By Alex Moss
15 DECEMBER 2016 • 4:21PM
The 2017 William Hill World Darts Championship gets underway tonight with four intriguing first round tussles kicking off the tournament at the Alexandra Palace.
Gary Anderson begins his bid for a third consecutive world title against PDPA Qualifier Mark Frost, while Michael Smith, Jamie Caven and Jamie Lewis are the other three seeds in action on the opening night.
Caven, seeded 29th for the tournament, enjoyed his best ever run at the World Championship last year when he beat both Rob Szabo and Ricky Evans to reach the last 16.
Since that run 12 months ago, Jabba has not won another match in front of the TV cameras, and he goes into tonight’s opening game against a Kevin Painter who will be wanting to make the most of his unlikely opportunity.
The 2004 PDC World Championship runner-up looked to be heading to the PDPA Qualifier last month in a last-ditch bid to qualify, but was given a reprieve after Kyle Anderson withdrew from the event due to visa problems.
Painter himself has not had the best of years on the PDC circuit, yet his wealth of big stage experience will make him the slight favourite to get through to a potential second round clash with Phil Taylor.
The second match of the night sees 30th seed Lewis take on a resurgent Mick McGowan, who qualified by winning the Tom Kirby Memorial Trophy in October.
Lewis has yet to win in four visits to the Alexandra Palace, while McGowan has won at least one round in his three previous World Championship campaigns.
With the winner likely to face third seed Peter Wright in the last 32, both players will be looking to put in a confident performance to take into that potential tie after Christmas.
Reigning world champion Anderson will then start his quest for a hat-trick of world titles against good friend Frost, who is making his World Championship debut.
Handily nicknamed ‘Frosty the Throwman’, Frost reached the semi-finals of Players Championship 19 in October, his first PDC ranking event semi-final in eight years, and will show no fear against the second seed.
Could he cause an upset though? In the event’s 23-year history, the defending champion has gone out at the first hurdle on just two occasions (John Part 2004 and 2009).
But Anderson will not want to give up his world title without a fight and you can expect him to send out an early message to the rest of the main title contenders with an assured display tonight.
Anderson’s stablemate Smith rounds off the night against the fast throwing Ricky Evans, the world number 49 who loves the Ally Pally Stage.
This will be Evans’ third consecutive appearance in the PDC World Championship, and in his previous two campaigns he has knocked out a seed in the first round.
Since being relegated in his debut season in the Premier League, Smith has experienced an alarming dip in results and will be desperate to recapture some of that form which earned him his first call up to the Premier League.
Will Evans make it a hat-trick of first round scalps, or will Smith make the first steps in his bid for a Premier League recall in 2017?