Friday 11 December 2020

Section 12 - White, Huybrechts, Zhuang, de Zwaan, Searle, Lauby


Not sure if this has been a good year for White. His record isn't too bad - he's picked up another tour title, albeit this was the dodgy one that was right before everything went to shit, and he played extremely well in that one, averaging 102 in every game apart from the semi final (oddly enough against a potential initial opponent), already had another final in the bank before then, and made another major quarter final, picking up an impressive win in the process. Statistically, he's also still right up there. I just get the feeling he's declining slightly, and we may already have seen the best out of him. He can prove me wrong and finally go on a big run here, and the draw's pretty favourable to do so, but will he break what's been a pretty barren streak at Ally Pally?

It's a little bit of a worry that on the Euro Tour he went our first round three times, to van Duijvenbode, Hopp and Noguera. It's a bit of a worry that he only just crept through in the Slam via the backdoor and then was heavily outplayed, and that when he had a chance to go deep in the Players Championship Finals, he lost a close one to Joe Cullen, who he whitewashed on TV in 2019. Opening round losses in majors to Cullen (again) and Clayton, while not bad players, are the sorts that he should beat. Can't blame him going out to Wright in the UK Open. That he's only won his board once in the last seven Players Championships isn't a great sign of improving form, and all his losses were to players that you wouldn't really consider top tier. He is 50 now, so it's not unreasonable to think he might decline a bit and maybe his best chances are already behind him.

By contrast, it's not been a terrible year for Kim Huybrechts as he looks to try to claw his way back into the top 32 in the world. Finishing pretty high up on the Pro Tour rankings, he made two semi finals - the one we just described where he lost to White, after whitewashing Peter Wright and defeating Michael Smith, then also made the semi final in the last event of the year, beating four players who will appear here before running out of steam against Ratajski. Kim's been doing enough that he was able to creep into the Grand Prix after missing out on the Matchplay by a small margin, and was able to grab a win against Brendan Dolan before drawing dead against Gerwyn Price, and has also shown up in all the other majors mentioned except the Grand Slam, where he lost in the qualifiers to Ricky Evans after missing match darts.

Consistency's the key though. If he wants to get into more majors he'll need to win his board more than twice all year. He's hit probably more than his fair share of good opponents when losing, sure, but you've got to pull the upset off occasionally. He's probably got to do more in majors and the Euro Tour once there - losing to James Wade in the UK Open is fine, but losing 10-1 maybe not so much. Joe Cullen and Jeffrey de Zwaan aren't the hardest seeds he could have met at the Euro Tour. Can't do much against Price at Oberhausen, but Ross Smith was a winnable match at the Players Championship Finals, and he didn't get it done. Still something there, just needs to appear at the latter stages more often if he is going to get back into the seeds for here next year.

Here we've got the second of two Chinese qualifiers, Zhuang winning the second of the two events to make his debut here. Much like his compatriot Liu, we don't know much about him, the qualifiers being shrouded in some mystery, We don't even have anything to read from the World Cup - he was part of the team, but someone messed up the travel documents somewhere and they couldn't board the plane. Looking back through the qualifier for that event, Zhuang was averaging anywhere between 78 and 84, and did beat the other guy that's here on the way, which is a little better than I expected, but only managed 70-something in the final of the qualifier he won, which didn't have great numbers of players, only having sixteen turn up apparently.

Zhuang has tried to qualify a couple of times before at least, not getting past the semi final stage, which is a bit of a concern, and given that his previous worlds qualification attempts predate the first Shanghai Masters, that he didn't make the field in any of them is kind of worrying about how good he actually is. His opponent only averaged 70 in the final. Surely just going to be making up the numbers unfortunately.

It's been a tricky year for de Zwaan, but it's also been a bit fortunate in some ways - while he has been struggling with an injury for the early part of the year, which saw him pull out of the Home Tour, and generally struggle with consistency and quality - he finished well outside the top 64 of the Pro Tour averages, is below 90 in points per turn, and only won his board twice, the semi final coming way back in Players Championship 3, he's also got some alright results in the big events where it mattered. The key one was the Grand Prix - he shouldn't have been there, but got a call up as an alternate after Stephen Bunting got screwed, but made the most of it with a quarter final run, knocking out Jamie Hughes and Gabriel Clemens before being eliminated in the quarters by the eventual finalist. Jeffrey would additionally get a couple of wins at the Players Championship Finals against Darren Webster (this time playing against the alternate, not being the alternate, his original opponent of Suljovic withdrawing) and Wayne Jones before again hitting the eventual winner, but he did give van Gerwen a decent game.

Everything else was a bit weak though. He ought to be beating the likes of Whitlock at the UK Open. Couldn't do much at the Matchplay, Durrant was inspired on the day. He only just crept into the European Championship on the back of winning one game in Belgium, and got de Sousa as a result. He lost to Matt Edgar trying to qualify for the Grand Slam. It's more the nature of who he's lost to on the floor. Telnekes, North, Stevenson, van de Pas, Collins, Hunt, Telnekes again, Brooks, Murray - that's a string of players he ought to be getting wins against most of the time. A win here would help to restore a bit of confidence, he's an incredibly talented player on his day and this'd kick start his 2021 nicely.

One player who isn't exactly short of confidence is Ryan Searle. After making some waves this time last year with a high quality game against Gary Anderson where he was up three sets to one, Ryan made his big breakthrough by winning Players Championship 3 - beating van Gerwen in the final, his potential round two opponent in the semi final, as well as Durrant, Michael Smith and Price along the way. Not a bad run of players to go through. Generally putting up excellent numbers, if it wasn't for that win he might well have been the most underrated player on the circuit, a huge upturn after a frankly disastrous back end to 2019 on the floor.

That win opened up a few things for Searle in terms of majors - he got his semi final just before the Grand Prix and got into it, and was a bit unfortunate to lose out in a tight game to Danny Noppert in the opening round. The money gave Searle a good seeding at the Players Championship Finals, and he was very impressive against Dimitri van den Bergh in the opening round before losing out to an equally impressive Callan Rydz. He ended up being the final automatic qualifier for the Grand Slam, and had a great chance to make it out of the group, in a winner takes all game against Gary Anderson, he averaged 102 but just fell short. Not bad results at all, great performances, next year he could do with a bit of a better run in terms of Europe to solidify a position on the top 32 of the Pro Tour rankings to grab more major appearances.

We've got a debutant for Searle's first opponent, and it's the American Danny Lauby, the 27 year old making his debut having won the CDC Continental Cup, in lieu of the North American Championship not being held. This was held in late 2019, and he defeated Joe Chaney, Kiley Edmunds and Gary Mawson in the final. Lauby, who we saw finish fourth in the series of CDC events which saw Danny Baggish get back to Ally Pally, was also seen as one half of this year's World Cup Team, where they lost in the first round to Austria, and has been seen on our TV screens before in 2018, where he took James Wade to a deciding leg in the US Darts Masters.

Danny's certainly taking his game seriously, and has tried Q-School the last two seasons. Two years back he was one game away from actually winning a card - losing out to Scott Baker in the final qualifying round, but couldn't really get anything going in any of the other days. This year was kind of similar - he got off to a great start to get two games away from a card, beating David Evans in a decider in his best game where he averaged 94, unfortunately losing to Steve Brown, and averaged 85 for the whole of Q-School - but just couldn't get many more results, only reaching the last 128 on day two and not any further after that, to just come up short. Good to see ambition, even first round loss money should allow him to try again this year and ideally attempt some of the early Challenge Tour events as a minimum.

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