Sunday 8 December 2019

Worlds 8/16 - Lewis, Reyes, Ilagan, Webster, Meikle, Yamada

It seems quite a long time ago since Adrian Lewis was a Premier League regular on the back of his two world titles, and there's not been a great deal in 2019 to suggest that he's heading back towards a top ten level. He still has a decent enough peak game - you don't win a Pro Tour by being bad at the game, in that event he beat Glen Durrant and Jonny Clayton before finishing off Raymond van Barneveld in the final, and has been able to get into the business end of lots of floor tournaments, but his record in television events haven't been what someone of Lewis's undoubted talents would be expecting. The only real good performance Lewis has had on TV this season was in the Grand Slam - which he needed to qualify for - but once there he was able to defeat Ross Smith and Jim Williams to get through a group including Michael van Gerwen, who'd easily knock him out in the quarter finals, but not before Lewis got through a last sixteen deciding leg against James Wade. In the other TV events, it was nothing but disappointments - losing to the woefully out of form Jamie Lewis in his opening match at the UK Open, only picking up four legs against Glen Durrant at Blackpool, losing a deciding set to Jermaine Wattimena at Dublin, only picking up one leg against Simon Whitlock in Göttingen before a tough second round draw against van Gerwen at Minehead. He could do with a good run here to try to consolidate his ranking, and his opposing seed is an excellent chance, that is if he can avoid an opening game banana skin against whoever comes through the qualifiers round.

Much like it seems a long time ago since Lewis was in Premier League contention, it seems a long time ago when Reyes was at his peak and arguably the strongest player on the tour without some form of ranking title. This year has seen the Spaniard continue to struggle to some extent, although with two quarter finals in the last five Pro Tour events, perhaps there's some signs that he's starting to turn things around. In those he got a couple of good wins against Glen Durrant and Jamie Hughes, and while it was mostly just enough to get him into the worlds for a sixth time, at the very least it'll give him a good platform to try to get back into the majors he was appearing in with some regularity a couple of seasons ago. It's 99% the Pro Tour that's got Reyes here, making twelve board finals, as Reyes' record for making European Tour events was abysmal, only reaching one event where he could only beat a domestic qualifier before going out to Simon Whitlock, and that'll need to improve next year. Reyes' record on the Pro Tour got him into Minehead, where he was outclassed by Chris Dobey in the opening round, but his previous appearance at the venue was much better, reaching the last 16 of the UK Open with good wins over Ryan Joyce and Richard North, prior to running into Rob Cross. His numbers aren't too far off those of Lewis, so maybe if he is trending in the correct direction he could give the Stoke player some troubles.

That is, of course, if Reyes can get past the Asian Tour winner in Lourence Ilagan. He's making his fourth appearance at the world championship, ending up in a high quality affair against Vincent van der Voort, and if he can replicate that level of play this time around he will have every chance of progressing into the second round, and maybe further. Ilagan won three titles on the Asian Tour circuit, the highlight being the second where he averaged over 110 in a final win over World Cup partner Noel Malicdem (in that event, they had an unfortunate draw against England), which was enough to claim the top spot on the Asian Tour. Ilagan's averages over the whole of the tour weren't quite as high as the other players to make it here through the Asian Tour - a tour long 85 average was near eight points lower than Malicdem, so he may need to up his game if he's going to get past Cristo.

Another player who faced van der Voort last season was Darren Webster, who's had quite simply an awful 2019, dropping out of the top sixteen in the world, and having a weak enough set of floor performances that not only did he not qualify for the Grand Prix, he didn't even finish in the top 64 that qualified for the Players Championship finals. Webster only managed to win his board on two occasions during the entire year and failed to cash on seventeen occasions, an alarming decline in form which begs the question as to whether it's only downhill from here. He's had a couple of unlucky draws in the majors he did play in - Rob Cross in the UK Open and Krzysztof Ratajski at the Matchplay, then while he did qualify for the European Championship, having got enough points on the board early in the season while he was still seeded, he'd run into Rob Cross again there. Probably the only bright spot was qualifying for the Grand Slam - taking out a resurgent Justin Pipe in the qualifiers, then scraping through the group stages with a narrow win over Gary Anderson in the final game - only to then lose 10-1 to Gerwyn Price in the knockout stages. It's hard to say whether that's enough to say he's got any real chance of getting any sort of decent run together in this event - maybe he can get through the first match, but that might be the realistic limit of what he can do in this event.

One possible opponent for Webster is youngster Ryan Meikle, who's been on our radar for a few years now having first won his tour card in 2016, but it's only this year where he's first been able to qualify for the worlds, just doing enough through the Pro Tour, but he also did enough on the Development Tour in claiming two titles that he had that as a backup method. Meikle's best run on the floor this year was a quarter final in the middle of the season, where he notably beat Peter Wright, and he was able to add another six board finals, picking up towards the end of the year - it was enough to make Minehead, where he whitewashed Jonny Clayton and edged out Darius Labanauskas before running into an inspired Stephen Bunting. He'd not be able to cash the UK Open, losing to Joe Murnan, but he was very close to a possible Grand Slam berth in 2020 - only coming one match short of the world youth final, losing out to Adam Gawlas having earlier beaten Martin Schindler and Justin van Tergouw, amongst others. Meikle is very close to retaining his tour card - one win might be enough to do it, two wins should make things absolutely safe, and he's certainly in with a shout of doing so.

Meikle will face Yuki Yamada in the opening round, the Japanese player finishing fifth on the Asian Tour, but getting in after Seigo Asada did his usual thing of winning the Japanese qualifier, just because he can, so an extra spot was freed up, allowing Yamada to make his world championship debut. Yamada's been around for a while, his dartsdatabase record dating back to 2006, but it's only the last few years, particularly since the inception of the Asian Tour, that he's really arrived on larger scenes. We first noticed him in 2015 when Asia still had a World Series event, there he lost 6-2 to Gary Anderson, then the next couple of years he had minor attempts at the UK circuit - trying Q-School twice, the first year being not bad, the second year being a bit worse, while in 2017 he was also a win or two away from making the UK Open through the pro qualifiers. This year, he won one of the Asian Tour events, beating Paul Lim in a deciding leg, and made a further final where he lost to Lourence Ilagan. Yamada's averages on the Asian Tour are a concern - 82 overall barely sees him scrape into the top 20, and if that's indicative of his actual level of play, Yamada could be in for a long night against the young Englishman.

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