With the 2017 World Matchplay set to get underway later today, here are five things you should look out for during the tournament…
Phil Taylor’s final match on the Winter Gardens stage
The sport’s most successful ever player announced at the start of the year his plans to retire from the professional circuit at the end of the 2018 World Championship, meaning this will be the final time we see Phil Taylor compete in the World Matchplay.
The 16-time world champion has dominated this major event over the last two decades, racking up 15 titles, including seven in a row between 2008 and 2014, and has appeared in every single World Matchplay event dating back to its first staging in 1994.
Few would begrudge The Power making it 16 World Matchplay titles, to equal his world title count, a week on Sunday, but he’ll have a tough route to achieve it. Rising star Gerwyn Price is first up tomorrow night, while arch rivals Raymond van Barneveld and Michael van Gerwen could await him in the next two rounds.
Which ever round Taylor gets to in Blackpool in his final World Matchplay appearance, it will mark the end of an era at the Winter Gardens.
MVG eyes a hat-trick of titles as he continues to build his legacy
World number one Michael van Gerwen comes to Blackpool once again as the top seed and the favourite to lift the title for what would be a third year in a row.
While the Dutchman has some catching up to do if he is to match Phil Taylor’s 15 triumphs at the Winter Gardens, claiming the title for a third successive year would be a landmark achievement.
In the event’s 20+ year history, only Taylor has managed that feat (twice), so if van Gerwen were to complete the hat-trick it would only help build the legacy he is creating for himself at the oche.
After missing the cut in 2010 and 2011, van Gerwen has at least reached the quarter-finals or better on his five visits to Blackpool since. He will take some stopping to extend that record to a sixth year.
Can Rob Cross live up to the hype?
There will be five new faces on the Winter Gardens this stage this year, as Cristo Reyes, James Wilson, Christian Kist, Steve West and Rob Cross all get ready to make their World Matchplay debuts over the next few days.
From those five, Cross is undoubtedly creating the biggest buzz in the lead up to the tournament. Last year’s Challenge Tour Order of Merit winner has enjoyed a remarkable first season so far on the main circuit, winning two Pro Tour titles and beating Michael van Gerwen on the European Tour.
The big question will be whether his form from the Pro Tour can translate onto the big stage. Despite being ranked some 30+ places below his first round opponent Ian White in the rankings, Cross is the favourite with the bookmakers to win on his debut on Monday night.
Can he live up to the hype and continue his impressive maiden season on the main PDC circuit? We’ll find out over the next few days!
Several seeds to tumble in the first round
If there is one thing you can expect from the World Matchplay, it is for some of the seeds to depart in the first round.
Since switching from eight to 16 seeds in 2002, 67 seeds have bowed out at the first hurdle of the World Matchplay in the last 15 years, an average of just over four each year.
While no one is expecting the tournament record of first round seed casualties to be broken this year (the record is nine from 2010) we do predict three or four to be axed before the last 16.
Many are tipping the likes of Simon Whitlock, Benito van de Pas, Robert Thornton, Ian White and Jelle Klaasen to be in danger of an early exit, but don’t be too surprised if we see one of the higher seeds slip up.
The standard of the Pro Tour Order of Merit qualifiers seems to be improving year after year, with more stage-playing opportunities through the European Tour now available, so don’t write off anyone from causing an upset.
Race for the Champions League
One sub-plot to keep an eye on will be the race to qualify for the Champions League of Darts.
The BBC-televised event is back for its second staging in Cardiff in September and there are three spots in the eight-player field still up for grabs.
We know defending champion Phil Taylor, as well as current world numbers one, two, three and four, Michael van Gerwen, Gary Anderson, Peter Wright and Adrian Lewis, will be there, but who will fill the last three spots.
Dave Chisnall, Mensur Suljovic and Raymond van Barneveld are currently in the provisional three spots, but we can expect the likes of Michael Smith, James Wade and Jelle Klaasen to be in contention before the cut-off falls after the World Matchplay.