Saturday 15 July 2017

Matchplay pod 1 - two world champions and men down under

Michael van Gerwen (World rank: 1, FRH rank: 1, match odds: 1/16, tournament odds: 4/5) v Stephen Bunting (World rank: 22, FRH rank: 23, match odds: 12/1, tournament odds: 400/1)

First up we have the reigning and defending champion of just about every relevant title in darts, and the greatest player of all time, Michael van Gerwen, opening his defence in what looks to be a comfortable opponent in Stephen Bunting. van Gerwen's not played close to every event as he did last year, and hasn't looked as completely invincible as he did in 2016, but he's still managed to collect six ranking titles so far, including three European Tour wins, and also won the Premier League. There's still no question he's number 1, but other players are getting closer to his level in a lot of situations - but not in terms of pure unbeatable legs, his stat of 30% of legs won in twelve darts or less is so far ahead of anyone else, it's unbelievable (of this field, only Gary Anderson even has above 20%).

Bunting, meanwhile, continues to struggle and is having a quite awful fourth season in the PDC - the pressure ought to be off now as he's now not defending what he made in his debut season, but he's simply not playing anywhere near as well as we know he can. Following his first round World Championship exit to Darren Webster, he didn't even make the money at the UK Open (neither did van Gerwen, so at least he matches him on something), and has made one quarter final all season. Bunting, oddly, did win the last matchup between the two in Barnsley on the floor last year, but their last TV matchup, in the unranked 2016 Masters, van Gerwen won 10-1.

I think that we see something of the same here, Bunting would be outclassed even if he was to turn on his best form, the question is at such short odds, do we bet van Gerwen? The numbers reckon that based on how quickly they finish legs, van Gerwen wins this over 95% of the time - more than enough to justify a bet, it'd be very easy to go crazy and put lots of units on, but I'll be somewhat restrained and just look for a small gain with 2u van Gerwen 1/16.

Simon Whitlock (World rank: 17, FRH rank: 12, match odds: 4/6, tournament odds: 200/1) v Kyle Anderson (World rank: 31, FRH rank: 26, match odds: 11/8, tournament odds: 300/1)

An all-Australia clash is up next, with Simon Whitlock barely holding on to the number 16 seed (as you'll see, if the cutoff was the middle of last week, he wouldn't be seeded), against the occasionally brilliant Kyle Anderson. Whitlock has continued the resurgence in his career well into his fifth decade, picking up two UK Open qualifier wins, reaching the quarter final of the event itself, and another Pro Tour win the weekend after, but since late April his form has dipped quite a bit - first round losses on the floor to Matt Clark, Jon Worsley and Richard North, an early loss to Steve Hine, and he's bricked the first round of three European Tour events for no (official) ranking cash.

Can Anderson capitalise? Visa issues caused huge disruption to him late last season, but he's back now looking to make the breakthrough to push higher in the top 32 - he's going to be in a false position for a while as a result of no World Championship cash, so come the end of 2018 he'll be in a position to skyrocket, but here and now he's doing OK if not really making the inroads he is capable of. A semi final last weekend is the best he's done this year, but then ruined the weekend by losing in round 1 to Wes Newton the day after, so while the form may be inconsistent, the possibility of hitting peaks is there. Four quarter finals, including one in Europe, are keeping things ticking over, his whole dartsdatabase record is a steady string of four figure cashes.

My projections have this as a 57/43 matchup, which is very close to what the linemakers have it, so I won't be betting on this one - the questions are mainly can Whitlock halt what appears to be a downturn in form, and which Anderson will turn up. If one plays badly and the other doesn't, then that should decide things quite comprehensively, if they both play well, Whitlock should just have enough to grind it out over a longer format than on the floor, if both play badly it could be a trainwreck. That it's a matchup between World Cup partners also adds dynamics that further lean me to avoid things from a betting standpoint.

Briefly on round two, I have van Gerwen only not making the quarters one time out of eight, being more than a 90% favourite against either potential opponent, with Whitlock being the slightly tougher opponent, in that he should win about 9% of matches as opposed to 7% or so. If Bunting shocks the world then he would come in as an underdog against either as of the stats right now (around 30% versus Whitlock, 37% against Anderson), but if he were to do so that'd likely push his numbers up a chunk, although probably not enough to push him to favourite status.

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