Tuesday 8 December 2020

Section 10 - Ratajski, Joyce, Sedlacek, Whitlock, Labanauskas, Liu

Another solid year for Krzysztof, who continues to eliminate doubters and solidify his position in the world's top sixteen, moving up six seeds from last year, it's arguable based on statistics that Ratajski has a top ten game, and has had a very nice floor season, the only thing that's been really preventing him from powering up the rankings has been unfortunate draws, as away from TV he's as good as anyone. Three more finals this season - that's what you'd expect from someone in the top 10 of the Pro Tour average list, his most recent final was in the last event of the season where he lost to Cullen, he lost a final to Price in the last event of the Autumn Series, and got his win early on in the season with a deciding leg win over Ian White. Three quarter finals in Europe, only being stopped by Wright, Petersen and Suljovic seems about par for the course, but let's address the major events.

UK Open - Ratajski did nothing wrong here. He averaged 105 over 19 legs against Chris Dobey, who was doing the same and won the decider. The Matchplay was a good event - Ratajski made the quarters, beating Wattimena and Clemens, only losing out by a small margin to Michael Smith. Then it's bad draws - van Gerwen in the Grand Prix, he got it to a decider, can't do much more. Euro Champs was a slip up to West and the PC Finals was similar to potential opening opponent Karel Sedlacek, but his Grand Slam group was horrible, getting both Michael Smith hitting form and Jose de Sousa. At some point, he'll get the win in a big event that he can do, this isn't a bad section of the draw, so who's to say he can't advance as far as Peter Wright?

Good year for Joyce. Very good year. Mainly because he got a perfectly timed first Pro Tour win, which may end up being more important for Ryan's career than his quarter final two years ago. He's defending a lot of money, but has gained a lot of match experience and TV experience, and is playing pretty solidly throughout the season. The win wasn't a complete fluke, he was able to make another quarter final and two more board wins, so he's been picking up decent results throughout. Let's talk about the win - after a couple of routine victories over Mickey Mansell and Robert Collins, he'd win his board over van der Voort, take out the surprising Nick Kenny, before a last eight run over Clemens, Noppert and Chisnall in a deciding leg. Nicely done.

The win opened up everything, so his only major wasn't the UK Open where he lost to Gabriel Clemens. It got Ryan to the Matchplay, and lost a scrappy match against Whitlock, he was also in the Grand Prix where he had the win of his career (arguably) over Peter Wright where he couldn't miss a double, and nearly took Chisnall down in the next round as well. Europe was a trainwreck, but he qualified for the Grand Slam (the PC win wasn't quite enough), and had his chances against Price to advance, but Gerwyn powered away in the last three legs and denied him in a decider. Ryan would get a deceptively tricky draw in the PC Finals and lose to Andy Boulton, so not the greatest end to the season, but it's tough to say he's done anything wrong this season. If he doesn't use the Tetris shirt at the worlds, that'd be the first thing.

Sedlacek returns for a second stab at the worlds after a one year absence, after coming through the PDPA qualifier with a 19-4 run in legs against Rodriguez, van de Pas and Dekker, taking all the confidence he had from his best run of his career just a few days earlier with a last sixteen run in the Players Championship Finals. Getting a landmark win over Krzysztof Ratajski, then following up with a victory over Madars Razma, before losing to Mervyn King, Karel was able to bank a fair bit of cash after an alright first season, following winning his tour card at the start of the year outright on day 3. Karel needed a late run on the final day to make that finals event, winning his board for the fourth time this year, and could have made the worlds outright if he'd have beaten Daryl Gurney, but hey, he's here now.

What else? Ignoring his amazing shirt for a minute, as mentioned Karel's won his board four times, once at the end of the Autumn Series (ironically beating Ryan Joyce in the process), again at the start of the same series, beating Cross, who he also beat in his first last sixteen run of the season, so there's a fair bit of consistency here. He cashed the UK Open after whitewashing Adam Hunt and only dropping two legs to Barrie Bates, not having the greatest game against Joe Murnan which would have set up a winnable game in the last 64, but getting the money on the board his fine. Nothing in Europe is a shame which would have boosted his stage experience, losing out on the Prague event clearly hurt, but next season that'll hopefully change. Averaging solidly, he'll be an underdog, but he's certainly dangerous and not a player that Ryan can take lightly. 

A bit of a resurgence this year from Simon Whitlock. If you'd have told me that he'd make two major semi finals, I'd have thought you were nuts. If you told me he'd have beaten van Gerwen to make both of those, as well as knocking him out the Matchplay to make the quarters, I'd have collapsed. But he's had a return to good results on TV, and good fortune as well - he only just crept into the Matchplay as the last seed, and wouldn't have been close on the Pro Tour results. But he did, beat Joyce and then MvG, before Gary Anderson would be a bit too good. Next up was the Grand Prix - he shouldn't even have been in the event, but Lewis got screwed and Whitlock took full advantage to beat Dobey, King and van Gerwen, before dropping in form somewhat and losing to van Duijvenbode. He didn't do much wrong at all at the Slam, probably his best result of the year, de Sousa was too good in the semi final, but Jose was too good for everyone that week.

Outside of those three big runs, it's been OK, European Tour excepted which was a big zero. UK Open saw him beat de Zwaan before running into a very good Chris Dobey, and with a middling seed in the Players Championship Finals, he won an effective final against Adrian Lewis before hitting Peter Wright. His floor form early in the season followed what it was like in 2019, namely not great, but it picked up from the autumn onwards - the second of the three series saw three board wins, which included the two quarter final runs Simon managed this year, and he tacked on another board win in the final run of the season, hitting some bad draws and players hitting good scoring early which really stifled his opportunities. Real solid 2020, he's got a dangerous combination of stage experience and good fortune right now.

A quarter finalist last year, Darius returns for a third straight appearance at Ally Pally, for once he's not facing Matt Edgar, and has been up and down this year, so defending a chunk of his money will be fairly useful. The highlight of Labanauskas' season would be a pair of quarter final runs - the most important of which would be in the third European Tour event, where he won over Michael Unterbuchner, Dave Chisnall and Joe Cullen, before running into eventual winner Jose de Sousa. That five grand would be enough to get him into the European Championship, such was the level of truncation to the season, but only to draw van Gerwen and lose 6-1 (averaging 100 in the process though). That one result was half of what you'd need to make the worlds, so what was otherwise a fairly quiet season could be gotten away with.

Let's talk about that floor form - Darius averaged well, but remarkably only had one board win - a quarter final result in PC20 with wins over Penhall, Clayton, Woodhouse and Kciuk before the average collapsed against van der Voort, and he'll probably want that back. However, he's good enough to really be getting more than just that board win. His scoring is indicative of that, and in his board finals he didn't face unbeatable opponents that often. Similar with the UK Open - Dirk van Duijvenbode wasn't the easiest of draws, but it was a winnable match. Still, his first round game is doable, and he's not got the toughest of seeds, so maybe Darius can go on a bit of a run for a third straight year.

The Chinese qualifiers over the years have been of mixed quality - in the early days, they've been pretty mediocre, but in the last few years they've improved a fair bit, with the young kid who played last year looking easily the best they've had. This year, they have two players due to the qualifying system collapsing, and Liu got through the first qualifier held in China, where he averaged 87 in the final, so not a bad standard of play, but we don't know a great deal beyond that.

Interestingly, this isn't his debut, and he made his previous appearance fifteen years ago - losing in the opening round 3-0 to John Part averaging a fraction over 80. He's also played a couple of World Series events when they were still held in Shanghai, losing 6-0 to each of Cross and van Barneveld. He might not be a complete mug, but Darius should have little trouble in this one, one would think that not playing the Asian Tour, at least the last time out, shows a lack of ambition and anyone who could beat Darius, or at least challenge, would be showing up to some of them.

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