The weather in Blackpool is due to be slightly rainy, with overcast conditions towards the evening. But who cares? We’ll all be inside the Winter Gardens, watching world class darts.

The PDC World Matchplay is back, folks. It’s arguably the second-best tournament in the calendar, and the Winter Gardens challenges the Ally Pally’s status as the grandest darting venue – behind Barnsley Metrodome, obviously. Darting connoisseurs will be treated to some high-quality affairs as one player looks to stand above a field packed with talent, and take home the Phil Taylor Trophy. Oh, and that record cash prize. That’s good, too.

Lift-off for the Asp

Nathan Aspinall was the last player to pick up a major title. It seems like a long time ago that the 28-year-old (27 back then) claimed the UK Open against all odds. He’s gone on to win the US Darts Masters, and has been putting in formidable averages. The Asp is the first player since Simon Whitlock to be a World Matchplay seed on debut.

He takes on a man who is no stranger to the World Matchplay. Mervyn King is as much a fixture as the Blackpool Tower. The King has been involved since 2007 – but he has lost at the first hurdle in eight of his 12 visits. He’ll need to be at his best to overcome the first-timer.

Second on the bill is Grand Slam champion Gerwyn Price’s meeting with Stephen Bunting. Price isn’t in the same sparkling form that he enjoyed earlier in the year; that being said, his hot streak didn’t help too much at the UK Open. Bunting, meanwhile, reached a European Tour final in his last stage outing. It’s a good omen for a man who hasn’t won a World Matchplay tie since his debut in 2014.

Lucas Peltier/PDC

Photo: Lucas Peltier/PDC

Champion returns

A year ago, Gary Anderson struck *that* nine-darter in a thriller against Joe Cullen, finally killed off Jeffrey de Zwaan’s dream run, and overcome Mensur Suljovic in the longest World Matchplay final ever. He truly earned his title. It could be another long slog for the Flying Scotsman this year.

Danny Noppert will make sure that the Scot can’t ease his way in. At his best, the Dutchman is the epitome of consistency. But Anderson’s scoring power could make things tough for him. The last time they met in a major – at the 2016 Grand Slam – Anderson won 10-9 in a cracker. Could we see the same again? Hopefully.

Rob Cross brings the curtain down on the first session of the 2019 World Matchplay. The world number two has one major to his name (you might remember it), and is after another. Had he not run out of juice completely in Minehead, Voltage could’ve taken the UK Open crown. But there’s no time to look back – there’s a long road to the final for him to navigate.

He has a tough first hurdle to overcome, in the shape of one Chris Dobey. It’s a long-awaited World Matchplay debut for Dobey, and the recent Danish Darts Open finalist will feel that he can put the pressure on Cross. In a race to ten legs, even the slightest slip by the Premier League Darts runner-up could be punished.

Play starts at 7pm and will be broadcast live on Sky Sports.

Saturday evening schedule

First Round
19:10 Nathan Aspinall v Mervyn King
20:10 Gerwyn Price v Stephen Bunting
21:10 Gary Anderson v Danny Noppert
22:10 Rob Cross v Chris Dobey

Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

Photo: Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

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Author: Ed McCosh