The World Grand Prix has finally arrived, ushering in PDC major season.
Things start to escalate from here on in. A whole bunch of season-ending big tournaments, plus the Grand Slam of Darts and Champions League, lead us on the path to the Ally Pally. First though to Dublin, and the unique challenge of the double in-and-out format of the World Grand Prix.
The field is so packed with quality that there’s no room for Jose de Sousa, the most recent Players Championship winner (and a two-time champion this year). All 32 players involved will feel that this could be their time.
The World Grand Prix has always favoured a cool head under pressure. Chris Dobey, despite being a debutant in Dublin, fits the bill nicely. Gary Anderson may await in round two, but first he has to deal with Ricky Evans. ‘Rapid’ exited quickly last year, but pushed Raymond van Barneveld all the way. The Northamptonshire ace will want to get his first Grand Prix win under his belt.
After that opener, Mervyn King starts what he hopes will be a repeat of his promising World Matchplay run. The King made it to the 2012 final, but has lost in the first round in four of his last six visits. He takes on another first-timer in the form of Dimitri van den Bergh.
The nadir of Joe Cullen’s season was a brutal whitewash at the hands of Ian White at the World Matchplay. Since that Blackpool beating, the Rockstar has achieved a personal milestone by winning a stage event. The European Darts Matchplay is more valuable than its prize pot suggests; in winning, Cullen has reminded the world that he’s a serial winner in the making. He could come full circle by getting revenge on White, who himself is on a mission for vindication. The spectre of countless missed opportunities of success at majors is something the Diamond deserves to exorcise at some point. It feels like a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’, but top-level sport doesn’t spare much time for sentimentality.
Jeffrey de Zwaan and Steve Beaton come together in the World Grand Prix with their careers at different trajectories. The former is on the up, aiming for a spot in the Order of Merit top 20 and beyond. His breakthrough moment may have been the 2018 World Matchplay but there could be an even bigger achievement in the offing. Beaton has nothing left to prove; he’s a world champion and will be remembered as a darting great. Even if his aim now is to keep on keeping on, the Bronzed Adonis would surely love to trump his run to the 2004 semi-finals.
Mighty Mike aims for four
This tournament feels tailor-made for a clinical finisher like James Wade. For a while, it was. The Machine took the 2007 title and reached the last four in every edition but one between 2010-2014, reclaiming the title in the first year of that spell. But he has now lost his last four World Grand Prix games. He meets John Henderson, whose record is as follows: quarter-finals, first round, semi-finals, first round. Hendo’s reaching the final, clearly, so it’s now five losses on the bounce for Wade. Then again, he could break a couple of patterns here.
You feel that Michael Smith really needs this. Every player, bar a couple, would see victory as a life-changing moment. But Smith needs this. The leap to becoming a bona fide major champion is short for some. It’s starting to feel like the Grand Canyon for the Bully Boy, who keeps coming oh-so-close. His record here is abysmal, too; he’s won just one game. A win over Simon Whitlock could help him believe.
People don’t defend the World Grand Prix. It’s just not the done thing. Michael van Gerwen has tried three times to retain the championship. Phil Taylor, Rob Thornton and Daryl Gurney have denied him. Can he make it fourth time lucky? Jamie Hughes will have something to say about it. The Tipton prospect has incredible class, but he is still a debutant – and the lowest-ranked player at the tournament. If he wins here, it’d be an even bigger shock than when John Henderson rocked Mighty Mike a couple of years back.
This session could be an epic, but could also flash by, such is the nature of a best-of-three format. Gary Anderson versus Keegan Brown has the same feel. A full-throttle Anderson ends a first round tie like this in the time it takes Krzysztof Ratajski to give up on an ill-judged attempt at a fistbump. But the Flying Scotsman is hardly at his peak, and Brown is the underdog that vulnerable giants just love to hate. Writing off Brown would be easy, but also very, very foolish.
Play starts at 19:00 BST and UK viewers can follow the World Grand Prix on Sky Sports. Click here for more information about this tournament.
Day One schedule
19:10 Ricky Evans v Chris Dobey
19:45 Mervyn King v Dimitri Van den Bergh
20:25 Joe Cullen v Ian White
21:00 Jeffrey de Zwaan v Steve Beaton
21:35 James Wade v John Henderson
22:10 Michael Smith v Simon Whitlock
22:45 Michael van Gerwen v Jamie Hughes
23:20 Gary Anderson v Keegan Brown
Author: Ed McCosh