The showpiece darting event on the professional calendar hits our tv screens this Thursday throughout the Christmas period and CALUM LEITCH gives his take on the likely winners
With Christmas around the corner, it can only mean one thing, the PDC Darts Championship is almost underway! Who can forget last year’s event? Rob Cross in his first year as a professional landing the miracle story with a triumphant run to the coveted title. He saved match darts against Michael Smith, survived a final set epic against Dmitri Van Den Bergh, more match darts in an all-time classic against Michael Van Gerwen before dismantling “The Power” Phil Taylor in his last ever darts match. The stuff of fairytales and the script couldn’t have been more poetic.
It was of course, Taylor’s last World Championship and darting bow-out and what an emotional and fitting way to cap off a legendary one-in-a-million career. We can’t forget Jamie Lewis either, who had a remarkable run to the semi-finals.
Neither Jamie Lewis, or World Champion Cross have built on last year’s successes with Lewis having not achieved anything of note this season and Cross’s year has really stuttered with no titles of note and a number of disappointing tv performances and early exits. The curse of being World Champion eh? We seen the same happen with Ady Lewis and Gary Anderson, but comfortingly for Cross they both retained their titles despite a barren year and proves he isn’t discounted from this year’s showpiece, after all, he’s never lost on that stage!
THE WORLD NUMBER 1
Michael Van Gerwen enters this year with a loss of his invincibility, sure he’s the World number 1 but without Phil Taylor, he hasn’t dominated the way many would have expected. Infact, he hasn’t picked up any big titles outside of The Premier League and that was over six months ago. At the short odds, he can be opposed this year but not underestimated of course.
THE TOP HALF OF THE DRAW
The top half of the draw looks much tougher than the bottom half. A mouthwatering last 32 clash between old foes Adrian Lewis and Raymond Van Barneveld could be on the cards and we have seen some classics with them on this very stage including a 9 darter from Lewis. “Jackpot” is slowly coming back to form but still below his sparkling best and with Van Barneveld only having a year after this tournament, it should provide fireworks, particularly as the winner could face MVG in the last 16.
James Wade is in the form of his life since the birth of his son, ending a 6-year barren spell for a major and like a Translink bus, two came back-to-back. He will go into this years’ tournament in terrific spirits but he potentially has a very tricky opener against Krzysztof Ratajski who has been chalking up some notable wins of late and he represents a very serious challenge to the Machine. If Wade can progress, then a run to the quarterfinals is very likely where MVG’s power scoring over this longer format could prove telling.
Gary Anderson is my most likely finalist from the top half of this draw as he just seems to get better. His A Game is up there with MVG and he has won some notable tournaments for the 1st time this season, namely the Champions League, World Match Play and Grand Slam. He has the big stage game in him and playing MVG rates a 50/50 clash judging by their matches this year and with a more favourable draw for The Flying Scot and with his performances under the utmost pressure this season, I would tilt the balance in his favour and at the odds back him to make a 4th World Final.
THE BOTTOM HALF OF THE DRAW
No better place to start than with the World Champion Rob Cross, who has drawn the nightmare Jeffrey De Zwaan (providing he wins the 1st round) as the young Dutchman is a serious, serious player and a potential major winner. He reached the semi-finals of The World Matchplay beating some top names on-route and stood toe-to-toe in that semi-final with eventual winner Gary Anderson (who was at the top of his game)
De Zwaan has also beaten MVG not once, but twice on tv this year in Major events and his quick throwing style and lethal finishing against a defending champion, having had the benefit of the game with nothing to lose, screams upset written all over it. The World Champion could seriously go at the first hurdle, I expect whoever wins that could have a deep run.
Michael Smith is someone I am seriously interested in, as he seems to be maturing all the time and a major tournament win seems sooner rather than later. He had match darts vs Cross last year where he played fantastic and of course, Cross went on to win it. He reminds me of Adrian Lewis when he won it, as he is arguably the biggest 180 hitter in World Darts right now (like Lewis) and he was having similar breakthroughs that Ady had when he won it. It was also Lewis’s 1st Major and with a very favourable draw, I think “Bully Boy” could go close. Mensur Suljovic potentially in the last 16 represents a huge obstacle, however.
I don’t think Gerwyn Price has the class or the crowd support to be a serious challenger despite strong recent form. He has a good draw but I just can’t see him ever being a World Champion. Kyle Anderson is a tough cookie in the last 32 and that could be a heated affair.
I think Peter Wright is being overlooked in the betting. Snakebite has a terrific record at getting to latter stages of majors but a very poor strike-rate at converting. He rewards each-way backers more than anybody and he is primely positioned in the draw. I think he will reach at least the semis and at the outright odds and given his tournament latter stage experience he has, he might be worth an each-way bet. If you keep knocking on the door it is bound to open and I think he’s a good man to rely upon.
BIGGEST OUTRIGHT FANCY
GARY ANDERSON @ 10/3
EACH WAY FANCIES
MICHAEL SMITH @ 14/1
PETER WRIGHT @ 11/1
DARK HORSE OUTSIDER
JEFFREY DE ZWAAN @ 80/1