Who will win the final? Who will be the player to watch? How far will Phil Taylor go in his final World Matchplay? A host of darts journalists, pundits, commentators and former players tackle these and other questions
Who will reach the final – and who will win it?
Stuart Pyke (Sky Sports and ITV commentator): I expect the final to be between Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson.
Dan Dawson (PDC commentator): Right, before we start this you should know by now that I like to predict unlikely results, and inevitably will be proven wrong. I could say Michael van Gerwen will win it. I know that’s the sensible thing to say. And probably, if I really, really was honest with myself, I think he probably will win. But I’m going to say Michael Smith – partially because he’s been playing fantastically again, partially because I like his draw, and partially because I think he’s ready for major success now.
Wayne Mardle (2003 World Matchplay finalist): MVG will win the top half. It’s a longish format in the first few rounds and that plays into his hands. From the bottom half I’m going for Gary or Michael Smith.
Chris Murphy (PDC commentator): I can’t see Gary Anderson not coming through at least his quarter of the draw, so I think he’s the safest name to suggest will reach the final from the bottom half. In the top half, despite being in the toughest section, I think Michael van Gerwen will come through – and I think he’ll go on to win the tournament again.
Rod Studd (Sky Sports commentator): MVG v Snakebite. Peter to get it right this time after the agony of the Premier League final.
Rob Mullarkey (European Tour commentator): It’s really difficult to come up with reasons to oppose Michael van Gerwen; the world champion and world number one is so difficult to beat at the best of times but in the latter stages when the matches are best-of-31, best-of-33 and best-of-35 legs, van Gerwen can leave his opponents floundering, as he’s proven twice before at the Winter Gardens. Over 28 legs in a final he dominated last year, van Gerwen averaged 103.60, hit 12 140s and 180s and conjured a 61 per cent success rate on the doubles to see off Phil Taylor.
However, I really think it could be Peter Wright’s turn. Some will eternally question whether Wright would have won the UK Open this year had van Gerwen taken part and while nothing should detract from Snakebite’s achievement in Minehead, many of his fans would love to see him land another major that isn’t tinged with a question mark.
Don’t underestimate, either, the significance of Wright’s two wins over MVG in finals this year. Admittedly, both were in Germany in a best-of-11 format, but there is further motivation for Snakebite in avenging the Premier League final defeat, which may still be gnawing away at him. He led 7-2 and 10-9 and missed six match darts in the 20th leg. Wright’s biggest obstacle en route to what would be his first final in Blackpool could be Michael Smith. Bully Boy’s had a productive 2017; winning a European Tour title and reaching two ranking finals as well as four semi-finals. I think (and hope) there’s more to come.
Who will be the player to watch?
Stuart Pyke (Sky Sports and ITV commentator): The player to watch is Michael Smith, if he can maintain the standard he’s set of late.
Dan Dawson (PDC commentator): There are fascinating ones all over the draw. Obviously everyone wants to see how Rob Cross does on his debut; the Old Boys of King, Beaton and Darren Webster are all in great form; there are obviously the big names like MVG, Wright and Anderson whom everyone wants to see. But the players I’m currently excited about seeing are Smith and Gurney – anything could happen with them this week.
Wayne Mardle (2003 World Matchplay finalist): Michael Smith, hopefully. He’s better than his odds suggest.
Chris Murphy (PDC commentator): Mervyn King, on current form, can give anyone in his quarter a game and could well come through it to reach the semi-finals.
Rod Studd (Sky Sports commentator): Apart from the obvious candidates I think Kim Huybrechts could have a good run.
Rob Mullarkey (European Tour commentator): I probably won’t be alone in saying this but I’m really looking forward to seeing how Rob Cross gets on in his first visit to the Winter Gardens. His seamless and spectacular transition from the Challenge Tour is, in my mind, the story of 2017. A maiden Pro Tour win in March was followed by a second title in May, he’s reached four European Tour quarter-finals and he beat Michael van Gerwen 6-2 in Leverkusen recently.
If he can overcome any big-stage nerves, and Ian White, in his opener then he could be on to something. Cross is in what appears to be the weakest quarter of the draw and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him navigate a route to the semi-finals.
How far will Phil Taylor go in his final World Matchplay?
Stuart Pyke (Sky Sports and ITV commentator): Taylor is vulnerable but also motivated with it being his last Matchplay. Price will push him, but he should reach the quarters. Van Gerwen should stop him there, but you never know.
Dan Dawson (PDC commentator): Phil could win it, he’s genuinely got the ability. And if he’s going to win another big title before he retires, Blackpool might inspire him to do it. However, I struggle to see him making it past the quarter-finals – it’s a nightmare draw for him. I actually think Joe Cullen might prove to be his undoing in the second round. Yes… I think Cullen could beat Barney AND THEN Taylor.
Wayne Mardle (2003 World Matchplay finalist): He’ll beat Price, then Raymond in a belter, then lose to van Gerwen.
Chris Murphy (PDC commentator): I think his first round match could tell us a lot and if he can see off a player of Gerwyn Price’s calibre comfortably then he’ll be smelling a fairy-tale victory in his last Matchplay. Personally, I think he will reach the quarter-finals.
Rod Studd (Sky Sports commentator): Phil has drawn a tough opponent in Gerwyn Price and he could then have to face Barney and MVG, so no wonder bookies make a 16th MP victory a 25-1 chance. It would be a fairy-tale if he could do it, but I think perhaps Barney will best him in round two.
Rob Mullarkey (European Tour commentator): There will be plenty of sentimental sterling wagered on Taylor (at 20-1 with the sponsors BetVictor) in what will be his final appearance in a tournament he has made his own. I love the prospect of a sporting last hurrah more than anyone but there are just too many dangers lurking.
Sensibly, Taylor skipped Las Vegas to ensure he’s in the best possible health for Blackpool but he’s in the same quarter as Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Barneveld, and he’ll have his work cut out against Gerwyn Price in his opener. Price is pushing the top players now; he’s got that first televised final of his career – against Peter Wright at the UK Open – under his belt and having recently made his World Series debut he might well feel like he’s on the verge of becoming a part of the elite.
He’s admitted that sometimes he tries too hard on stage and tries to put too much effort in. If he can control that side of things, I think he’s more than capable of ending Taylor’s campaign sooner than many would anticipate.
Which first round match are you most looking forward to?
Stuart Pyke (Sky Sports and ITV commentator): Barney versus Cullen looks a great match up and could perhaps be decided in a tie-break. Same could be said for Huybrechts v Norris.
Dan Dawson (PDC commentator): Gurney v Benito is the one I’m most interested in – I think it’s two elite players in waiting who know there’s a lot on the line. I think they’ll be vying with one another for some time to come. Cullen v Barney is a great opportunity to see if Joe can continue to take steps forward in his career, as he’s been doing superbly these last few months. White v Cross.. Chizzy v King… I could go on – there are loads.
Wayne Mardle (2003 World Matchplay finalist): Huybrechts v Norris. I like the way both players go about their business. Wright v Wilson. Wright will have to perform. Chisnall v King.
Chris Murphy (PDC commentator): I will watch every match and there are so many especially tasty ones but I’ll stick to your rules and pick one – I’ll have to plump for Taylor v Price for the reasons I gave in the previous answer. It’s probably the perfect opponent to see what Phil’s chances are. I’d never write him off anyway, but if he beats Price, people will sit up and take note because the Welshman is a tough cookie and will relish the task of trying to topple Taylor.
Rod Studd (Sky Sports commentator): Lewis v Beaton should be a cracker after Steve’s performances in Blackpool last year. Huybrechts v Norris should be entertaining.
Rob Mullarkey (European Tour commentator): I really like the look of Raymond van Barneveld’s meeting with Joe Cullen. I can’t put my finger on the reasons why, but I love watching Barney and I’ve really enjoyed seeing Cullen in Europe over the last couple of years – ever since he reached his maiden European Tour semi-final, as a qualifier, in the German Darts Masters in 2016 when he beat James Wade before demolishing Gary Anderson 6-0. It’s brilliant that he now has two ranking titles under his belt. His finishing in his recent success at Players Championship 16 was superb and when you consider he was playing against the backdrop of his father’s heart attack, you really have to give him a lot of credit.
Cullen just seems to be ticking off things on his darting bucket list at a fairly steady rate of knots: a first TV quarter-final at the UK Open in 2016; a debut appearance at the World Grand Prix last year, a 6-5 win over the then world champion Gary Anderson to reach the last eight of the World Series finals; and a first competitive nine-dart finish earlier this year. He’s 4-4 with Barney in the head-to-heads but the Dutchman’s won their last two meetings; 6-0 in Players Championship 3 this year and 10-2 in the third round of the Players Championship Finals last November.
Which seeds are most in danger of going out in the first round?
Dan Dawson (PDC commentator): The main guys I’d be worried about are Kim Huybrechts – who seemingly hates playing in Blackpool – and Robert Thornton, who has only managed to win one game there. The troubles for Thornton are compounded by the fact he’s up against Cristo Reyes, who’s an absolute beast on the board nowadays.
Wayne Mardle (2003 World Matchplay finalist): Klaasen, van de Pas, Thornton, Wade and Lewis.
Chris Murphy (PDC commentator): Benito van de Pas has been hit and miss of late, while Daryl Gurney has gone from strength to strength so I’d lean towards a Superchin win in that one. Alan Norris will be a tough opponent for Kim Huybrechts, who has endured a torrid time in Blackpool. And, as I think Mervyn King could have a great tournament, I have to suggest that Dave Chisnall could be in danger – in fact, I could see any match in that quarter going the way of the unseeded qualifier.
Rod Studd (Sky Sports commentator): The standard of non seeds is so high that many seeds may be vulnerable. I’d say the non seeds most likely to cause an upset are Pipe v Klaasen, Gurney v Benito and Reyes v Thornton.
Rob Mullarkey (European Tour commentator): With 16 seeds in a field of 32, I’ll hone in on the top 10 and two players who look to be in particular danger are James Wade and Dave Chisnall. Wade hasn’t gone beyond the last 32 in any of his last six Pro Tour events and has suffered three first-round defeats during that time. Factor in also that his opponent is Darren Webster, who booked his place in Blackpool by winning his first ranking title for 12 years with a brilliant 6-1 defeat of Daryl Gurney in the final of Players Championship 15, and Wade has a problem on his hands.
Webster says he’s never feared anyone and it wasn’t that long ago that he was 6-0 up against Michael van Gerwen in his first major semi-final (Players Championship Finals) and he beat Phil Taylor 5-0 in the Grand Slam. Only Taylor has played in more World Matchplay finals than Wade but I think the 2007 champion (and five-time finalist) could have his hands full. Number five seed Dave Chisnall will also have to watch his step against Mervyn King. King made the semis in Blackpool in 2009 and was a recent European Tour finalist in Leverkusen.
This will be the 24th staging of the World Matchplay and the 24th time it has been held at the Winter Gardens. How special is the venue to you and where does it rank among your favourite venues in darts?
Stuart Pyke (Sky Sports and ITV commentator): It’s an iconic darting venue. The Winter Gardens is right up there, it’s certainly my favourite because of the atmosphere it generates, and in the main it attracts the true darts fans. It was my first tournament for Sky back in 2003. Every year from the moment you walk in you can sense the occasion and that something special will happen. And it invariably does!
Dan Dawson (PDC commentator): I love it… it can get very hot and pretty unpleasant, when you’re spending 16+ hours a day in there working – but it’s a setting like no other. I’ll grudgingly admit that it is marginally classier than the Barnsley Metrodome, but the Winter Gardens is sadly lacking in the Pirate-themed Water Park department.
Wayne Mardle (2003 World Matchplay finalist): It’s my favourite event. The worlds is the most important but this is the best for atmosphere. It’s a venue and format that seems to create drama. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a brilliant tournament.
Chris Murphy (PDC commentator): It’s right up there but I’d place it at number two just behind Alexandra Palace. The venue is very grand and the crowd are usually in superb order, enjoying themselves while respecting the conditions needed to see the best match possible. Having attended both several times, I think Ally Pally just nicks it because there really is a sense in the air of how big the occasion is at the World Championship. This is only a fraction behind though.
Rod Studd (Sky Sports commentator): The Winter Gardens is a magnificent venue with its ornate ceiling and superb balcony – the most iconic in darts. It’s always been my favourite and I always feel a sense of anticipation every time the World Matchplay comes round.
Rob Mullarkey (European Tour commentator): It’s up there – I had a terrific visit as a punter in 2012 when I’d just been to see my tip Ernie Els win the Open Championship at nearby Lytham St Anne’s. The golf finished a day after the World Matchplay had started and it was great to tag on a trip to such an iconic venue. That tournament produced two nine-dart finishes and I remember Gary Anderson getting turned over by Dean Winstanley.
That said, I have a soft spot for Butlin’s in Minehead – the venue for my first radio reporting gig – but my first love was a smoke-filled room at the Royal Station Hotel in Newcastle for an exhibition featuring John Lowe and Cliff Lazarenko in 1984. Of the European Tour venues I have visited, the Inselparkhalle in Hamburg produced a superb atmosphere this year, with Halle 39 in Hildesheim a close second.