Five favourites to win the 2021 PDC World Championship
The depth of talent, from the biggest names to the fan favourites, and beyond them to the hidden gems of the Pro Tour and the qualifiers from around the world, is something to behold. And yet the World Championship looks likely to be dominated by the big three: Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright and Gerwyn Price.
They'll be the favourites, but surely won't be the only ones in the mix. Here's a look at five of the Alexandra Palace top picks.
1. Michael van Gerwen
Say what you like about him - Michael van Gerwen will be there or thereabouts yet again this year.
Only an inspired Raymond van Barneveld has prevented Mighty Mike from reaching at least the semi-finals in the past eight years. It appears, with his Players Championship Finals victory, that the Dutch icon has got himself back in the sort of form that suggests another deep run at the Alexandra Palace.
Van Gerwen's A-game is unbeatable, so the quest is on to find it. He won't be massively concerned with the projected run to the final, but will be well aware that nothing is guaranteed going into the most unusual World Championship ever.
Just over half a decade ago, he recovered from losing the World Championship final to beat Peter Wright and claim title number one. Now, after being usurped by Wright, could Van Gerwen bounce back in the best possible way and claim number four?
2. Peter Wright
The Peter Wright who played in the Players Championship Finals quarter-finals? Yes, definitely a favourite. The one who played in the Players Championship Finals semi-final? No, no, no, no, no.
That weird loss to Mervyn King aside, the defending world champion's had some major bright spots across 2020. Now he'll get to return to the scene of his greatest triumph, and finally have some fans to welcome him onto the stage as the holder of the biggest title in darts.
One of the abiding memories from last year is Wright very almost bowing out at the hands of Noel Malicdem. He'll be keen to avoid such shenanigans this time, and mount what would be an incredible defence.
3. Gerwyn Price
Gerwyn Price has been the form player in world darts this year. No matter who you are, whether you're a fan of his or not, it can't be denied that the Iceman is a hot favourite for the title.
The one blot in the copybook is the recent drop in his astronomic standards, caused mostly by the angst avalanche that has been this year.
A couple of weeks at home with his family will have revitalised Price. It'll be interesting to see what a small crowd does for him, particularly when partisan activity will be cracked down on.
There isn't a player who has been more worthy of the crown across the year. Price now needs to regain that confidence and quality, and take control of the tournament like he did at the World Grand Prix.
4. Michael Smith
Could he? COULD HE?
Michael Smith has to win something - he just has to. It looked like it might be the Players Championship Finals, but then Peter Wright turned up. Smith will have been watching that Wright-King semi-final and fuming.
Quality has never, and will never, be an issue for the Bully Boy. The battle for him is a mental one. Smith has never tried to hide his emotions, which is laudable but also a boost to opponents when he starts beating himself up.
The Michael Smith who outclassed the field at the start of the Winter Series was one who believed in himself, played like he was the best player in the room, hit all the right doubles at all the right times and found that mesmerising, brilliance achieved by the marriage of explosive scoring and a silky-smooth throwing style.
That Michael Smith is a world champion. If he turns up, all the big names are in trouble. What an unbelievable end it'd be to the sort of year that absolutely deserves to end with a world champion everyone had written off.
5. Gary Anderson
Gary Anderson's quest to win a third world title has got off to a rocky start.
A positive COVID-19 test has delayed his Alexandra Palace start, but it might play into his hands, as the famously spontaneous Scot is actually putting in the practice hours.
We don't know which Anderson will show up. His season has been blighted by injury in places, and interrupted in others by the Scot opting out of a lot of events.
There's no doubt that a fully fit and focused Anderson can beat anyone who stands before him.
Last year was the first time since the 2014 World Championship that Anderson didn't make the quarter-finals at least.
This time, he's in a section of death with the likes of Michael Smith, Devon Petersen and Mensur Suljovic, not to mention Cross, Hughes, Durrant, Lewis and Heta as possible quarter-final rivals.
There are many things which apparently irk the Flying Scotsman, but he won't be worried by that at all.