Wednesday 9 December 2020

Section 11 - Wade, Rydz, Bailey, Bunting, Boulton, Hedman

James Wade continues to stay extremely relevant in the top echelons of the darting scene, and while he's a fair way off the top three, and probably a bit off the next tier of players just below that, he certainly has enough of a game to threaten anyone - which is why he's managed to get into two major finals this season, a real nice return. The first was the European Championship - defeating Lennon, Aspinall, O'Connor and Petersen before Peter Wright was too good in the final - not the hardest run you could ever have, but needed a couple of good performances. The second was in the Slam - Wade won a potentially easy group including Durrant, Heta and Wattimena undefeated, then in the knockout stages took out Ian White, Heta again then won a decider against van den Bergh before de Sousa was too strong in the final. Those results will keep him up in the rankings for a good while.

Elsewhere, Wade made two Pro Tour finals - winning one in the summer and losing one before the restart, didn't do a great deal in Europe, suffered a surprise reverse in the first round of the Players Championship to Zonneveld, got a tricky draw in the first round of the Grand Prix and went out to Jonny Clayton, was oddly forced to overtime in the Matchplay by Keegan Brown, while he got through that he was edged out by Gary Anderson in the second round, and also had an easy enough draw in the first couple of rounds in the UK Open before hitting Michael van Gerwen and going out. Overall, seems a pretty good season - nothing devastatingly bad happened, and outperformed what most people thought he would do.

It's a second worlds for Callan, and his first as a tour card holder - he got here last year through the Challenge Tour and made a bit of an impression, and that also gave him his tour card. I think it's fair to say that it took Callan a bit longer to get used to the tour than many thought - losing his first seven games, and then managed to beat a couple of qualifiers in the UK Open to just make the money before losing to Matt Edgar. But then he started to improve slowly but surely throughout the course of the year, put up averages that saw him end up in the top 20 on the Pro Tour, and enter this worlds as one of the in form players of the season. That said, it nearly wasn't to be, as it took Rydz until the latter half of the Winter Series to punch his ticket as one of the last few qualifiers, only having £1k from the Euro Tour to add to whatever he'd make in the Pro Tour.

The key event was PC21 - Callan defeated Kantele, Gurney, Dolan, Whitlock and White to reach the semi finals, where Damon Heta would be a bit too good, but it was a huge run to put three grand onto his account and make himself pretty much safe for two majors. Rydz added a bit of security by making the last sixteen of the final event, his second best performance of the year, joint with one board being won in each of the first two series of the season. The major he'd get in was the Players Championship Finals - there Rydz showed his form by eliminating Daryl Gurney and Ryan Searle, before taking Peter Wright all the way to a deciding leg, unfortunately being unable to finish in 18 darts which would have been enough to win the match. Still, it's all experience, he's a huge 180 hitter and will certainly be a threat to anyone.

This'll be James Bailey's second appearance at the worlds, returning after a year's break where he'll look to do a bit better than last time, where he lost in straight sets to Steve Lennon, albeit he did at least take a leg in every set. The Australian qualifiers have usually been fairly competent, so Callan certainly won't be able to take James lightly, particularly given he's got previous experience on this stage. As with most non-tour card holders, it's a bit tricky to work out where James is at, and he got his qualifying berth by finishing high enough in the DPA circuit (behind Gordon Mathers, who had the main DPA spot, and Damon Heta, who clearly didn't need one) following the cancellation of the Oceanic Masters.

Bailey only averaged 80 in his previous appearance, but that's probably a bit misleading, Lennon certainly wasn't helping him that much. Let's look at what DPA events we did see him in - he broke 90 in getting to the semis of the last event, was around the mid-80's in the first event of that season, was at a similar level in event 10 (of 14) of their season, and finished with a tour long average of 83, at least in the events that were held in 2020. He's seemingly had a few matches where he didn't need to do that much to beat a weaker opponent, who dragged James down a little bit, so maybe that 83 is misleading as well. Rydz should be favourite, but isn't a certainty.

It's a bit of a worrying time for Bunting, with Stephen being quite a way off the world's top sixteen, and also not being close enough to make any majors apart from the Minehead double, the one that everyone makes, and the one that half the tour makes (and in that one he lost to Ryan Murray in the first round). Yes, he got fucked over at the Grand Prix, having not quite picked up enough cash to make the Matchplay, so that list of DNP's isn't quite as bad as it makes out, and "making" the second of the two events when they're fairly close in cutoffs and having exactly the same qualifying criteria, indicates that Bunting was doing something right to trend back upwards a little bit.

This seems true enough - he was pretty god damned awful at the end of 2019, but picked up one semi final just before the break, couldn't get quite enough to get to Blackpool, but added another quarter in the Summer Series, and then in the Autumn Series made another semi final, pushing him nicely up the rankings. He'd nearly get to the quarters of the UK Open, beating van der Voort in a decider, putting in a huge performance against Alan Tabern, and only losing to Rob Cross by a single break. Stephen's not defending much money here, so has a chance to claw back some places with a not-terrible draw.

Stephen will have his work cut out though, as a potential first round opponent is Andy Boulton, who has been putting up comparable statistics, albeit with a bit of a higher floor and lower ceiling, and who's picked his game up towards the end of the season. The big one, which secured Boulton's worlds spot when it was in a bit of doubt, was a semi final in the very last event of the season - where he defeated Tabern, Wade, Lowe, van Duijvenbode and Wright, before Joe Cullen was a bit too good, but the money was in the bank, and should be enough to see him keep his card next season. It'll be Boulton's third appearance here, last season he lost a close one to Danny Baggish where the first four sets all went to deciders, and he also appeared through the PDPA qualifier four years earlier, beating Per Laursen but losing to eventual winner Gary Anderson.

Boulton's major performances have been fine - it's just been the two automatic ones, recently he beat Ryan Joyce but lost to Luke Woodhouse, and in the UK Open at the start of the year he eliminated three players to reach the last 32, only losing out to Gabriel Clemens. He could improve next season a bit - his start of the year on the floor was weak, only winning the one match before the shutdown, so a lot of the bad results will be off the record, so getting some confidence here should set him up nicely for 2021. Just improve in European qualification and get a good start, and who's to say the Matchplay wouldn't be a possibility?

When the PDC announced the Women's Series, and indicated that there'd be two spots for qualification, I think most people thought that, with no Suzuki there, it'd probably be Ashton and Sherrock that'd qualify. Ashton did, but Deta Hedman was able to get into the second spot in a dramatic final event, which saw everyone trying to work out what the tiebreakers actually were, then work out what would apply, then seeing that Hedman had crept in just about. Deta made a semi in the first event (losing to Sherrock), won the second again over Sherrock before de Graaf in the final, lost in the final of the third to Ashton before getting just enough legs in a quarter final loss to Sherrock to qualify. Averaging just a shade under 80 in the series (only Sherrock and Ashton managed higher), it's a competent standard and you would think Hedman will have what crowd there is on her side.

Hedman's obviously got decades of experience in the ladies' game and their worlds, and has played PDC majors before, cashing the 2005 UK Open where she made history by picking up two wins in that event - but this will be her first worlds of this type, which will still be a little bit of a new experience, and with the almost complete decimation of the ladies' game (if anything happened after the Dutch Open where Deta made the semis, I missed it), it's hard to say how much rust there will be. Hedman did some due diligence and played four Challenge Tour events this year (she tried Q-School, but didn't really threaten at all), picking up some wins over veterans such as Colin Osborne, Cody Harris, Kevin Painter (all in one event, losing in the last sixteen to David Evans) and Jamie Clark. She'll have prepared right for this, and who knows? Anything can happen.

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