Saturday 7 December 2019

Worlds 4/16 - White, Labanauskas, Edgar, Hopp, Clemens, van de Pas

It's been another great year for Ian White - now firmly entrenched in the top ten by any reasonable metric, not only has he continued to play with the same form on the floor that sees him continually rated as one of the best players in that format, he's also started to do a bit more on TV, which is the only thing that really kept White out of the Premier League last season, and may be the undoing of him again this year - that said, there are more things in his favour this time around. Most importantly, he's finally broken that quarter final issue in reaching the semis at Minehead just a couple of weeks ago, narrow tense wins against Petersen and van der Voort would be followed by a demolition job on Michael Smith and a last leg decider against Willie O'Connor to win his quarter. An 11-8 loss to van Gerwen isn't bad at all, he was averaging 102, but the psychological barrier has gone now. While he's oddly not won a Pro Tour event, he did reach four straight European Tour finals - winning the second two, notably over van Gerwen in the Netherlands, the other also being a deciding leg win against Peter Wright in Sindelfingen. Could White have done more on TV to make a better Premier League case? Possibly, Jamie Hughes in the UK Open was a horrible draw at that point in the year, but he probably should have put Stephen Bunting away at Blackpool, losing a deciding set against Chris Dobey in Dublin was very disappointing, while in the European Championship he got an unplayable Michael Smith, and in the Grand Slam, group tiebreakers gave him van Gerwen instead of Adrian Lewis, and couldn't push a 6-4 lead into a win. I think if White can get to the quarters here he's got every shot at a Premier League berth, and he's definitely not going to fear his probable quarter final opponent.

It's not been a bad first season on tour for Labanauskas, once he actually got on tour - his first three days at Q-School were pretty horrific, and he more or less needed to bink the final day to get a card, which he did. Once he did though, he's had a few notable runs. Making a final of a Pro Tour is hard to do, he was annihilated by Glen Durrant when he got there, but he needed to beat Clemens, Brooks, Reyes, Beaton, Meikle and Meulenkamp to get into that position. This was one event after he had nearly made a final - Stephen Bunting putting him out 7-5. Those two results were enough to put him into the Players Championship finals - he beat Harry Ward in a deciding leg there, but lost to Ryan Meikle by the same scoreline in the next round. Aside from those two runs, Labanauskas wasn't able to do enough to really threaten major qualification - despite apparently having two shots at a few European Tour events (one through the tour card holder qualifier and one through the Nordic/Baltic qualifier), he only made two of them, the first being decent where he put out Rasztovits and Evans before losing to Gerwyn Price, the second not so much where he got a horror draw against Jose de Sousa, and only one other board win all year left him with just the UK Open - where he lost in the first round to Scott Taylor. Still, we all saw last year what he can do on his day.

And last year, Labanauskas beat Matt Edgar in the opening round. By a bizarre twist of fate, we get a rematch of that one, and while many will know Matt as the genius behind the Youtube juggernaut that is Edgar TV, let's talk about his darts for a second. Last year he got in as the last man in from the Pro Tour, this season he wasn't quite able to do that, despite doing enough on the Pro Tour to make the Players Championship Finals, where, while he'd got a tough draw against Dave Chisnall, he was a bit disappointing and a clear second best. He wouldn't have needed a huge amount from the European Tour to qualify by right, he was after all only a grand behind Mickey Mansell in the final rankings, but just making three and losing first round wasn't enough. Ratajski in one was a tough draw to be fair, but Edgar got it to a deciding leg, but Scott Taylor and James Richardson are probably opportunities missed, as are arguably last qualifying round losses to Pipe, O'Connor and West, any of which might have made the difference. Edgar did cash the UK Open, losing to Ryan Searle, but he was left to come through the PDPA qualifier, which he obviously did - Kanik, Eastwood, Bunse and Hunt isn't as trivial a route as you might think, but Edgar got through, and has the chance to rectify last season's opening round defeat.

Hard to say what to make of Hopp's 2019. He's managed to push up the rankings a bit, although a lot of that is surely to do with 2017 being a horror year and not defending much of anything, but has he really progressed at all? It's questionable if he's still Germany's best player at this stage. Let's have a look - in the UK Open, Hopp beat Geert Nentjes then lost to Wade - this seems fine. Between that and the Matchplay, he'd have his two best runs of the year - getting a fairly kind draw in Munich, but losing a semi final to Simon Whitlock, probably one of the better chances to make a final you're going to get, then a month later he'd reach another Pro Tour final - again, not a bad draw, with McGeeney, possible opponent van de Pas, Wattimena, Tabern, Noppert and Thornton being his route to the final, but he'd lose the final in a deciding leg to Harry Ward. You're not going to get too many better chances than that, and he missed it. He did put Dave Chisnall out of the Matchplay and force Michael Smith into added legs, which is decent, but from there it's been a bit barren, after dropping out of the Euro Tour seeds he'd not have a good qualification record at all (and do little once he got through) and miss the European Championship, he'd reach only one further quarter final on the floor, he'd hit Peter Wright in Dublin, which was incredibly bad timing given Wright's return to form, then at Minehead he'd get through a grind of a game against Klaasen before losing a decider to Glen Durrant. I don't think he's really progressed, and is back to having the potential to go on streaky runs without really being that convincing overall.

The reason why Hopp is arguably not Germany's best player is Clemens, and there's a very good chance that the argument could be decided in the second round of this event. It's been another very good year in the career progression of the big man from Saarland, going from a player that looks sporadically dangerous to one that's a geniune threat to go deep in any event he plays in. Now up to the level where he's being seeded in Players Championship events, Clemens has made another two finals, just going about his business beating players he's meant to beat, Jonny Clayton and Gerwyn Price being a bit too much in each of the finals, while in unranked events, he'd make one more final, this time in the German Darts Masters - defeating Barney, Cross and Suljovic to get there, he'd push Peter Wright close before losing 8-6. Clemens was much improved in European Tour qualification this season, his Achilles heel in 2018 being somewhat corrected, but his record once into the events was a little disappointing, only picking up the two wins over Steffen Siepmann and Mervyn King, losing out to White and Suljovic in the last 32, while first round defeats to Evans and Barney aren't awful, losing to Mark Dudbridge is probably avoidable. What of TV? UK Open - OK I guess, beat Benito van de Pas very comfortably (hopefully an omen for Ally Pally) but then losing a close one to Whitlock, he made it through the Grand Slam qualifier, won a tough group featuring both Gurney and Dolan before being edged in a deciding leg by Glen Durrant, then most recently he'd beat McGeeney and Woodhouse at Minehead before losing to Willie O'Connor. Things are trending up, and this isn't a bad draw for Gabriel.

Hey guys, remember when Benito van de Pas was knocking on the door of the Premier League? No, me neither. Last year's last 16 run at the worlds wasn't enough to keep him around in the seeds, and it's lucky that he's here at all, as it was only the PDPA qualifier that allowed him to get in. Strange that all the PDPA qualifiers are in the same quarter of the draw. So, what has Benito done this year? Not a lot. The European Tour column should give you a clue - only qualifying once is bad, and he only got to the final round of qualifying on one occasion on top of that. When he did get there, he lost in the opening round to Willie O'Connor. He's only managed to win his board twice on the Pro Tour, and only managed to reach the board final on two occasions on top of that - he did manage to get a win over Peter Wright in one of those, but the other wins are all over players that he either should beat, or not be that much of an underdog to. Notable that in one of those events, the player that put him out was Gabriel Clemens. 21 first round exits on the Pro Tour, including six in a row to end the season, tells you everything you need to know. He didn't even need a win to get to the last 64 of the UK Open, as he was still just in the top 32 at the time, then we all saw what his first round opponent here did. This looks like it's only going one way, then it's going to be one hell of a fight for van de Pas to save his card in 2020.

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