Schedule Saturday afternoon session at the 2021 Masters featuring Cross, Wade, Aspinall and Chisnall
The first session of the 2021 season was a real mixed bag, but one common theme was a disregard for the seedings. In six of the eight ties, the higher-ranking player was sent packing. It's a warning to the four big names starting today that the Masters isn't going to be forgiving.
Rob Cross mounts his 2021 Masters campaign under the backdrop of yet another new dawn, with 2020 not proving to be the year that Voltage resurrected his debut season form. Cross' World Championship looks bad on paper, with his exit sealed in the second round, but he didn't play badly against Dirk van Duijvenbode. Perhaps a good Masters run will give the fourth seed some momentum.
Cross could take a leaf from the Book of Merv, that's for sure. Mervyn King is playing some of the best darts he's displayed in years. He'll still be kicking himself at not putting eventual world champion Gerwyn Price through a more rigorous test at the Ally Pally, but a ruthless win over Glen Durrant showed that the King is still in regal form. It's an odd one, but the man who wouldn't even be at the Masters without this year's format change must be the favourite at this stage.
Chris Dobey had a rough 2020, but the statistics suggested that the results weren't matching up to the performances. Dobey finally got what he deserved in the first match of the new season. Dimitri van den Bergh may have been under-par, but the Bedlington thrower looked solid throughout and claimed a big scalp on his Masters debut.
He takes on a bigger target in Mr Solid himself, James Wade. The Machine fired in a nine-darter in his most recent match, though he'd have traded it for a win over Stephen Bunting. Wade is very much in the running for that final Premier League spot, but more importantly, opening his season with a second Masters title would be a nice way to kick off the year.
Ian White's Premier League hopes have been dashed to bits, though Mensur Suljovic can't take a ton of credit for it. Winning a footrace is a little easier when your opponent shoots themselves in the foot 23 times, as White did in a shocking showing on the outer ring. The Gentle won't mind one bit; could he still stake a claim for a Premier League return?
Nathan Aspinall made his debut at the Masters a year ago, and came within a whisker of reaching the final. The fifth seed will be out to go a step further in what should be a busy year, what with another Premier League season, all the TV events and hopefully a less truncated Pro Tour season. It's up to Suljovic to put the brakes on Aspinall's Masters charge - his penchant for slowing people down only being alleged, of course.
We round off the session with a repeat of a first-round Masters tie from a year ago. Back in the heady days of Coronavirus featuring in just one news story rather than all of them, Dave Chisnall edged out Daryl Gurney, and then his wheels fell off, letting Peter Wright storm to a whitewash quarter-final win. Chizzy could meet Wright in the last eight again this time, so he'll want less of the 2020 vintage and something more akin to that outrageous thrashing of Michael van Gerwen that earned him the Televised Performance of the Year gong at the recent PDC awards.
It has taken a while, but Daryl Gurney's looking back to something like his best. Unfortunately, the Premier League will be the elephant in the room throughout this tournament, and with that in mind Gurney can do his chances a gigantic favour by sending Chisnall out. Superchin made a bit of a pig's ear of it against Jeffrey de Zwaan, but eventually got the job done, and can at least look back at this first three legs as the blueprint for further success.
2021 Masters Schedule
Saturday January 30 (1245 GMT)
13:00 Rob Cross v Mervyn King
14:00 James Wade v Chris Dobey
15:00 Nathan Aspinall v Mensur Suljovic
16:00 Dave Chisnall v Daryl Gurney