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?
Dave South: It is difficult to disagree with the bookmakers fancying MVG to retain his title at 4/5. In percentage terms this is an implied 55.5 per cent chance of winning. Some firms are as short as a 60 per cent chance, thus 4/6.
Michael has hit by far the most 180s this year with Dave Chisnall the only other player to break the 200 barrier according to Darts Database.
It will not be easy for the green machine possibly having to play one of team Australia in the round of 16, assuming he can see off former BDO champion Stephen Bunting in round one.
With a potential meeting with Barney or Taylor in the quarter-finals, a possible semi-final according to the bookmakers will be Dave Chisnall. I expect Michael to make the final.
On the other half of the draw the obvious picks are Gary Anderson and Peter Wright. Both have the credentials although Anderson has a potentially tricky rematch against Daryl Gurney from the US Masters in store.
Wright will not have it his own way either and a player potentially shining through at the right time is Michael Smith. If he gets his doubles tidied up he could be the finalist from the other half of the draw.
I’m most excited about the bottom half of the draw as it’s time for an emerging player to really make a mark here.
Christopher Kempf: Gary Anderson and Michael van Gerwen – no surprises here – will reach the final.
No other players have shown a consistent ability to beat either man in long-format darts. And it is a brave man who backs MVG’s opponent in the final, in spite of his track record of comebacks from almost unwinnable situations in televised events.
In that respect, call me cowardly. Michael van Gerwen will win a third consecutive World Matchplay title.
Dave McNally: Ok, so I’m not actually going to make any ground breaking Nostradamus type predictions here, but I can’t see past Michael van Gerwen winning the title.
The Dutchman has the knack of putting it all together at the right time, and with Blackpool’s straight legs tournament, he is capable of demoralising his opponents if he races into an early lead.
Facing van Gerwen in the final I suspect will be Peter Wright, who comes through the bottom half of the draw with his steady, competitive style and experience of knowing what is needed and how to play these big events.
Burton DeWitt: Well, it has to be Beaton-Pipe, no? No, seriously, I’m hard-pressed to see past Michael van Gerwen on the top half.
Yes, there is a fascinating potential quarter-final with either Phil Taylor or Raymond van Barneveld, but neither of them have seemed good enough so far this year to really give the world number one a challenge.
In the bottom half, I think you could make a really strong case not just for Gary Anderson and Peter Wright, but also for Daryl Gurney, Mensur Suljovic, and Michael Smith.
That said, I think Peter Wright will rebound off a poor World Series holiday and get through. From there, I’ll go van Gerwen to win 18-12.
Who will be the player to watch?
Dave South: Several – Rob Cross has been by far the breakthrough player since his epic maiden UK Open run and will at his pace break into the top 16 with gentle ease.
It would be great to see Gurney continue his great form and he has the credentials to make some distance.
I would also love to see Steve Beaton have one last magical run and he plays an Adrian Lewis who has been dealing with stuff outside the sport, which may be a distraction. Steve rolled back the years last year and is certainly a darting hall of famer.
Lastly, I would love to see Justin Pipe using this event as a platform to kick start his season again, and with a Jelle Klaasen with recent wrist injuries first up it could be what he requires. If Suljovic defeats Henderson we will get a Pipe/Suljovic second round game which I would love to see!
Christopher Kempf: Rob Cross is undoubtedly the player to watch. On the Pro Tour he’s been magnificent, but he has rarely needed to play more than 11 legs at a time.
It remains to be seen whether Cross is up to the challenge, but he’s been placed into a relatively open section of the draw.
If he overcomes Ian White in the first round, he might catch Adrian Lewis off guard and send him home. Rob Cross’ World Matchplay debut thus could be a successful one.
Dave McNally: If Wright doesn’t make the final I can see Michael Smith pushing for a place on the finals night.
He seems to have found his self belief again and has put together a decent run of form recently. I also think Steve Beaton will do well after a bit of a renaissance over the last six months or so.
Burton DeWitt: It’s not often we can say this, but Adrian Lewis. Adrian started the year very positively, and was well-positioned right after Judgment Night for the Premier League, playing well both on TV and off, where he won a Players Championship event. But for the last three months, he’s been really out of sorts.
His form dropped sensationally, culminating in a bizarre World Cup performance where he was nothing better than terrible most of the way. Since then, Lewis has pulled out of two European Tour events and a World Series event to have surgery, and the Matchplay is his first event back.
He has a tough quarter, but one that is wide open. If he is recovered, this is a great chance to fix his season. If he’s not, there’s every chance that come January he’s out of the top 10 and maybe even top 16.
How far will Phil Taylor go in his final World Matchplay?
Dave South: Phil looked so peeved that MVG snuck back in Shanghai. Phil showed he was still on top of his game. With the added confidence Gerwyn Price has generated recently from the World Series, Price will not be laying down for Taylor to storm into round two.
A possible meet and probable emotional moment could see Taylor and Barney playing against each other on TV for the last time which will be one not to miss. A Taylor quarter-final exit to a standing ovation for me!
Christopher Kempf: Phil Taylor will defeat Raymond van Barneveld in the second round before falling to Michael van Gerwen.
Were Taylor facing MVG in a shorter-format match, I might fancy his chances, but a best-of-31 match against the best player in the world is looking like a bridge too far for The Power at the moment.
Dave McNally: First or second round exit. The man who’s done everything in the sport has nothing to prove but the fight seems to have waned.
He will get a fantastic reception from the Blackpool crowd when he bows out. No fairy-tale ending for Taylor I’m afraid.
Burton DeWitt: 167.2 miles on the M6 (83.6 miles each way), according to Google Maps. I just don’t see Taylor playing well enough to be a serious contender right now.
He’s been handed the most loaded section of the draw, and even by today’s standards of ‘there’s no such thing as an easy match’, Phil really has a draw that matches that. He has Gerwyn Price—who already has two television finals this year—and if he gets past that, either a five-time World Champion in Raymond van Barneveld, or Joe Cullen, who just won his second title of 2017 in the last Pro Tour event. And that’s just to get a date with the world number one.
I have Taylor going to the quarter-final, but that seems a best-case scenario for the former world champion on his final voyage of those 83.6 miles up the M6.
Which first round match are you most looking forward to?
Dave South: Oh great question – Reyes and Thornton as talk I’ve seen recently from other darts punters is that Reyes has this in the bag. Thornton has been quiet on the circuit, but if he has prepared well for this, if there is a tiebreaker this could be it! Cross/White is another must watch too!
Christopher Kempf: The Benito van de Pas vs Daryl Gurney match figures to be an explosive one. Though Benito is seeded, he has not played like it these past few months.
From out of nowhere, however, he can post some astronomical averages and huge checkouts. He’ll need it against Gurney, who is arguably more dangerous than most of the top 10 seeds.
Dave McNally: There are a couple of first round games to relish. Phil Taylor versus Gerwyn Price, Raymond van Barneveld versus Joe Cullen, but the one match I’m really looking forward to is Benito van de Pas against Daryl Gurney.
Two exciting players on the tour who like to stir up the crowd, I can see this being a fast-paced encounter with the crowd at fever pitch as the 180s fly in.
Burton DeWitt: So, so, so many tasty first round match-ups, it’s hard to pick one. That entire quarter with Adrian Lewis and Dave Chisnall is brilliant, but Chizzy-Mervyn King takes the cake.
Chisnall’s second half of the Premier League was electric; Mervyn King has quietly been performing very well this year both on the floor and the Euro Tour stage. Both of these players are players that in a good draw I’d expect to make the quarter-finals the way they’re currently playing.
Chisnall seems to be finishing better, and when his finishing is on, he’s a nearly unbreakable opponent. But King has always had a complete game, and has to be heading to Blackpool with expectations that he can duplicate last year’s performance, where he made the quarter-final. That makes this the standout tie to me.
Which seeds are most in danger of going out in the first round?
Dave South: Potentially Adrian Lewis, although mostly likely are Kim Huybrechts to Alan Norris and Ian White to Rob Cross.
Wade and Benito are in great danger, although Webster is an underdog that never gives up, recently pocketing a Pro Tour title, and with Wade’s performances recently he needs a break! Gurney is unseeded but the favourite heading in against van de Pas.
Christopher Kempf: In order from most vulnerable to least: Thornton, van de Pas, Wade, White, Whitlock, Klaasen, Huybrechts, Chisnall.
Dave McNally: Dave Chisnall and James Wade will have to be careful in their first round matches against Mervyn King and Darren Webster respectively.
There are plenty of tricky ties in the opening round but these two matches could provide the mini upsets early on.
Burton DeWitt: I fancy five or six to go out, and I think you could make a very strong case for nine or ten to do so. But the two most likely are Jelle Klaasen and Benito van de Pas.
Klaasen got what seems to be the kindest draw in Justin Pipe, who only just sneaked in and has lost 20 of his last 29 matches on stage—and 15 of his last 19 in TV tournaments.
But since his surgery in May, Klaasen has looked like he couldn’t beat a cold. He’s only won 2 of 9 matches across all competitions, including losses to Michael Barnard, Yordi Meeuwisse, and Tony Newell. He seems in dire form.
Meanwhile, Benito van de Pas has also been struggling, and gets the added bonus of drawing Daryl Gurney, who is the top qualifier from the Pro Tour Order of Merit and comes in off a run to the final in Las Vegas where he beat Gary Anderson and Peter Wright before narrowly losing to Michael van Gerwen. So I’m going Dutch today and saying Klaasen and van de Pas are in the most danger of the seeds.
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?
Dave South: The venue is iconic for the reasons that darts has grown to great heights, which saw the Circus Tavern and Reebok lose their status as venues, but Blackpool has survived!
I have always preferred the Matchplay legs format and bar the Grand Slam in November the format suits the marathon players. Although a number of TV events are a race to 10 in the latter stages, all players are becoming familiar with the extended format.
This event is my favourite venue for the iconic moments we have seen at this event, with examples including Taylor hitting the first UK televised live nine-dart finish and Colin Lloyd hitting a 170 to win the title!
Christopher Kempf: The Empress Ballroom is just the right size for a televised darts tournament and represents a good midway point between the intimacy of the pub and the vastness of a sports arena.
The 3,000 fans in attendance can just about get out of hand, but come nowhere near the bacchanalia of the Alexandra Palace in December. It’s also the most aesthetically pleasing venue in darts – it’s as aesthetically pleasing as it is utilitarian.
Dave McNally: The Winter Gardens is probably my favourite venue on the PDC circuit second only overall to the BDO venue at Lakeside.
It has superb character and fantastic ornate surroundings befitting of a prestigous event. The ceilings are at the perfect height to add to the acoustics in the auditorium to maximise the sound of the crowd and create a raucous atmosphere.
The Winter Gardens tends to attract fans that differ from the usual PDC crowd, the seating allows the fans to become absorbed with the darts; with the majority of the seating concentrating on the ground floor level to allow those watching a real panoramic view. Yes, for me it is without doubt the best venue on the circuit by a country mile.
Burton DeWitt: Sadly, I’ve never been. But this is my favourite event on the calendar. Even watching on the television (or, in my case, laptop), you can tell everything about the week is special.
You’ve got the best players in the world over an unforgiving format in what is the crown jewel of the venues the PDC uses. And that’s not to mention that the tournament usually brings out the best of players.
While I could see any of the other events moving—even the World Championships could one day outgrow Alexandra Palace—I just couldn’t imagine the World Matchplay ever having a home that wasn’t the Winter Gardens.