There’s a special kind of magic about the PDC World Matchplay.
Normally, a competition that has been previously staged 24 times and won 16 times by the same person would have the same competitive edge as the Scottish Cup. But that 16-time winner is gone now. Phil Taylor, the 2017 World Matchplay champion, won’t defend his crown in the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. So the 25th edition of the biggest PDC major other than the World Championship will see a new champion. Unless Michael van Gerwen or James Wade claims the Phil Taylor Trophy, that is. Mighty Mike is one of eight players kicking off their Matchplay campaign on Saturday night.
Adrian Lewis v James Wilson
Kicking off the 2018 event is 2017 semi-finalist Adrian Lewis (click here for schedule World Matchplay). Since that Blackpool run, his form has dive-bombed, before a stirring recovery in 2018. That was mostly down to injury woes that seem to be behind him. It’s allowed Lewis a place as a seed, though being 16th means he could face van Gerwen in the second round.
He’s refused to look past the first round however, and for good reason. James Wilson is a renowned 180-hitter, and would be regarded as a serious contender if he wasn’t so regularly let down by finishing at crucial moments. The last time Jackpot was on the big stage, he lost in the World Championship first round to Kevin Munch. That Lewis would get wiped out by Wilson. The new, revitalised Lewis should be a different prospect.
Dave Chisnall v Keegan Brown
It says something for Dave Chisnall’s enduring quality that despite some atrocious form of late, he is still the world number eight, ahead of Michael Smith. Yet Chizzy must know that a decent run at events like the Matchplay will be needed to stay there. He meets the world number 42 in the first round. Keegan Brown did enough on the Pro Tour to earn a spot in Blackpool. He can point to his Ally Pally win over James Wade to show that any opponent should be wary of him. Right now, Chisnall is the favourite, but doesn’t have the form to show that this is a banker.
Michael van Gerwen v Jeffrey de Zwaan
It might be fair to say that van Gerwen got what he deserved last year. Texting Vincent van der Voort to write off Simon Whitlock’s chances, while still competing in their second round tie, was a classless move from the Dutchman. An irate Phil Taylor wiped the floor with him, then ordered him to ‘grow up’. Whether he has grown as a person isn’t obvious, yet van Gerwen’s darting momentum remains ominous. He’s the Masters champion, the Premier League champion, and a dominant force on the European Tour.
Yet he’s not the UK Open champion. It wasn’t even close. That’s because Jeffrey de Zwaan stunned him in Minehead. De Zwaan is full of belief and fancies himself over a longer format. Plus training with Raymond van Barneveld isn’t bad. This is one almighty banana skin for the Green Machine to avoid, and that’s before thinking of a potential meeting with Adrian Lewis.
Michael Smith v Jonny Clayton
He’s a Premier League finalist, he’s a winner in the World Series. Michael Smith is going places. Bully Boy has enjoyed a remarkable 2018, and it feels like he’s not far away from doing something special in a major. For all we know, it could be the World Matchplay.
Yet Jonny Clayton is no mug. In the past 12 months he has become a major finalist himself, and even took the Austrian Darts Open crown to edge himself one ahead of Smith in terms of European Tour titles won this year. Clayton has disappeared at times on the stage, but if he unleashes his full arsenal at the Winter Gardens, this could be a seriously entertaining match.
Saturday July 21 (7pm)
19.00 hours Adrian Lewis v James Wilson
20:00 hours Dave Chisnall v Keegan Brown
21:00 hours Michael van Gerwen v Jeffrey de Zwaan
22:00 hours Michael Smith v Jonny Clayton
Author: Ed McCosh