Schedule for Thursday evening at 2021 World Matchplay including Price versus Van den Bergh
On Wednesday night, Nathan Aspinall and Michael Smith battled through thrillers, while Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright avoided a nasty surprise, to each make the last eight. We'll hear more about them tomorrow, but for now we have the first 2021 World Matchplay semi-final to figure out.
Until now, Krzysztof Ratajski has been firmly in the category of your Ian Whites and Joe Cullens - he's good. Top 32 good. But a major champion? That's not so clear-cut. Yet now the Pole is not only one step from the World Matchplay semi-finals, but he's a big favourite to get there.
Ratajski is fantastic fun to watch when he's in the flow, as evidenced against Luke Humphries. There's something about his oche idiosyncrasies; the twitching front heel and pop of the hand as it opens on the follow-through; the steely, almost manic stare at his target; those furious double-fisted celebrations as he abandons his normally ice-cool approach; all while stacking darts in the treble bed better than anyone in the game; it makes him a heck of a watch. So far, he's alwayscome undone at the quarter-final stage, but it's more often the case that he simply runs into someone brilliant, and this time he's not in the underdog role.
Callan Rydz knew he was in that role before he even turned up. He started here just inside the top 50 in the Order of Merit, a full £30,000 and change behind the next-lowest ranked Damon Heta. His route to the quarter-finals featured ties against two world champions. An yet, against all odds, Rydz's riotous ride keeps on going.
Scoring has been a problem so far, but his finishing - especially against Rob Cross, where he honed in on the bull like a real bull does on a matador's muleta. At first he looked nervous to the point where a zoomed-in camera might have spotted some shakes, but after a pair of massive wins, Rydz will feel more comfortable by far. At this point he has nothing to lose and much to gain, which makes this such an exciting quarter-final.
If the former quarter-final is an unexpected game, most saw this meeting coming from a mile off. Sure, Gerwyn Price had to contend with 2021's breakout star in Jonny Clayton. And yes, Dimitri van den Bergh was always going to have a game on his hands against Dave Chisnall. And yet, both came through unscathed. They're winners, after all. And one of the holders of the two biggest titles in darts will have a chance to further their quest for domination on Saturday.
Van Den Bergh has made it here by essentially doing enough to beat what was in front of him. A patchy performance was sufficient to see off Devon Petersen, while he had to ride waves of Chisnall pressure and score brilliantly, irresistibly at times, to get into the last eight. The old (that is to say, young) nervy Dimi is long dead, and what stands before us now is a winning machine.
Gerwyn Price has done well for someone whose year was put on hold due to coronavirus, though nobody is shocked that the world champion has gotten this far, even in spite of his eyebrow-arching World Matchplay record. Price has made at least the semi-finals in each of his last four TV tournaments, and a ruthless casting aside of fellow Welshman Clayton indicates that he has much more than that on his mind.
You get the feeling that the extended format (now first to 16, as opposed to the first-to-11 second round) will actually benefit both, with the opportunity for extra scoring momentum being granted. Bearing in mind that the pair had two of the top three averages of all second round players, all signs point to a classic. Who's going to win? Don't ask me.
Schedule 2021 World Matchplay
Thursday July 22 (1900 BST)
19:15 Krzysztof Ratajski v Callan Rydz
20:45 Gerwyn Price v Dimitri van den Bergh