Saturday, 7 December 2019

Worlds 6/16 - Aspinall, Boulton, Baggish, Ratajski, Hughes, Lerchbacher

The questions of whether Nathan Aspinall's semi final run was a fluke were answered very quickly, when the Stockport native was able to clinch a first major title by taking the UK Open and put himself very much into the conversation for a Premier League spot in 2020. The UK Open win came with a close semi final win over Gerwyn Price before defeating Rob Cross in the final, having taken out Alcinas, Kist, Razma, Lennon and Ross Smith in previous rounds. Aspinall would add a second TV title later in the year, while the US Darts Masters isn't a ranking event or anywhere near as prestigious, it's still a win, Aspinall having beaten Cross, right and Michael Smith to get the victory. Elsewhere, Aspinall's been impressive - coming close to picking up another Pro Tour win on three occasions, being only stopped by O'Connor, Ratajski and Gurney, and making the final session on the European Tour four times, peaking with a semi final in Gibraltar where he eliminated Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright, prior to losing a decider against Dave Chisnall. In the other majors, he'd suffer a surprise defeat to Mervyn King in Blackpool, get to the quarter finals in Dublin with wins over van der Voort and Noppert prior to losing to Dave Chisnall again, run into Gerwyn Price in the second round at Göttingen, end up in the group of death in the Grand Slam against Michael Smith and Glen Durrant, before most recently getting Raymond van Barneveld in the opening round at Minehead, losing to the veteran Dutchman. Can he repeat what he did twelve months ago? It's a tough draw, but who knows?

Andy Boulton makes a return to Ally Pally after a four year absence - on that occasion he won a preliminary game against Per Laursen before going out to Gary Anderson, this time he's got a first round tie before possibly facing another major winner. Boulton won his tour card back in January on the Q-School order of merit, and qualifies for here after a solid floor season, winning his board six times and reaching three quarter finals. In those quarter final runs, Boulton was able to get notable victories over Gerwyn Price, Mervyn King and Joe Cullen, and was consistent enough to get through his opening game 70% of the time. This was a good enough level of performance to see Boulton make a second visit to Minehead - the first time he was just able to mincash the UK Open, taking out a qualifier before losing to Christian Kist, while in the Players Championship Finals, Boulton would be defeated by Keegan Brown in the opening round. In terms of stage form, Andy was able to reach three European Tour events - the first time, he got a win against Josh Payne before going out to Daryl Gurney, but in the next two he'd lose to Vincent van der Voort, understandable given Vincent's form, but in the final event he'd lose to qualifier Steffen Siepmann, which is one you'd think he could have avoided. Can he put together enough of an improved performance to get past someone of Aspinall's quality?

Boulton's opponent will be the first player to have qualified for the worlds in Danny Baggish, who won the North American Championship by defeating Elliott Milk, Leonard Gates and then former Lakeside finalist Jeff Smith to qualify. A consistent average in the mid to high 80's would see him take the final two matches in deciding legs, and he'd score a bit higher in the following US Darts Masters, albeit his 92 average was no doubt helped by Daryl Gurney limiting him to just the one leg in the match. It was a bit of a surprise performance, Baggish previously only being a competitor in minor regional events, although looking at one of those he's played this year afterwards, the Witch City Open, he was able to put up ton-plus averages in the quarters and semi final, and similarly in the CDC event he won - averaging 95 over the course of the event with consistency in the later rounds. A regional event got him into the World Masters, where he was able to take down European Tour competitor Wesley Plaisier and push through to the last 64, where he was taken out by veteran Gary Stone in a deciding set. Maybe Baggish is the great hope that'll start off an upturn in North American darts? He certainly appears to have the game to at least have a chance of getting through the opening round.

2019 was another year of improvement for the Polish number one, with Krzysztof reaching a new high by becoming the most recent player to become a winner on the European Tour when he claimed the title in Gibraltar - losing no more than three legs in any game as he went through Steve Beaton, Joe Cullen, Ian White, Daryl Gurney and Dave Chisnall. The £25k prize really helped to establish Ratajski in the top 32 and push him towards the higher ends of the Pro Tour order of merit, a ranking that his top ten level scoring indicates is no fluke whatsoever. His floor form wasn't limited to that one European Tour performance - four Pro Tour finals, two of them ending in victory over Dimitri van den Bergh and Nathan Aspinall. Ratajski's floor form, which has been known about for some time, is slowly being turned into TV results - the UK Open saw a good run that was only stopped by Gerwyn Price, he got a win over Darren Webster at Blackpool before running into eventual winner Rob Cross, he'd get a tough draw in Dublin and lose in the opening round to Glen Durrant, while maybe he could have done better in the last couple when he lost to Chris Dobey and Willie O'Connor. It's now a question of whether Ratajski can make a deep run in the biggest one of all, and will certainly want to improve from last year where he lost in the opening game to Seigo Asada.

One of Ratajski's potential opponents is also a European Tour winner in Jamie Hughes. After Hughes was a surprise failure to win a tour card in 2018, he demolished the field in 2019 to claim his card on day one with huge averages, but what could he do after that? He started off well enough, getting through to several European Tour events, making a decent enough run in the UK Open with wins over Callan Rydz and Ian White, before Gerwyn Price eventually took him out, and would slowly improve in performances - in the German Open Hughes would beat Brendan Dolan and Simon Whitlock before losing to Gerwyn Price, then two events later he reached the semi finals - beating Adrian Lewis, Mark McGeeney and Nathan Aspinall before falling to Peter Wright, then he'd make a first floor quarter final a week before the Czech Open - needing a win and only a win to make the Matchplay, it's exactly what Hughes did, beating Devon Petersen, whitewashing Adrian Lewis, then a run of Sunday wins over Ron Meulenkamp, Ian White, Simon Whitlock and Stephen Bunting saw him secure enough to finish as the highest Pro Tour qualifier for Ally Pally. Hughes hasn't quite been able to make any TV progress since then - Michael Smith and Michael van Gerwen were tough draws, Jermaine Wattimena was maybe a winnable game, after qualifying for the Grand Slam he ended in a group with Dave Chisnall and Rob Cross, and it'd be Cross again who'd take out Hughes at Minehead but not until after Hughes had avenged the European Championship defeat to Wattimena. Hughes' form isn't quite as good now as it was six months ago, but if he can rediscover it, a second round match with Ratajski could be one of the matches of the tournament.

Hughes will play a tour card holder (for now, it'll take a miracle run to save it) in Zoran Lerchbacher, the Austrian making a fourth appearance here and a first for a couple of years, in his last appearance he'd stun Mervyn King before pushing Keegan Brown very close. This year, he's here on account of winning his regional qualifier, putting in his best performance of the year when he needed it most, averaging over 90 in the last three rounds with wins over John Michael, Alessio Marconi and finally hot prospect Rusty Jake Rodriguez in a deciding leg, hitting a 107 out with Rodriguez waiting on 50. Lerchbacher's a previous multiple Pro Tour finalist, but has looked nothing like that form in 2019 - Zoran didn't reach a single European Tour event, only getting as far as the final round of qualifiers on one occasion, and on the Pro Tour, Lerchbacher won his board on just the one occasion, made his board final in just three further tournaments, and was knocked out in the first round nearly two thirds of the time. His averages aren't as bad as his results, 88 points per turn isn't too shabby, but should still be outclassed against someone of Hughes' calibre. Needless to say Lerchbacher had no luck in qualifying for majors he wasn't automatically entered in, but did at least get to the World Cup quarters with Suljovic, picking up a win in the last 16 over Darin Young, and showed up in the UK Open, but a draw against Gabriel Clemens would be too much of an ask.

Worlds 5/16 - Anderson, Dolan, Kumar, West, Searle, King

It's always difficult to know what to make of how Gary Anderson is playing, as he usually plays somewhat of a limited schedule - this year, like many previously, he has completely ignored the European Tour, however the injury that forced him out of the Premier League restricted him even further, with Anderson not playing a single event between reaching the semi final of the worlds last season and the UK Open, where he was on the wrong end of a surprising result against Steve Beaton. Anderson would pick up the World Cup with Peter Wright, but in between then he'd play a few Pro Tour events with bad results, going out early to Vincent van der Voort, Conan Whitehead, Geert Nentjes and a 6-0 tonking from his World Cup partner. He'd beat Noppert in the Matchplay before losing to King, beat Brown in Dublin but then lose to Dobey, then in the only other major he's played, he'd just win his group, beat Thornton in a surprisingly close game, but then lose heavily in a rerun of last season's final. A couple of OK Pro Tour runs in July and September aren't exactly confidence filling, but while his underlying numbers aren't bad, you do wonder whether we've already seen the last of peak Anderson and it's only downhill from here.

What Anderson probably didn't want was a test from an in form player, and in Brendan Dolan (if Brendan wins his opening match) you've got exactly that. You had some inkling that he was getting back to his best from his worlds run last season, where he got the scalps of Cullen, King and van de Pas, but I don't think anyone would have expected Dolan to claim not one, but two, Pro Tour titles. That's impressive stuff and they've both come at the right end of the season, in those events he beat de Zwaan, Dobey, Chisnall, Durrant, Wattimena, Price, Wright, White - these weren't fluke runs where you picked off one good player and had an easy draw, Brendan had to work like hell for these and got it done. It was all a bit too late in the season for Brendan to get into any of the majors that look at the Pro Tour - it was more than enough to get into Minehead, where he went out to Michael Smith in the second round in a scrappy affair, but it sets up 2020 really nicely as he looks to push back up the rankings. He did come through the Grand Slam qualifiers, but lost an effective playoff for a last 16 spot to Daryl Gurney, and of course he played the UK Open, winning his first game before what looks now to be a big upset win from Richard North put him out. He was quite close to getting into the European Championship, but couldn't quite rack up enough wins, only getting one win over a seed, but hey, Brendan's back and could do some damage here.

Dolan's opponent will be Nitin Kumar, who's back for another pop at the worlds after winning the Indian qualifier for a second straight year. We didn't know what to make of him twelve months ago, as data was very, very limited, and not a massive amount has changed, except we at least saw him open up proceedings against Jeffrey de Zwaan, not winning a set but at least picking up some legs and certainly not showing the sort of performance that many people might have feared would happen. Nitin stopped around for Q-School, an interesting choice but I suppose useful to see where you stack up against people fighting to get onto the tour, where he lost 5-3 to James Barton averaging 78, 5-3 to Chas Barstow averaging 77, he'd beat Rohit Rabadia 5-2 with a 78 average before going out 5-2 to Jason Askew averaging 71, then on the final day he'd have his best average, getting 82 in a deciding leg win over Barry Gardner, but then lost the next game to Nathan Rafferty back down in the mid 70's. I think it's fair to say we've got a good idea what Nitin's going to bring - if you let him have six visits to win a leg, he might nick it, give him seven and he probably takes it, but putting up the sort of performance that can trouble Dolan over a best of five set match isn't something he's going to be able to do.

It's been a year of regression for Steve West, I think it's reasonable to say - after a couple of year period where he established himself among the top 32 in the worlds and became a regular name in the TV majors, West has had enough decent scores drop off his ranking money that he just missed Blackpool, then if that happens you're almost certainly going to miss Dublin as well, and as a result he's holding a seeding position primarily on form from 2018, and this suddenly becomes an important event with him defending last 16 money from two seasons ago. It's not been a dreadful year, three Pro Tour semi finals and a quarter final as well isn't terrible, in the most recent one he beat Peter Wright and Gary Anderson, in the earlier semis he was able to eliminate Gurney and Aspinall, but a points per turn score under 90 isn't really where he'd like to be at. The floor form was enough to get him to Minehead, where he ran into an inspired Willie O'Connor, but he couldn't build anything else beyond that really - he'd not have a good run in Europe, missing out in the final round of qualifying was his most common result, and when he did qualify, he'd get tough draws - Mickey Mansell, Chris Dobey, Mervyn King and Jeffrey de Zwaan all put him out first round, the only time he got a fairly easy draw, he took out Daniel Larsson, then Jamie Hughes, but Richard North was surely a game he'll look back at and think what he could have done different. Of course, West played the UK Open, he beat Ryan Searle, but Ross Smith prevented West from making the last sixteen.

Speaking of Ryan Searle, he's one of West's possible opponents in round two, with the south westerner returning for a second appearance, where he'll hope to repeat his performance from twelve months ago with a notable upset victory over Mensur Suljovic. This season hasn't been too bad, although his form has soured somewhat with seven first round defeats in the last ten Players Championship events - not where Searle would like to be in the build up to the world championships. Searle started out the year well, making quarter finals three times in the first four weekends of the Pro Tour, in that spell taking out Ian White, Steve West, Jamie Hughes, Joe Cullen and Krzysztof Ratajski, and also have a qualification double on the European Tour, winning his first round game both times over Glen Durrant and Diogo Portela, and would benefit from a bye in the second event, but lose the next game on each occasion. That'd be the peak of what Searle did in 2019, his only other board win immediately preceded the qualification double, and he wouldn't make another European Tour event all year. He'd got enough on the board early to make the Players Championship finals, and had darts to beat Danny Noppert but couldn't take them - that left just the UK Open as Ryan's only other major appearance - Searle will hope to use this tournament to overturn his defeat to West in that event.

Searle will face off against Robbie King, who is making his World Championship debut following his win of the Oceanic Masters, one of the Australasian continent's premier events that's worked as a feeder to the worlds for several years now. Previous winners include both the Anderson brothers, Simon Whitlock and King is the latest, winning through over Mark Cleaver, Gordon Mathers and Steve Fitzpatrick in the later stages. King was averaging in the mid to high 80's in those games, a similar average to what he was able to manage overall in his three DPA tour wins - one in the low 90's over fellow worlds competitor Ben Robb, one in the low 80's the day after over Fitzpatrick, and the last one at 85 over another worlds competitor, Damon Heta. That's a bit better than what King was able to manage in his only TV appearance of the year, where he dropped into the 70's in a 6-2 defeat to Rob Cross, although what might have happened if King was able to nick three legs where he had a dart at double, then maybe it'd have been a different story. If it's the case where King simply had some TV debut nerves (understandable - King was in the World Youth Championship as recently as 2016 so is still fairly young), which have now gone, he may have enough to push Searle all the way given Ryan's recent form.

Worlds 4/16 - White, Labanauskas, Edgar, Hopp, Clemens, van de Pas

It's been another great year for Ian White - now firmly entrenched in the top ten by any reasonable metric, not only has he continued to play with the same form on the floor that sees him continually rated as one of the best players in that format, he's also started to do a bit more on TV, which is the only thing that really kept White out of the Premier League last season, and may be the undoing of him again this year - that said, there are more things in his favour this time around. Most importantly, he's finally broken that quarter final issue in reaching the semis at Minehead just a couple of weeks ago, narrow tense wins against Petersen and van der Voort would be followed by a demolition job on Michael Smith and a last leg decider against Willie O'Connor to win his quarter. An 11-8 loss to van Gerwen isn't bad at all, he was averaging 102, but the psychological barrier has gone now. While he's oddly not won a Pro Tour event, he did reach four straight European Tour finals - winning the second two, notably over van Gerwen in the Netherlands, the other also being a deciding leg win against Peter Wright in Sindelfingen. Could White have done more on TV to make a better Premier League case? Possibly, Jamie Hughes in the UK Open was a horrible draw at that point in the year, but he probably should have put Stephen Bunting away at Blackpool, losing a deciding set against Chris Dobey in Dublin was very disappointing, while in the European Championship he got an unplayable Michael Smith, and in the Grand Slam, group tiebreakers gave him van Gerwen instead of Adrian Lewis, and couldn't push a 6-4 lead into a win. I think if White can get to the quarters here he's got every shot at a Premier League berth, and he's definitely not going to fear his probable quarter final opponent.

It's not been a bad first season on tour for Labanauskas, once he actually got on tour - his first three days at Q-School were pretty horrific, and he more or less needed to bink the final day to get a card, which he did. Once he did though, he's had a few notable runs. Making a final of a Pro Tour is hard to do, he was annihilated by Glen Durrant when he got there, but he needed to beat Clemens, Brooks, Reyes, Beaton, Meikle and Meulenkamp to get into that position. This was one event after he had nearly made a final - Stephen Bunting putting him out 7-5. Those two results were enough to put him into the Players Championship finals - he beat Harry Ward in a deciding leg there, but lost to Ryan Meikle by the same scoreline in the next round. Aside from those two runs, Labanauskas wasn't able to do enough to really threaten major qualification - despite apparently having two shots at a few European Tour events (one through the tour card holder qualifier and one through the Nordic/Baltic qualifier), he only made two of them, the first being decent where he put out Rasztovits and Evans before losing to Gerwyn Price, the second not so much where he got a horror draw against Jose de Sousa, and only one other board win all year left him with just the UK Open - where he lost in the first round to Scott Taylor. Still, we all saw last year what he can do on his day.

And last year, Labanauskas beat Matt Edgar in the opening round. By a bizarre twist of fate, we get a rematch of that one, and while many will know Matt as the genius behind the Youtube juggernaut that is Edgar TV, let's talk about his darts for a second. Last year he got in as the last man in from the Pro Tour, this season he wasn't quite able to do that, despite doing enough on the Pro Tour to make the Players Championship Finals, where, while he'd got a tough draw against Dave Chisnall, he was a bit disappointing and a clear second best. He wouldn't have needed a huge amount from the European Tour to qualify by right, he was after all only a grand behind Mickey Mansell in the final rankings, but just making three and losing first round wasn't enough. Ratajski in one was a tough draw to be fair, but Edgar got it to a deciding leg, but Scott Taylor and James Richardson are probably opportunities missed, as are arguably last qualifying round losses to Pipe, O'Connor and West, any of which might have made the difference. Edgar did cash the UK Open, losing to Ryan Searle, but he was left to come through the PDPA qualifier, which he obviously did - Kanik, Eastwood, Bunse and Hunt isn't as trivial a route as you might think, but Edgar got through, and has the chance to rectify last season's opening round defeat.

Hard to say what to make of Hopp's 2019. He's managed to push up the rankings a bit, although a lot of that is surely to do with 2017 being a horror year and not defending much of anything, but has he really progressed at all? It's questionable if he's still Germany's best player at this stage. Let's have a look - in the UK Open, Hopp beat Geert Nentjes then lost to Wade - this seems fine. Between that and the Matchplay, he'd have his two best runs of the year - getting a fairly kind draw in Munich, but losing a semi final to Simon Whitlock, probably one of the better chances to make a final you're going to get, then a month later he'd reach another Pro Tour final - again, not a bad draw, with McGeeney, possible opponent van de Pas, Wattimena, Tabern, Noppert and Thornton being his route to the final, but he'd lose the final in a deciding leg to Harry Ward. You're not going to get too many better chances than that, and he missed it. He did put Dave Chisnall out of the Matchplay and force Michael Smith into added legs, which is decent, but from there it's been a bit barren, after dropping out of the Euro Tour seeds he'd not have a good qualification record at all (and do little once he got through) and miss the European Championship, he'd reach only one further quarter final on the floor, he'd hit Peter Wright in Dublin, which was incredibly bad timing given Wright's return to form, then at Minehead he'd get through a grind of a game against Klaasen before losing a decider to Glen Durrant. I don't think he's really progressed, and is back to having the potential to go on streaky runs without really being that convincing overall.

The reason why Hopp is arguably not Germany's best player is Clemens, and there's a very good chance that the argument could be decided in the second round of this event. It's been another very good year in the career progression of the big man from Saarland, going from a player that looks sporadically dangerous to one that's a geniune threat to go deep in any event he plays in. Now up to the level where he's being seeded in Players Championship events, Clemens has made another two finals, just going about his business beating players he's meant to beat, Jonny Clayton and Gerwyn Price being a bit too much in each of the finals, while in unranked events, he'd make one more final, this time in the German Darts Masters - defeating Barney, Cross and Suljovic to get there, he'd push Peter Wright close before losing 8-6. Clemens was much improved in European Tour qualification this season, his Achilles heel in 2018 being somewhat corrected, but his record once into the events was a little disappointing, only picking up the two wins over Steffen Siepmann and Mervyn King, losing out to White and Suljovic in the last 32, while first round defeats to Evans and Barney aren't awful, losing to Mark Dudbridge is probably avoidable. What of TV? UK Open - OK I guess, beat Benito van de Pas very comfortably (hopefully an omen for Ally Pally) but then losing a close one to Whitlock, he made it through the Grand Slam qualifier, won a tough group featuring both Gurney and Dolan before being edged in a deciding leg by Glen Durrant, then most recently he'd beat McGeeney and Woodhouse at Minehead before losing to Willie O'Connor. Things are trending up, and this isn't a bad draw for Gabriel.

Hey guys, remember when Benito van de Pas was knocking on the door of the Premier League? No, me neither. Last year's last 16 run at the worlds wasn't enough to keep him around in the seeds, and it's lucky that he's here at all, as it was only the PDPA qualifier that allowed him to get in. Strange that all the PDPA qualifiers are in the same quarter of the draw. So, what has Benito done this year? Not a lot. The European Tour column should give you a clue - only qualifying once is bad, and he only got to the final round of qualifying on one occasion on top of that. When he did get there, he lost in the opening round to Willie O'Connor. He's only managed to win his board twice on the Pro Tour, and only managed to reach the board final on two occasions on top of that - he did manage to get a win over Peter Wright in one of those, but the other wins are all over players that he either should beat, or not be that much of an underdog to. Notable that in one of those events, the player that put him out was Gabriel Clemens. 21 first round exits on the Pro Tour, including six in a row to end the season, tells you everything you need to know. He didn't even need a win to get to the last 64 of the UK Open, as he was still just in the top 32 at the time, then we all saw what his first round opponent here did. This looks like it's only going one way, then it's going to be one hell of a fight for van de Pas to save his card in 2020.

Worlds 3/16 - Wade, Edhouse, Koltsov, Beaton, Anderson, Zong

If 2018 was the season of Wade showing he still had the ability to win major titles, 2019 was the year of Wade dominating the floor - wrapping up four Players Championship titles before the Matchplay, including the rarity of a double over one weekend in April, before adding a fifth in September. It's only that he played somewhat of a truncated schedule following his fourth win (only playing four of the remaining twelve events) that prevented him from being the number one seed for the Players Championship finals, being edged out by Gerwyn Price. That early season form saw him play well enough to get through to the Premier League final day, as well as the Masters final, not a bad start to the year at all. It was enough to get me to back him each way for this event at half the price he is now... as such, it's a bit of a surprise that he's not been able to do more on TV in ranking events, with just the one quarter final in Blackpool, and maybe he could have done a bit more - the UK Open in particular, a last sixteen loss to Ross Smith was probably avoidable, in Dublin he probably should have taken out Mervyn King, can't do too much about hitting an unplayable Jonny Clayton in the European Championship, then in the remainder he lost a deciding leg to Adrian Lewis and then ran into MvG. It'll be tough for Wade to run really deep given the section of the draw he's in, but the game's definitely there.

Ritchie Edhouse being here can be put down to one weekend really - the opening Challenge Tour weekend, where he was able to claim a win over Scott Taylor, as well as reaching the last 32 or deeper in the other three events. Because of the way the PDC calendar worked out, that put him number one in the Challenge Tour rankings for enough entry deadlines for more or less the first half of the Pro Tour - it's a bit of a silly system to not have it as a year rolling scoring system, but it is what it is, and Edhouse took enough advantage of it to get to the worlds. Making the most of his floor form, Ritchie was able to win his board twice, first with a notable win over Ian White, secondly with wins over van den Bergh and Gurney, as well as pick up enough 500 quids here, grands there to finish nearly high enough in the Players Championship order of merit to make Minehead - missing out by one win on what would almost certainly have been a main stage game against a big seed. He'd need a bit more to get here, and did well enough to five European Tour events, ending with a 5-5 record, with a best run early where he beat Brendan Dolan and Adrian Lewis to make the last sixteen. It was unfortunate that the last of those events clashed with the final Challenge Tour weekend, giving Edhouse a decision to play for the card or play for the worlds, but he's here now.

Edhouse's opponent will be a familiar face to him in Boris Koltsov, who has similarly been very good on the Order of Merit, nearly doing enough to win a tour card but finishing a few hundred quid short of doing so. Koltsov qualified from winning the Eurasian event, an interesting one in that it was streamed with some fun technical issues, leaving them to score using a clipboard and marker pen for the home viewers, he wasn't really challenged that much though and is very much Russia's number one player. Boris's Challenge Tour win came over Dave Prins on the same day as Edhouse won his, and this allowed Koltsov to accumulate plenty of floor experience, not being quite so consistent as Ritchie, but with a better peak, beating Wattimena and Michael Smith along the way to the quarter finals in June. He's also played in some European Tour events, getting through a crowded regional qualifier three times, generally beating the players he should and losing to those he should, but a loss to Richard North from an almost won position will have hurt. Koltsov's at least been on this stage before, which could make a difference, but has yet to get more than the preliminary win he got on debut five years ago.

Steve Beaton will, this year, tie the record for most world championship appearances at 29, and he's not showing any signs of slowing down any time soon. It's been a relatively quiet year, but there's been some peaks, primarily in the UK Open, where a potentially hard opening draw against Gary Anderson was no problem, a 10-8 win being replicated against Keegan Brown and Dimitri van den Bergh before being blitzed by Michael Smith. Beaton wasn't able to get a televised win outside of that run, mostly tough draws, but was close to edging out Ricky Evans at Minehead, but it's on the floor where he's done the best work. Nothing spectacular, three quarter finals being his peak in the Players Championship series, but he was close to being an ever present on the European Tour - he qualified for the first eight in a row, being very close to taking one to the final where he lost 7-5 to Ian White in the semis in Sindelfingen, a week after he lost to the same player in the quarters after defeating both Michael Smith and Rob Cross in Austria. Beaton would sneak into the seedings for a couple, and only miss out on one event. If this level of consistent performances continues, a thirtieth appearance in 2021 seems inevitable.

2019's been an incredibly frustrating year for Kyle Anderson, a bit similar to 2018 really. His level of play has been right up there - a season long points per turn score of over 92 is top-20 standard. He's just not been able to convert it into results often enough - a continual string of running into great players not making mistakes or narrow 6-4, 6-5 sorts of losses. It started out alright, with three quick quarter finals potentially making a good platform, but Kyle would only win his board on one further occasion in the season, leaving him drawn against Joe Cullen in the Players Championship finals, and Cullen did little wrong to win 6-2. Kyle would make six European Tour events, but just couldn't force his way past a seed, running into Gerwyn Price, Adrian Lewis, Daryl Gurney and Michael van Gerwen, the ten grand he did win not being quite enough to get him to Göttingen. As a result of that, and being just the wrong side of the Matchplay and Grand Prix cutoffs, his only other TV appearance of the year (outside of the Australasian World Series tour) was in the UK Open, where he'll want to forget a drubbing handed out by Josh Payne. Kyle seems like a confidence player, if he can get a first round win here, then the second round seems winnable as well.

Kyle's opponent will be the young Chinese qualifier Zong, who won his regional qualifier to make a return here after a year's absence. Last time out he didn't look too bad, averaging in the mid 80's but losing in straight sets to Bernie Smith, and it's that sort of average he apparently put up in the qualifying tournament. We know a little bit more about Zong than we did last time - he's appeared in the World Cup again this year, but the Chinese team could only manage the one leg against the United States, and he also appeared in the World Youth Championship. There he was unfortunate to get drawn in a group with eventual winner Luke Humphries, but did get a win over Keelan Kay, where he seemed a bit inconsistent, he did get four of his five legs won in six visits, but then also had a leg he lost where he had seven visits without hitting a big treble. Zong did play the Development Tour weekend while he was there, only being stopped by Wessel Nijman, Berry van Peer and Justin van Tergouw, but had a good win over Dawson Murschell and another win where he went 15-15-15-14 darts to sweep Stephen Rosney with a ton plus average. We'll see which player turns up, there's a wide range of outcomes in this one.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Worlds 2/16 - Clayton, Joyce, Dekker, Bunting, Monk, Perales

Some people have been of the opinion that Jonny Clayton's not had a particularly good year. I can't say that I'd agree to be honest - what he's done is more or less what you'd expect of someone on the fringes of the top 16 - he's managed to win a Pro Tour event, which is always hard to do, taking down Gabriel Clemens in the final after defeating Ian White in the semi, and put himself in position to possibly add another, with seven further trips to the quarter finals or further. He did enough on the European Tour to qualify comfortably for the European Championship, where he was able to whitewash James Wade with a 111 average, and who knows what he'd have done in Denmark if he'd have won a decider against Dave Chisnall in his best European Tour run. His averaging is in and around the top 20 of the whole of my database. I guess the relative lack of TV runs, outside of his World Series quarter final, which is probably fair enough - Ratajski was a tough out in the UK Open, but Keegan Brown, Stephen Bunting and Ryan Meikle were all costly first round defeats. He should have enough to make the last 32 here and try to avenge his loss to Bunting.

It's not been a bad season for Ryan Joyce following his impressive quarter final run from last year, but he's not really hit the level of floor consistency that he had in 2018, which has seen him fail to really power on to the world's top 32. However, he's picked up a bit later in the season, with his four European Tour qualifications coming at the halfway point of that series or later, and his best Pro Tour run appearing right towards the end of the year, where he was able to reach the semi finals and only lost out in a deciding leg to Gerwyn Price. Joyce wasn't able to win his board on the Pro Tour as often as he would have liked, but it was enough to see him qualify for Minehead, where he really should have defeated John Henderson, missing match darts in an opening round defeat. Joyce's only other major appearance was in the UK Open, where he'd take out Robert Owen, but suffer a heavy defeat at the hands of Cristo Reyes. Hopefully Ryan's good experiences last year will set him up well to get through the opening round.

In an ironic twist, Joyce's first round opponent will be Jan Dekker, the two players who faced the ladies' qualifiers last season running into each other in the opening round this year. Unlike Joyce, Jan has had a horrible 2019, not getting close at all to qualifying outright through the Pro Tour, relying on the West Europe qualifier to get a return, where he eliminated youngster Geert Nentjes, former tour card holder Jeffrey de Graaf and previous Lakeside competitor Derk Telnekes to claim his spot. Why did he need to go through this route? Getting absolutely nothing from the European Tour is a huge reason, only getting as far as the final round of qualifying three times (obviously winning none), which would leave him far too much work to do on the Pro Tour - and only winning more than one game on four occasions isn't going to cut the mustard. He was able to get through his board on three of those four occasions, beating the likes of Michael Smith, Chris Dobey, Mensur Suljovic and Jamie Hughes - Dekker still has the big game in him, but with increasing infrequency. That he got a winnable game to get to the later stages of the UK Open but lost 10-3 to Simon Whitlock is sadly more indicative of Jan's season.

Stephen Bunting's 2019 has been somewhat inconsistent, but he has been able to hit some of the heights that saw him win the Lakeside title, and if he can continue with that sort of peak, who knows what might happen at Ally Pally? Fortunately for Bunting, his best performances came in the last event of the year, where at the Players Championship finals, he was able to follow up on a win over Dimitri van den Bergh with incredibly destructive performances against Jose de Sousa and Ryan Meikle, before Gerwyn Price would be too tough an ask at the quarter final stage. Price would avenge a loss from Bunting's other great run this year at Blackpool - there Bunting beat Price in a deciding leg in the opening round, would also take out Ian White in additional legs, before running eventual champion Rob Cross very close, only losing by the odd two legs in thirty. Stephen would get wins over Keegan Brown and Jonny Clayton to avoid any early major exits, keeping the ranking money rolling in, although an early loss to Steve Lennon in the UK Open would be a disappointment. Away from the big screen, Bunting's Pro Tour campaign would be fairly weak barring one mid-season final loss to Jeffrey de Zwaan, and he would make another final in Prague, losing out to Jamie Hughes in tricky conditions. Some good heights, but some barren spells - at least he's timing the former well.

Six years after his last appearance in a world championship, Arron Monk makes his return on the back of a solid floor season as he attempts to retain his tour card. Monk's qualification is more or less solely based from his Pro Tour results, which faded a little bit towards the end of the season barring his quarter final run in the final event of the season to lock in a bit of confidence, but looked very good in the first half. The peak was in April and early May, where he got one of his two European Tour berths and his only win (over a domestic qualifier before losing to Dave Chisnall), his best floor run of a semi final with key wins over Clemens and Ratajski, and his other quarter final run, taking out de Sousa and John Henderson before losing a decider to Ian White. He's previously looked confident enough on TV to have got out of the groups in the Grand Slam, but that was eight years ago - more recently he's suffered early losses to van der Voort and Clayton at Minehead. Arron's going to need to roll back the years and rediscover his earlier form if he's going to go deep enough to save his card.

Monk's international opponent is another tour card holder in Jose Perales, or Justicia, depending on what naming custom you want. Jose's a debutant here having won the qualifier that's aimed at the Iberian peninsula, most recently won by Jose de Sousa. Perales won that comfortably, not facing anyone of real note until the final where he averaged over a ton in preventing Antonio Alcinas from qualifying, putting his compatriot's card in jeopardy. Having perhaps surprisingly won a tour card two years ago, it's all but lost, and he's mostly notable for an incident with Adrian Lewis on the floor rather than for any real impressive performances - this year he did scrape into the money in the UK Open over a pub qualifier but then was pipped by Ricky Evans, but his record elsewhere wasn't anywhere near enough to get to any more events. Jose only managed one European Tour appearance in Denmark, but lost out to Ryan Joyce in the opening round, and only won his board three times - a best of a quarter final in April, beating James Wade and then whitewashing Rowby John Rodriguez, and could have gone deeper had he not lost a deciding leg to Tytus Kanik. He's going to need to find his best game to truly trouble Monk, but in the penultimate Pro Tour weekend he did at least have two of his better runs, so coupled with his great run in a big event to get here, maybe it's more likely than usual that it happens.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Worlds 1/16 - van Gerwen, Klaasen, Burness, Evans, McGeeney, Campbell

Has this been a decent year for van Gerwen? Just about, I think. Players in the conversation for world number one deal in world titles, and Michael's previously stated that it's all about the world crown - which he was able to reclaim, without ever really being threatened at any point. Maybe if Smith had brought his best game in the final, but we'll never know. Outside of that, he cleaned up more or less everything that isn't ranked, however a haul of two of six ranking majors is probably a bit below par for someone of van Gerwen's quality, and aside from the Grand Slam semi final, where he finally lost his aura of invincibility against an on-fire Gerwyn Price, none of the defeats were really unavoidable - Mervyn King in the UK Open and Ross Smith in the European Championship are games he really should be winning, and while Glen Durrant had an inspired Matchplay, van Gerwen would still be hugely favoured over what's a decent length match. In lower level events, van Gerwen started out incredibly, claiming four of the first five European Tours as well as two early Players Championship events, but from there a combination of a cutback in schedule and some odd results saw him claim nothing more - losing to the likes of Robert Thornton, Keegan Brown (twice), Ian White in the Netherlands to end a ridiculous winning run in the European Tour there and Alan Norris. While he's still the best player in the world, the gap between van Gerwen and the field is nowhere near as big as previous years, and while the favourite tag is correct, at the price he's at, it seems prohibitive.

Is it really fourteen seasons since Jelle Klaasen claimed the BDO world title? That's a long time in darts. Since then Jelle's had his ups and downs, and is sliding down the rankings, dropping out of the seeds from last year and being fairly low down the list of qualifiers from the Pro Tour rankings. Klaasen might have finished better if he didn't have a dismal record of European Tour qualification, only making it through once out of thirteen events, and only getting to the final round of qualifiers on three further occasions. You would expect someone of Klaasen's calibre to get through more than that. As such, he's only here through the Players Championship, where he's done somewhat better, with a best run to the quarters, albeit with a fairly easy draw, and a further four board wins. His scoring wasn't too bad, and he's probably been a bit unlucky to not get better results, but it was enough to get to the Players Championship finals, going down in a turgid affair against Max Hopp, and in his only other appearance in a major, he lost heavily to Madars Razma in his first game at the UK Open. Getting through at least the first round here is a must leading into a 2020 campaign where he may be fighting to save his tour card.

Klaasen's opponent will be Kevin Burness, who's making a return here following a debut twelve months ago, where he was able to take out a disappointing Paul Nicholson, before grabbing a set against Gary Anderson but generally being outclassed. Burness is going to need to return to Q-School after this event, not being able to build on that second round performance throughout 2019, but he's got a chance to at least get some expenses in the bank before a possible return to the circuit. He timed his best performance of the year to get here through the PDPA qualifier, winning against Niels Zonneveld, Reece Robinson, Mario Robbe, Robert Thornton and finally Bradley Brooks, so if he's timing his form he's at least doing so at the right time of the year. Despite a horrific Pro Tour run, where he only made one board final and lost in the first round on 25 of 30 occasions, he was able to record a better European Tour than his first round opponent - while like Klaasen it was just one appearance, he was able to score a stunning upset of Glen Durrant despite averaging more than ten points less than the Lakeside champion, before averaging below 75 in a 6-1 drubbing by Joe Cullen. With the UK Open being revamped, Burness did appear in at least one major like every other tour card holder, but lost his opening game to Scott Taylor.

Evans is one of a bunch of younger players looking to punch his way into the top 32, and has just been able to do so - albeit only just, which gives an awkward round three matchup, but he's here now, and has had probably his best year on tour to date. The highlight was a quarter final run in the European Championship, edging out Glen Durrant and then MvG-conqueror Ross Smith, before falling to eventual winner Rob Cross, but he'd done enough on tour to qualify for all majors except the Grand Slam. He's not managed to do much more in the other majors except getting the minimum money onto his ranking, van den Bergh, Gurney, Dobey and Wade taking him out, with sole opening round wins at Minehead against Jose Perales and Steve Beaton, but he's getting there. A final run in the European Tour early on helped a lot, taking out Thornton, Suljovic, King, Darren Webster and Brown before losing a close one against Daryl Gurney, and he made another final on the floor a month earlier, beating Gurney and Ratajski amongst others. The runs did enough to his ranking to get into the seedings for many of the European Tours, and he's had a good record of getting onto the final day, which is what he needs to do to maintain his top 32 ranking and stay in the Pro Tour qualifier spots for major tournaments.

If it wasn't for three other players having spectacular debut seasons, the former BDO number one would be talked about as being a possible best new tour card holder - as is, Mark McGeeney's done enough to make Ally Pally at his first attempt, his fifth world championship appearance all in all. The main disappointment in his opening year has been a relative failure to make more stage events - getting into majors other than the ones he did do is a tricky ask, but only getting to two European Tour events is probably below par - once he had a solid run, taking out Payne and Cullen, before losing a tight match to Jamie Hughes, but would lose to Bradley Brooks first round in his other appearance. As such, it's all been about the Pro Tour - a best run to the semi finals early in the year was impressive, beating Henderson, Clayton, Dobey and Meulenkamp on the way, and another six board wins is showing some of the consistent floor form that saw him pick up a plethora of titles in the BDO. It was enough to get him into the Players Championship Finals, and put up a good fight against a tough opening round opponent in Gabriel Clemens, while in the UK Open, he took out Dave Pallett before losing out to Madars Razma. Whether he can translate the floor form into a stage win is the key question - if he can win his opening game, he certainly has the experience and quality to give Evans a true challenge.

Our first real international qualifier is Matt Campbell, who's made it here through being the highest ranked Canadian on the developing North American CDC circuit, ending second overall behind Darin Young and a good distance ahead of nearest challenger, last year's participant Jim Long. He would be able to get two victories on that tour, over Young in the first and fellow Canadian Kiley Edmunds in the second, as well as making another couple of finals over their ten-event series. The averages he was able to put up in those events looked impressive enough, scoring over ninety in three of the finals - while a tour long average of 86 is competent play. We haven't yet seen Campbell on anything like a stage of this size, Campbell being unable to qualify for Vegas having come within a leg of an automatic spot in the first qualifier, so how he adapts is a big question - he did play this year's World Masters on account of winning the Syracuse Open, and got one win before running into seeded player Simon Stainton. He probably has enough of a game if he can settle quickly to cause McGeeney some problems, but should start as the underdog to get an actual victory.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Worlds preview - prelude

One thing I missed out on talking about that got announced recently was the tweaks they're going to do to European Tour qualification, namely:

- The tour card holders qualifier is no longer segregated by UK/Europe, and just includes everyone in one pool for 24 spots. This is the fairest way, the best players on the night should come through, no complaints with this one.
- There's also two spots for home nation qualifiers direct from the Pro Tour rankings. I'm not too sure about this, it seems to be purely to give Hopp and Clemens exposure, and it also has the big issue that with events in Hungary and the Czech Republic later in the season, anyone that's able to qualify just once for a European Tour event gets a huge boost - can you see a situation where three players from those countries get ranking money? I can't. These two wouldn't actually score ranking money unless they win their first round game, similar to how the seeds work right now, but even so...
- The rest looks more or less unchanged, the two spots mentioned above coming from the home nations qualifers. Appears to be closing the shop to card holders a bit more.

So, worlds preview. This'll be a series of sixteen posts in draw order - the data sheet will look a bit like this:

To talk you through the data:

- Top line should be straight forward.
- Second line shows the method of qualification (for things like the Pro Tour qualifiers, the number doesn't mean their actual ranking, more the ranking after those who qualified through a higher priority qualifier have been removed), their result last year (if the player took part in the BDO worlds, that will appear here), the best odds to win the event per oddschecker from a couple of days ago, and then the number of previous world championship appearances (PDC first, bracketed number indicating BDO appearances).
- The FRH ranking is the usual ranking that we use all the time. The FDI rating is used with permission from - it is basically an Elo-based ranking system, the higher the number the better. If you're not following @FDI_Index on Twitter, you should be, he produces a lot of good stuff. The legs won/lost comes from my database of all ranking senior singles 501 single-in/double-out PDC events dating back as far as last year's PDC worlds. It also includes the three main BDO majors from the televised stages, I'll be looking to expand this further next year, but it's reliant on tournaments supplying data, although the rumour that the Dutch Open may use Dart Connect is kind of exciting.
- Fourth row is my usual points per turn scoring. This shows every players score per turn (this is *not* a three dart average, a 13 dart leg and a 15 dart leg both count as 501 points scored in five turns) over the same data sample described above.
- Fifth row is a summary of the best of what a player's done this year - every ranking major, and the best five performances on the European and Pro Tour respectively. The event they've done the performance in is mostly irrelevant, but I list the most recent event to break any ties.
- The final row shows any performances I think are worth mentioning, up to a maximum of three - this may include non-ranking PDC majors, BDO events, PDC secondary and regional tours, etc etc.

I don't think I get the first installment out tonight, but keep watching.