The traditional illuminations that shine brightly on the Lancashire seaside city might set to be switched on at their usual September date. However, the stars of the darts world look primed to provide fireworks as the World Matchplay Darts kicks off this weekend.
For many, darts is all about Christmas and New Year, when the Darts World Championships take place. Yet, for the hardcore, there is nothing like the swagger of the best Arrowsmiths going head to head at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens in the heat of the summer.
It’s an event with history; American, Larry Butler, won the first renewal back in 1994, beating the luckless Yorkshireman Dennis Priestley, who was to lose in the first three finals and never managed to lift the trophy.
It’s a tournament that usually sees the very best stay the right side of the wire, though, and, with plenty of interesting narrative heading into the 24th running, it is one fans cannot miss.
One To Toast
Those that pay their hard-earned cash to watch 22 gram-darts land on a board that measures just 18 inches in diameter from a distance of 50 metres or more usually need no excuse to raise a glass.
It has always been part of the culture of the game for fans to imbibe as they show their support, and no-one will begrudge a toast to unarguably the best player that there’s ever been – Phil Taylor.
The Power will be playing this event for the final time, as he is set to retire from tour action after the 2018 World Championships.
Taylor has enjoyed over two decades of success and can boast 15 match-play titles, claiming the first of those successes back in 1995. His latest victory came as recently as 2014, when in the final he downed Michael Van Gerwen 18-9 in a true masterclass, after previously throwing the event’s only nine-dart finish in his second round win over Michael Smith.
So, can Taylor find the doubles when they really matter for one final time in Blackpool?
At 22/1 the Power is a big price, but the draw hasn’t been kind to him. A likely second round meeting with Raymond Van Barneveld is only rewarded, should he win, with an almost certain quarter-final match up with Van Gerwen – and that’s where’s Taylor’s tournament is surely set to come to an end.
One To Watch
Also in that first quarter is rising star, Rob Cross. The Hastings-based professional sprung to prominence with three PDC Challenge tour wins last year, before capturing two Players Championship titles in 2017.
However, what really made the darts world sit up and take notice was when he defeated Michael Van Gerwen in the European Open round of 16. He beat the world number one 6-2 in a brilliant display in Leverkusen and was surprisingly calm in his post-match interview.
He admitted MVG missed a few doubles but didn’t get ahead of himself and really looked as if he belonged on the big stage. His success has come quickly and, while I don’t expect him to win in Blackpool – where he trades as a 66/1 shot – it wouldn’t be a surprise if he won his quarter (5/1) and that would set up a likely re-match with Van Gerwen.
Cross is so new to the scene that he hasn’t even got a nickname yet. He’s been asking his Twitter followers (all 1,022 of them – and that’s sure to rise) to help him out, with predictably odd suggestions from some of those on social media – including Darty McDartFace. He won’t be short of options, though, if he stars in Blackpool, and there’s every chance he might surprise a few of the more established names.
One To Back
Michael Van Gerwen is the 8/11 favourite to lift the World Matchplay title for the third straight year. Easy wins over James Wade in 2015 and Phil Taylor 12 months ago has seen him pocket £215,000 from the sponsors coffers in the last two years. Given that he has won five of the last six events he’s played in (the one aberration the European Open last 16 loss to Rob Cross earlier this month), those odds are understandable.
As top seed, he’s drawn in the first quarter, and it would be a real shock if he didn’t make the final. The value for those looking for an outright bet, therefore, lies in the bottom half of the draw where both Gary Anderson (second seed) and Peter Wright (third) both feature.
Wright’s recent duels with MVG, though, leads me to believe that he has got the better chance of toppling the Dutchman should he reach the final – Grosvenor Sport have boosted Peter Wright to win the title from 11/2 to 7/1. The results of his last five meetings with MVG reads won two, lost two and drawn one – slightly better than Anderson’s numbers who is 9/2 for outright glory and 13/10 to make the final.
Sure, Anderson has the better head to head against Wright, having won the last four meetings, but the Flying Scotsman could be stopped in his tracks at the quarter-final stage, where he is scheduled to meet Mensur Suljović, who has an impressive record against Anderson. The Serbian-born Austrian has beaten the Scot twice, while in his only other two match-ups has gone down narrowly 6-5 on both occasions.
Dan Roebuck’s Predictions
Suljović is a fair bet to win his quarter at 11/2, but Wright is the man to shine under the Blackpool lights.