With just three more wins separating Michael van Gerwen from completing a hat-trick of World Matchplay triumphs this week, can anyone stop the world number one from lifting the trophy again on Sunday night?
The Dutchman has yet to hit top gear so far in Blackpool this week, but in all honesty he hasn’t had to. A 10-4 win against Stephen Bunting on Monday was followed by an 11-3 thrashing of Simon Whitlock last night, and in both games it was not long before the final outcome was beyond doubt.
Next up for van Gerwen in his bid to become only the second man to win three World Matchplay titles in a row is Phil Taylor, who is the only player to have achieved that feat: twice.
It has been well-documented that this week is Taylor’s last campaign at the World Matchplay, a tournament which he has won a record 15 times, the last of those in 2014, when he reduced van Gerwen to tears in an 18-9 thumping in the final.
That was the last time van Gerwen has tasted defeat on the Winter Gardens stage. Since losing to Taylor in Blackpool three years ago, the reigning world champion has won his last 12 games in the World Matchplay, which includes two title-winning campaigns in 2015 and 2016.
Can van Gerwen be stopped from completing the hat-trick? With world number two Gary Anderson, arguably van Gerwen’s biggest threat, falling at the second round hurdle to Daryl Gurney on Tuesday night, the leading contender in the bottom half is world number three Peter Wright.
Wright is in the midst of his most successful year of his career, winning his first major at the UK Open in March, but when considering his prospects in a potential final with van Gerwen on Sunday, it is hard not to recollect the Premier League final the two contested in May.
Wright threw away a commanding lead and missed six match darts to beat van Gerwen, as the world number one pulled off a remarkable comeback. Both players will have differing memories from that fateful night at The O2, which could play into van Gerwen’s favour.
Gurney pushed van Gerwen close in the US Darts Masters final earlier this month, but like Mensur Suljovic and Darren Webster, the other players in the bottom half, he has a poor record against the defending champion.
Neither Gurney or Webster have recorded a win over van Gerwen on TV, while Suljovic’s sole success against the Dutchman on the big stage came back in 2010.
In the top half, Alan Norris has lost all three of his meetings (all away from the TV cameras) to van Gerwen, while Adrian Lewis has not beaten him in a format longer than a best-of-19 since that thrilling 17-15 triumph in the Matchplay semi-finals in 2013.
So, could Taylor, in his final World Matchplay, hold all the aces in the battle to dethrone MVG?
It is some task that Taylor faces to reach the semi-finals, but the 16-time world champion has never shied away from a challenge during his glittering career.
If van Gerwen turns up tomorrow night and plays near to his best level, a 105-112 average, then it will take some doing for Taylor to beat him, especially over the long format, the quarter-finals being a race to 16 legs.
It’s easy to say that Taylor needs a good start, but he was 5-0 up against van Gerwen in a race to eight in Shanghai recently and lost.
Van Gerwen never knows when he’s beaten, so if Taylor does get off to a similar start then he cannot afford to take his foot off the gas.
When Taylor was dominating the sport in the 90s and 00s, one of his trademarks was to keep his foot down when he was ahead and surge to a landslide victory.
Replicating that against the best player in the world will be easier said than done, but he cannot afford to throw away any chances which come his way.
Van Gerwen has been susceptible to missing doubles in clumps, missing with two or three darts in hand, and those are the opportunities that Taylor must make the most of.
The odds are firmly staked in van Gerwen’s favour of knocking out Taylor in his final World Matchplay, but if anyone is going to stop the Green Machine this week, you would side towards it being The Power.