Tuesday 10 December 2019

Worlds 15/16 - Price, O'Connor, Kantele, Henderson, Richardson, Suzuki

Who's the second best player in the world right now? If you want to make the argument it's Michael van Gerwen, then have fun, but for me there's three to four players who are right up there just behind them, and possession's nine tenths of the law, so while Smith, Cross, Wright and maybe some others have had spells where they've looked it, Gerwyn Price is looking like that right here, right now, and is justifiably the second favourite to win this event. What's he done recently? He defended the Grand Slam is the big one. The absolutely huge one. To win one major might be a fluke, to retain it is another matter entirely. There, he won his group, albeit it maybe a little bit sluggishly, he dropped just one leg to Darren Webster, then the big ones. He repeated his win against Gary Anderson, in much less controversial fashion, and certainly in easier fashion. He finally got the win over Michael van Gerwen at the 94th time of asking. Then he took Peter Wright apart in the final, winning by ten clear legs. That's incredible stuff. A week later, he nearly added another - beating Mickey Mansell, whitewashing Keegan Brown, demolishing Suljovic and a red hot Bunting dropping just seven legs across the two games, then seeing off Chris Dobey before losing to van Gerwen by the odd break. He was in that event as the number one seed having won three of four Pro Tour finals he made and grabbing a further five last eight appearances. He nearly added another major in Göttingen, only losing out to Rob Cross, having being seeded highly following his retention of the Riesa European Tour event where he denied Cross his first European Tour title. A semi final at the UK Open was nearly turned into a win, but Aspinall only just denied him. I suppose the only blips were first round defeats to Chizzy at the Euros, and Bunting in a deciding leg at Blackpool, but that aside, Price has established himself as the man to beat in this half of the draw.

One player who might be able to do so if he can bring his best game is Willie O'Connor, the Irishman making a second straight worlds following a Pro Tour record that was punctuated by grabbing a first title way back in April. In that event, he beat Rowby, both Lukes, Beaton, de Zwaan, Gurney and Aspinall, a great run and something he's been threatening for a while now. That shows what O'Connor is capable of, and we continued to see it in bits and pieces throughout the year - the World Cup final being the big one that got him into the Grand Slam, an event where Willie was able to beat Rob Cross and Jermaine Wattimena in singles competition, and most recently he would hit some form at the right time of the season at Minehead - beating West, Ratajski and Clemens to reach a first major quarter final, and he was extremely close to nicking it against Ian White and going one step further. Other than those hits, it's been a little bit barren on the Pro Tour with just the two board wins, he dropped out of the UK Open early to Keegan Brown, couldn't get through what looked like a winnable group in the Grand Slam, but one thing O'Connor was able to do was qualify early and often for the European Tour, making more than half the events, and getting through to the final day once with a good pair of wins over Max Hopp and Peter Wright in deciding legs. He's always been up and down, and he'll need to be up to have a chance against Price, but if you're only as good as your last tournament, O'Connor's not bad.

Standing in O'Connor's path is Finnish ace Marko Kantele, who did enough on the SDC circuit to be one of the two players to qualify via that route. Marko finished, oddly enough the winner is also in his eighth of the draw, but we'll come to Razma later, let's talk about Marko. On the SDC circuit, Marko got one win over Dennis Nilsson and one final where he lost to Labanauskas, which was just about enough to qualify for the worlds, but having finished third in the averages, albeit a good two to three points behind the two Baltic lads, it's fair enough he got here. Kantele was actually able to win a tour card back in January, so the experience he's gained should have improved his game a lot since his last appearance two years ago, but it's been a tough school - his only major was the UK Open, getting through a pub qualifier before losing to Robert Owen and not cashing, and he wasn't able to gain any experience through the European Tour either, not even getting close in qualifying, just getting to the final round once. The Pro Tour hasn't been completely horrible to him, Marko did win his board on three occasions, although with his most notable wins being over Simon Whitlock, Kyle Anderson and Darren Webster, he's had some help with the draws, and par for the course is an early defeat with opening losses more than two thirds of the time. I'm thinking Marko's going to need to show something we've not seen before if he's going to get through the opening round.

What's Hendo done in 2019? I suppose the ultimate highlight was playing as one of the contenders in the Premier League against MvG in Aberdeen, and getting a draw, but other than that, it's been a bit quiet and mostly steady. John still did enough to make both the Matchplay and the Grand Prix, a great start to the year with four Pro Tour quarter finals in the first six events putting more than enough in the bank, and he'd add a best performance of a semi final in April (albeit with a fairly easy run) just before his sole last sixteen performance in the European Tour, where he beat Bunting and Hopp, but that was more or less it for Henderson - he got through to another four European Tour events, but they'd all be the same - beat the qualifier, lose to the seed, since that semi final, winning his board has been fairly infrequent, and his record in majors has been mostly just making up the numbers. UK Open? Drew Michael Smith and lost. Matchplay? Drew Simon Whitlock and lost (one I think he should have been winning really). Grand Prix? Drew James Wade and lost. Hendo did at least get past Joyce (just) and avenge the Whitlock loss at Minehead, but that'd be the limit of what he could do. He's holding on to the top 32, just about, but getting through to Price would be a massive help in doing so.

One possible opponent is James Richardson, who after no qualifying last time out, returns to defend last sixteen money from his run where he beat Kim Huybrechts and Alan Norris. It's not a bad draw he's got, but still one he's got to take advantage of. What's he done this year? Not a great amount, really, as James finished in the last quarter of Pro Tour qualifiers. His floor form saw just the two board wins, one quarter final run where he was able to beat Michael Smith, amongst others, and one plain old last sixteen, but at least both were in the second half of the season, where he did add enough board finals to make qualification safe. Richardson made three European Tour events and didn't do anything stupid like losing in the first round, and did take one of those three to the last sixteen with a win over Mervyn King, but was nowhere near enough to threaten Göttingen, irritating as he was defending prize money from two years ago. So in terms of majors, James just had the Minehead regulars, and was only able to take home minimum money - he'd get the bagel against Steve Lennon in the UK Open, and do three legs better but still lose in a tough draw against Jose de Sousa in the Players Championship Finals. Defending so much cash, he's actually not certain to retain his card, so there's quite a bit of pressure on this game.

One player who doesn't have pressure is current BDO women's champion Mikuru Suzuki, who follows on from Dobromyslova as the international women's qualifier. That didn't have the greatest of standards - nobody averaged 80 and Suzuki was just under 75, but a win is a win, and apart from when she faced compatriot and World Masters semi finalist Kasumi Sato she wasn't really getting much help from the opposition. Suzuki's worlds win last year made some people a fair few quid backing her at silly prices following the Lakeside qualifier, but the secret's out now, and the question is how she'll do at the very highest level. We've got some reads - she's played some of the Asian Tour, which is a useful guide, and reached two quarter finals, averaging around the same amount as Nitin Kumar, Keita Ono and Royden Lam did, which isn't too bad, additionally, we saw her in the Grand Slam - averaging more or less mid 80's throughout in a group against Gerwyn Price, Robert Thornton and Dimitri van den Bergh. It's a tough one to call - if Richardson plays as he can, Richardson should win, but if Richardson does what he often can do and misfire on scoring, Mikuru can step in and take advantage.

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