Grand Slam this year. The Welshman has been a thorn in the Machine’s side over the past few weeks, dumping out of the two stage tournaments Wade was defending. The European Championship and World Series Finals are gone; now the two-time runner up has a new focus. He’ll need that focus from the outset to avoid another shock loss. Wesley Harms is the BDO number one, but we haven’t really seen the best of the Dutchman on the biggest stages. He’ll smell an opportunity to put things right here.

Michael van Gerwen is on, as they say, a mad one. The Dutchman has all the momentum and force of a jet-powered steamroller at the moment, and at times like this it feels like few can stop him. Jim Williams will give it a good go, mind. This could be a dress rehearsal for the Welsh ace, who will surely appear at Q-School in January. He’ll be one of the favourites if he’s there – the World Trophy winner is a serious talent. He’ll have to slot into the underdog role for his time in Wolverhampton.

Can Smith hit the Jackpot?

Ross Smith has lofty ambitions. The one man who has been able to stop the Michael van Gerwen landslide of late wants to be in the world’s top 32 when 2020 arrives. He’ll need to perform well here, as he did at the European Championship and UK Open, to manage it. Smudger starts against Adrian Lewis, who is a favourite to escape the group stage. Jackpot has never appeared in the Grand Slam final, even when in his pomp. Doing so now would be a major turn-up for the books.

It has almost been a year since the last televised nine-darter. The event: the Grand Slam of Darts. The player: Dimitri van den Bergh. After achieving perfection in that famous leg in 2018, this year’s attempt will be about surpassing the overall performance. Meanwhile, there’s all sorts of pressure on Robert Thornton. The 2013 runner-up is grappling for survival in the Order of Merit; the Grand Slam could make all the difference. It would be a shame to see the multiple major winner lose his Tour Card, and the Scot will have a lot of well-wishers over the weekend. Van den Bergh, as nice as he is, won’t be among them.

Grand Slam of Darts 2019, Day One

Evening session schedule

20:00 Darren Webster v William O’Connor (D)
20:30 Gerwyn Price v Mikuru Suzuki (C)
21:00 Ian White v Steve Lennon (B)
21:30 Gary Anderson v Dave Parletti (D)
22:00 James Wade v Wesley Harms (B)
22:30 Michael van Gerwen v Jim Williams (A)
23:00 Adrian Lewis v Ross Smith (A)
23:30 Dimitri Van den Bergh v Robert Thornton (C)

Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Tags: ,

Author: Ed McCosh