Tuesday 25 September 2018

Grand Prix high level preview

Not going to go into a huge amount of detail, and certainly not going to place any bets at this stage (that there's two Players Championship events beforehand being kind of important), but a quick look at what we've got:

Section 1 - van Gerwen/Lennon, Webster/Bunting

Obviously a clear favourite to come out of this section (although in some of the more comical parts of the media people are thinking Anderson's now a better player, which is nice), in these short, short races, anything can happen - it's a race to two sets with no tiebreak in the last one. As such, Lennon's 6/1, which if you consider my current stats think he wins a set on his throw 37% of the time, doesn't seem that bad - he's played van Gerwen a lot of times this season, and although he's lost all of them, he's got closer and closer, and 8-5 in the European Tour final they played in states where Lennon's game is at right now. Plus he's on home soil so anything can happen.

Webster/Bunting should be quite a close one, there's not a great deal to split these two - Webster's correctly a small favourite, with him winning sets on his throw in the high 50%'s rather than the mid 50's. You can see that this'll be highly volatile given the format, it could just come down to who's more consistent on the doubles. The head to head is two a piece, although they haven't actually met since Webster dumped Bunting out of the worlds in 2016 in a deciding set. Could easily go all the way to a deciding leg.

Section 8 - Chisnall/Hopp, Evans/van Barneveld

Chizzy's the eight seed, and this isn't a bad first round draw. Both of these guys can miss doubles in huge chunks so while I'm thinking Chisnall should win a set on his throw three times out of four, twice as often as the debuting Hopp would do on his, it's not something I'd want to be banking on given Chisnall's lacklustre appearance in the Champions League, although he was drawing pretty damn thin given his group. They've met once a year over the last five years, Chisnall winning three times for the loss of just two legs, but Hopp's gone 6-4 in two out of the last three.

Evans is rearing into form nicely ahead of what's a fairly important tournament for Barney, defending semi final prize money as he loiters in the lower echelons of the top 16, mainly due to defending over 130 grand, or in other words, half, of his ranking points between now and the worlds. It's hard to get a read on van Barneveld given the enormous lack of competitive darts he throws, but he's usually fairly solid on the outs and rates to win over 60% of his own sets against Evans. Ricky's over 50% himself though, so anything could go here.

Section 5 - Gurney/Henderson, Meulenkamp/Cullen

The defending champ keeps running into Hendo, you'll recall that John was the player Gurney beat in the semi final last year, but Henderson would avenge that victory in the second round of the worlds later last year. John's also won the only other match they've played in a major, getting the edge in a decider in the UK Open three years ago, and this one should be Daryl's, with him up in the mid sixties for holding his set against Henderson's 50%, but it'll only take a couple of missed doubles and it's game on - Gurney being excellent in that regard last year.

Cullen's managed to get into the top sixteen in the world, mainly due to excellent European form without making a final, and while this tournament only seeds to 8, he can't complain too much about getting Ron Meulenkamp, the last man into the tournament. Ron's very streaky, and if he can pin opening doubles he could give Cullen a real run for his money, although the set winning chances are similar to those in the Gurney/Henderson match. Interestingly, Meulenkamp leads the head to head, but both games were back in 2016 and both went to a decider.

Section 4 - Anderson/Clayton, de Zwaan/Huybrechts

Who wants an Anderson/de Zwaan rematch? I do for sure, but first he'll have to come through Jonny Clayton, which he should do, having won their last two head to head games 6-0, rating to win his own sets over two times in three and winning the set on the Clayton throw more than half the time. Clayton being hit and miss, mostly miss, since mid-June where he had a run of quarter final appearances following his European Tour win, should seal the deal.

Huybrechts is out of the top sixteen and very much the out of form player, compared to Jeffrey who's finally made the break through at senior level that has been coming this season. de Zwaan won their only meeting where we know a score last year 6-5, comes in as the favourite, and should take it home - like Anderson, he'll break the Huybrechts set more often than not and looks very comfortable to hold his own set in the mid sixties.

Section 2 - Wright/West, Wattimena/King

Wright looks good to make it out of this section of the draw, but West is incredibly dangerous if he's hitting his doubles and has made the last sixteen the last two years, beating Phil Taylor in 2016. Wright is a strong favourite to win the opening game, the shortest priced player outside of van Gerwen, Anderson and Cross, and his consistency should strangle West and prevent too many easy chances.

Wattimena continues to climb the rankings on account of making his debut in multiple major events, and is on the brink of a worlds seed at present. Mervyn King's won on tour this year and it's possible with a decent run in a major or two that he could get back towards the top sixteen himself. Both will be reasonably happy with the draw, King is a tiny favourite in the market but has been playing better than Wattimena this season by more of a margin than the market suggests.

Section 7 - Whitlock/Wilson, Smith/Lewis

Oh boy. Whitlock reached the final here last year and will be hoping to repeat to some extent this season, but that's not an easy section of the draw by any stretch of the imagination. Wilson was the second highest ranked of the Pro Tour qualifiers, and the two met in Riesa earlier this month, Whitlock winning by the odd leg in 11, and that level of close match should continue, with both players in the mid to high 50's in terms of winning percentage on throw. Will Whitlock's disregard for conventional outshots and liking all doubles equally help him in this format?

Smith/Lewis is the tie of the round, Michael being the last player not to be seeded while Lewis has hauled himself back into the top sixteen as he continues to make a solid rebuild to his ranking, although he's not managed to bink anything as of yet. This has the potential to be another real tight match, Smith has the edge and it's a pretty good edge, playing well enough where he's a favourite to win a set on the Lewis throw, and he also has a compelling head to head lead, 3-1 in the last couple of years.

Section 6 - Suljovic/Wade, Payne/White

Mensur probably would have liked an easier draw, but James Wade it is, as the Machine's been putting in some work this year, frequently ending up in the real latter stages of events and winning their only meeting this season. That said, it was against Wade in the worlds in 2010 (was it really that long ago?) that we first took real notice of Suljovic, so he can't hate the opponent that much. Suljovic has an edge, but it's not that huge - he takes his set on throw 61% of the time, but Wade holds his 54%, and if Wade does what commentators refer to as James Wade things, particularly on doubles, the shock could be on. Not that Suljovic is any mug on the doubles himself...

Josh is making his debut here, having made the Matchplay a couple of years back but not quite having the prize money to follow that up with a Dublin appearance, and is here primarily due to a second Pro Tour win back in May, where he beat Ian White in the semi final, so one of the newest European Tour winners should hold no fear, especially if White does the thing he often does and not bring his floor game to the TV. Ian's doing well enough this season that he should hold his set on throw over two times out of three, and force Payne to hold out to stand a chance in a decider. If he makes it through and Mensur does as well, it'll be a repeat of last year's first round.

Section 3 - Cross/Beaton, Noppert/Price

Rob's been quietly putting up good numbers if not really getting the titles that his play deserves this season - he's got one Pro Tour win and one World Series win, but you'd expect the World Champion to have done a little bit more than that. Dumped out of the Champions League in the group stages last weekend emphatically by Peter Wright, Cross faces the evergreen Steve Beaton, who's got a very hard task - Beaton doesn't even rate to win the set on the Cross throw 30% of the time, and is down near 40% in terms of holding his set. They've met twice this year and Cross has won both, both in Europe and both 6-5, but this is also a rerun of last year's first round, where a distinctly off his game Cross lost in two sets to the Adonis.

Noppert's having a very good season - he left it extremely late to qualify, but did just enough in the last European Tour before the cutoff to get home. That was the one Price won, although despite Noppert making the semi, Price was in the other half, so we need to look back for head to head stats - it's 1-1 this year, Gerwyn winning the first on the floor 6-1 but Danny avenged that 6-5 in the earlier European Tour event where he reached the semi final. Not having quite a full year to qualify, he's done well, but Price is playing much the better darts this year and Noppert may just end up taking the first round losers money and being happy he got to this major in his first PDC year.

It's the Players Championships on Friday/Saturday, so keep an eye out on Saturday evening for potential bets, I'm not at any game so should be able to feed the master computer fairly promptly, although with the games not starting until the Sunday evening time's on our side.

A quick word on the BDO - their new website is a wee bit too flashy for my liking, but at least they've done something with it, and their Twitter account appears to have been taken out of mothballs as well, so it's good to see they're at least trying to move with the times. Hopefully that includes getting some decent stats out for the World Masters which is upcoming very shortly. We're close to the Lakeside cutoff as well and it looks as if Andy Hamilton is right on the borderline, but in assuming no random wins the Masters. Of course, random people taking that event never happens ever, does it?

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