Those who predicted that Friday would be a tough day for PDC World Darts Championship seeds have been proven wrong. So far, anyway.
Darren Webster and Jonny Clayton defied their own recent form to cruise through second round matches. Mervyn King had to hold off the challenge of Ciaran Teehan. And Ricky Evans, after the best walk-on of the PDC World Darts Championship to date, finished a routine win with a flourish.
Now it’s over to the next batch of seeds. We start with Nathan Aspinall, who was in a very different situation last year. He’d already played by this point, against Geert Nentjes, and was the underdog against Gerwyn Price. The Asp hung in there until his opportunity, then took it, and hasn’t looked back ever since.
Because it was his debut last year, the 2019 World Darts Championship semi-finalist has no ranking money to defend. It means he has a free hit in that sense. But Aspinall will want to end a fantastic season in style. Danny Baggish fills the role Aspinall had a year ago – and there’s no doubt that the American is dangerous. After repelling Andy Boulton, Baggish will be out to improve and potentially cause a major shock.
Speaking of shocks; Nico Kurz has already thumbed his nose at the odds. The German star didn’t just beat the more experienced James Wilson; he eviscerated the Jammy Dodger like a glass of warm milk. Kurz will fancy his chances against Joe Cullen as well. The Rockstar is a player who, when he finds his rhythm, shows real star quality. He won on the European Tour this year, and just needs to work out how to take that form to the biggest stage.
Cullen’s record at the World Darts Championship is frankly awful, considering the talent he has. A win against Kurz, and he can think about embarking on a run (remember that Rob Cross is out of his quarter now). Defeat, like the humbling he received at Brendan Dolan’s hands this time last year, would require some serious soul-searching.
Can Big Ben strike again?
We all got a bit ahead of ourselves when the World Championship draw was made. Max Hopp against Gabriel Clemens in round two was a stunner of a provisional tie; the German top two locking horns. But then Benito van de Pas turned up, and did what he keeps doing. No matter how abysmal his output is away from the Ally Pally, the big Dutchman somehow finds a way. It led him to the Last 16 a year back. With Darius Labanauskas awaiting, could we see a repeat? It’d be a major boon for a man whose star has faded rapidly in recent times.
Peter Wright has now seen most of the top ten open their World Darts Championship campaigns. With the exception of Gary Anderson and James Wade, they’ve either had to scrap to sneak through, or have been dumped out. Wright is susceptible to a loss at this stage – it’s happened twice in the last two years. So Snakebite is no dead cert here. But if he’s comfortable with the darts he’s throwing, his form and the stage, Wright should survive.
Noel Malicdem is tasked with making sure that he doesn’t. The Filipino maintained his 100 per cent record in the first round with a comfortable victory over Rowby-John Rodriguez. Last year, he was able to raise his game from the first round, but not enough to beat Kyle Anderson in the second. Now the question is if he can hold off the Wright pressure, and strike at the right times to claim the biggest win of his career.
Click here for more information on the PDC World Darts Championship, which takes place at the Alexandra Palace between December 13 and January 1.
PDC World Darts Championship 2020 schedule
Friday December 20, evening session (Second Round)
Nathan Aspinall v Danny Baggish
Joe Cullen v Nico Kurz
Max Hopp v Benito van de Pas
Peter Wright v Noel Malicdem
Author: Ed McCosh