Sunday 8 December 2019

Worlds 11/16 - Wright, Rodriguez, Malicdem, Brown, Mansell, Asada

It's been a pretty decent year for Peter Wright all things considered following his surprising defeat twelve months ago to Antonio Alcinas, as the ever popular player has managed to regain his peak form towards the end of the season, pick up floor titles, and end up as a serious contender to claim major titles once again. Wright would get a pretty tough opening draw in the UK Open and go down to Mensur Suljovic, but would immediately kick back with two deep runs in European Tour events, a circuit on which he'd make the final session on a remarkable eight occasions, as we built up to the Matchplay. Right before Blackpool, Wright laid down a statement of intent, claiming both Players Championship events as well as taking down the World Series event in Germany, and it came as somewhat of a surprise when Daryl Gurney stopepd him at the semi final stage. Later in the year, Wright would suffer an odd reverse in Dublin to Jermaine Wattimena, but immediately return with a semi final and win in the last two Players Championship events, reach the final of the Champions League, and following a hiccup in Göttingen when he lost to de Zwaan, work his way all the way to the Grand Slam final, only to run into peak Gerwyn Price, who was basically unplayable. An opening round loss to James Wilson in Minehead was a potential worry, but that's one event - over the course of the whole season, Wright's put up top five scoring levels, and is rightly in the equation for who's going to get out of the bottom half. Like Price and Cross, he's hitting his form in the second half of the year, so assuming they all get through to the quarter finals, it's going to be a brutal series of games to see who can get through to the final.

It's been a slightly better season this year for Rowby John than it was last time out - twelve months ago he needed to get through a regional qualifier to make it here, this time he's just managed to creep in as one of the final few Pro Tour qualifiers. Consistency continues to be an enormous problem for the young Austrian, who showed his best game at times on the European Tour, running through Payne, Gurney and de Decker on home soil to reach a quarter final in September before losing a deciding leg against his potential second round opponent, and similar results occurred before the summer break, taking out de Decker again, abusing Darren Webster prior to a last leg loss against Mervyn King. On the other hand, those were two of just three events he qualified for in Europe, the remaining event seeing him lose in the Czech Republic to Andrew Gilding, and on the Pro Tour he only made his board final four times and failed to push through to the quarter finals a single time. That Rowby was able to find a good game when the money really mattered just about got him here, but he needs to find a much, much better base level game, his floor record saw him lose in the opening round more often than not. He's well past the Development Tour age now and this is his fifth appearance, he should have enough experience to be able to iron things out somewhat and grind through games that he could win put possibly gave away. In his only major of the year, the UK Open, he lost in the first round to a pub qualifier. He's better than that, he just needs to show it more often than he actually does.

As such, it's probably not a good sign for Rowby that he's been drawn against one of the more dangerous international qualifiers in Noel Malicdem, who returns for a second shot after a debut year where he eliminated Jeffrey de Graaf and removed the Dutchman's tour card, then gave Kyle Anderson some problems before bowing out 3-1 in sets. Malicdem topped the averages on the Asian Tour by some distance, a clear three points ahead of Paul Lim - ending up a fraction of a point below 93 when he's going to be playing multiple games against opponents who aren't going to help that statistic at all is extremely dangerous, and will require Rowby to be on his game immediately. On the Asian Tour, Noel won one event on home soil against some guy from Taiwan, but added a further three finals, losing one to Seigo Asada and the other two to compatriot Lourence Ilagan. Those finals should give a good idea of where he's at under pressure - averaging 92 three times, and only dropping in Asian Tour 8 when both himself and Ilagan seemed to lose a bit of composure and games dragged into seven visits. This seems like a decent enough draw for Noel, and while Wright should be too powerful, it's not been unknown for Peter to have surprising early defeats in the worlds, and Noel has the game to cause that sort of upset.

Keegan's finally up and established into the top 32, after having two to three years where he went from being that guy that put the pressure on in the Grand Slam that time, to making up the numbers, he's now properly recovered and is a regular face on TV screens, qualifying for all major events except the Grand Slam. The highlight of this season for Keegan has probably been the European Tour - he's reached two semi finals, and notably in both he was able to defeat Michael van Gerwen in the last 32, before deciding that's not the limits of what he can do and really pushing deep once he's created the chances for himself. That's the sort of thing he can do when he's on his game, there's still too many legs where he'll just not be able to find a treble, but it should demonstrate his potential. In those semi final runs, he was also able to beat Gerwyn Price in one event and Mensur Suljovic in another, while on the floor, Keegan had one semi final where he defeated Dave Chisnall in the first round and was a leg away against Barney from making the final. A steady trickle of last sixteen performances on all stages saw Brown reach most majors - while for the most part he couldn't make the impact he'd need to in order to push his ranking further, he turned over Jonny Clayton at Blackpool and was close to eliminating Daryl Gurney, beat the player he should in the Players Championship finals before hitting Gerwyn Price, was perhaps unlucky to draw Gary Anderson at the Grand Prix, but Stephen Bunting in the European Championship is one he might want to have back. The consistency looks to be getting there, the peak is clearly there, it's a case of putting together some incremental improvements and consolidating before really pushing on to the next level.

Mickey Mansell. Oh dear. The less said about his match last year, the better, I did a packet in that one and I think we've all seen the aftermath of what happened, so let's talk about this year. Mickey's frankly lucky to get here, he just crept over the line as the last man to qualify, and really hasn't had a good season at all. His UK Open run was fine, he beat Danny Noppert in a bit of an upset before ending the run of Scott Taylor, but Steve Lennon would be too much in the last 32, but that was more or less it. Mansell made four European Tour events, losing to Steffen Siepmann (I swear that must be the third time I've mentioned him already, which is three more times than I thought I would), beating Steve West then losing to Suljovic, beating Kyle Anderson before losing to Ian White, then losing to Danny Noppert. The infuriating thing is that, apart from Siepmann, the losses were all 6-5, and the guys he beat were decent - his game frequently makes no sense. He won a Pro Tour event in 2018, but only won his board once all year in 2019 - ironically beating Keegan Brown to do so, then in his quarter final he only lost in a decider to Krzysztof Ratajski, the eventual winner. In the Players Championship Finals, he averaged up towards the high nineties when losing 6-3 to Gerwyn Price. I'd say it's just inconsistency, but his consistency rating (take away the average when he's losing from the average when he's winning) is more or less in the middle of the bell curve. I can't figure this guy out. Hopefully he draws a good player so I can just lay him.

And look at that, here's Seigo Asada. When someone from Asia indicates well in advance that they're going to try Q-School, that's an enormous sign of confidence, and Asada has every right to be confident, twelve months on from him knocking out Krzysztof Ratajski and nearly doing the same to James Wade. This year, Asada won the Japanese qualifier, something he didn't need to do but did so anyway to effectively say he's the best in his country - he didn't need to do it given that he won three Asian Tour titles, one early in the year over Royden Lam, then a double to end the season where he triumphed over the Philippines pair of Ilagan and potential last 32 opponent Malicdem. Of course, Asada's qualities were reiterated in the World Cup as one half of the Japanese team which reached the semi final - mainly just doing what he needed to do against Paul Lim and Cody Harris, he couldn't quite get over the line against Gary Anderson in the semi final despite a three figure average. This is a great draw for Seigo, and it wouldn't surprise me if he was able to push all the way through to face Peter Wright.

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