Tuesday 6 November 2018

Meet your Grand Slam competitors!

So the draw is out. Let's meet the players...

Group A sees world number 1 Michael van Gerwen who everybody knows about get what looks to be a fairly comfortable group. Jonny Clayton looks to be the main danger, qualifying through the Players Championship semi finals with a European Tour title as backup, but his form of late has been fairly hit and miss. Joe Murnan won through the qualifiers for a second straight year, but that Pro Tour bink out of nowhere seems a long, long time ago, he's not qualified for Europe all year or won a board on the Pro Tour once and is looking certain to lose his tour card. Gary Robson is the BDO representative, a quarter finalist at the World Masters and multiple finalist in minor BDO events pulling him up the rankings.

Group B has three PDC heavyweights - firstly Michael Smith, the Premier League finalist who added the World Series final last week, secondly Raymond van Barneveld, the five time worlds winner who's here through being not Michael van Gerwen in the World Cup, although the Masters final would have done as well, Ratajski was originally in through being the World Master then out, then in through winning a UK Open qualifier then out, then in through winning two Pro Tour titles in a weekend, then out, then Cadby withdrew, so here we are. These three could be quite close and the BDO wildcard is Smith-Neale, a long time PDC player who won the World Masters out of the blue to kickstart his career, if he plays like he did there he probably still won't win against this quality of group, but could cause problems in this short format.

Group C should be fine for James Wade, who's won two TV titles in two weeks, the highlight being the European Championship as it's ranked. We've got two PDC players from the last gasp qualifier - Keegan Brown's still easily the right side of 30 but it was four years ago where he made his name with a quarter final run and has been up and down since, while Mark Webster moved over after winning Lakeside, but after a decent first season it's been all too sporadic and his form is such that he hasn't even qualified for Ally Pally. Wesley Harms completes the lineup - I lack data on him but he was very good in the BDO around 2012-13, twice reaching the Lakeside semis, and has made it out of the group stage here before.

Group D looks fairly straightforward to call. Gary Anderson's won nearly everything in sight on TV, while Ian White's won nearly everything off TV. Steve Hine's mostly known for his Muffin Man gimmick rather than any real darting feats but has plenty of experience, while Michael Unterbuchner was a semi finalist at the last BDO worlds and a finalist in their World Trophy, and if White has a TV wobble as has happened occasionally this year, might not be completely out of it.

Group E is interesting - Peter Wright's the clear favourite to advance, the defending runner up spot being good enough, but he'd have liked to have added a few more titles this year. Hopp I'm still yet to be convinced about statistically, but is here from the European Tour win and should have the most stage experience of anyone else in the group, which could be key. Payne was the runner up in the world youth last year, and added a second Pro Tour title to his resume in May lest anyone think he's making up the numbers, while Jim Williams has had a great twelve months in the BDO where he's reached the final of whatever the call the Zuiderduin nowadays, the quarters of Lakeside where he lost a thriller to Glen Durrant, and the semis of the other BDO majors.

Group F is completely wide open. Whitlock is the seed having reached the final of the European Championship, but cannot be the favourite to advance - Gerwyn Price is in red hot form having recently won a European Tour title and made three TV quarter finals or better in the past month and a bit, and could easily have been seeded if the tournament had taken place a little bit later. Gilding we mainly know for his golden spell where he reached the UK Open semi final in 2015, but is fighting to save his tour card and every penny here might count - he's shown signs of getting back to his best on occasion and knocked out Adie Lewis to qualify here. Throw Glen Durrant into the mix, who is arguably a top ten player in the world regardless of code, and you've got an explosive mix which could come down to leg difference.

Group G has crowd favourite Mensur Suljovic looking to add a first ranking major, having nearly got there in the Matchplay. He looks to be the pick of the bunch, although you'll see below that in the limited data I have on former Lakeside Champion Scott Mitchell, Mitchell rates really highly - he had fairly early exits in all the BDO majors in 2018 but was not playing badly at all while doing so. There's two players from the PDC qualifier here to complete the group, and they're good ones - Bunting's a former Lakeside winner, whose career has been a bit like Mark Webster's in that after a good first year in the PDC he's never really kicked on, but has certainly done a lot more than Webster has from year to year to stick safely around on the fringes of the top 16, while Schindler qualified for two Grand Slams in one day - reaching the final of the world youth to make it in 2019, before coming through the qualifier for this year. He's been close to making breakthroughs on the senior tour for a while now and has been gaining a lot of stage experience over the last two years, which should start to show very soon.

Finally in group H, defending world champion Rob Cross will be looking to add to a somewhat barren sophomore professional year, having just added one World Series event win and one Pro Tour title to everything he did last year. Joining him in having a good Ally Pally and relatively garbage 2018 is Dimitri van den Bergh, the world youth champion being one game away from defending it, but his floor form in terms of results has been very weak, although the numbers suggest otherwise to some degree. Ryan Searle's in the second year of a tour card - won in exactly the same way as Cross won his, and has just sneaked into the worlds as well as having come through the qualifier here, and the TV experience could be useful - he should retain his card now, and had a good September with a final run on the Pro Tour and a good European Tour run indicating he is picking up form after a weak first few months of the year. Where this leaves Mark McGeeney, who knows - the Lakeside runner up and back to back Dutch Open winner is number one in the BDO rankings, and with the numbers he's put up I haven't got a clue why.

The key stats and projections - take some of the figures with a pinch of salt, particularly for the BDO players where sample sizes may be extremely limited:

Bets later in the week once lines get up.

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