Friday 4 December 2020

Section 2 - Cullen, Jones, Teehan, Clayton, Henderson, Kantele

All in all, a pretty solid year for Joe - certainly solidifying his position among the world's top 20, if not the top 16, although he's still yet to make the huge breakthrough on the major stage as he nearly did a couple of years ago in that epic Matchplay tussle with Gary Anderson. The highlight was definitely a European Tour win in Riesa, beating van Gerwen in the final, which is his second win at that level of competition - this gave him the number one seeding going into the European Championships, where he'd suffer a surprise defeat to Willie O'Connor. Away from the big stage, he's done well elsewhere - he also took down the last Players Championship of the season, defeating Ratajski in the final after having a moderately easy path to that point, and he also reached a final in Niedernhausen (the one that Heta won).

The problem's been on stage really. On top of that reverse against O'Connor, he had a pretty mediocre Grand Slam where he didn't do enough in the first two games and allowed Adam Hunt to sneak through, was heavily routed by Clayton (a possible round three opponent here) after one win at the UK Open, and maybe could have gone a lot deeper in the Matchplay, were it not to just lose out to Dimitri in round two after needing every single leg to avenge a defeat to Ian White. There were a couple of quarter finals, he did get one back against Clayton in the Grand Prix but fell to Chisnall, then just last month had the throw in the decider against Gerwyn Price, but couldn't leave a better shot than 170 after twelve when it mattered and was broken. Until Cullen can break through that quarter final ceiling and put big major money into his account, it's hard to see how he can progress in the rankings.

Wayne Jones is back for his fifteenth world championship appearance across both codes, just about sneaking in through the Pro Tour list with one last win in the final event of the season likely making a difference. Surprising to see given that he's only won his board once, but he's won more first round games than he's lost, and then chuck in a good run to the semi finals on the final day of the Summer Series, where he was able to take out Glen Durrant but then face only one other player who's made this year's worlds (and that's only Mike de Decker), and it's enough to get back after a year's absence. It will, however, be nine years since Jones actually got a win on this stage, and that was back when he was a top 16 seed.

Jones was very hit and miss last season with a lot of inconsistency - it looks like that's been tightened up to some degree, but to get a win here he's probably going to need to find some of those good games, as after the first round, a sub-90 points per turn record isn't going to cut it. We need more of the games like we saw at the Players Championship Finals, where he was able to get a first round win against Glen Durrant with a ton average really. Only other stage appearance was in the UK Open, where he got an expected win against Gary Blades but then couldn't beat Conan Whitehead to cash it. Still signs that something's there, and he may have enough to get a first win at the worlds in a long time, but that's about it.

Teehan returns this year - last time out he made it through the Development Tour, which also saw him win his tour card, and he got a surprising win over Ross Smith before losing a close one to Mervyn King. Safe to say that Ciaran's not transitioned brilliantly to the senior tour, struggling to get anything going at all, only reaching the board final on the floor on four occasions, not winning any of them, not qualifying for Europe once, and falling at the first hurdle in the UK Open to Peter Jacques. A fair bit away from beating up on the secondary circuits - he did also get a Challenge Tour win in 2019 as well as Development Tour results. It didn't help that he missed out on the Autumn Series.

What he did do was put in one solid run when it mattered in the PDPA qualifier - he was the only player that needed to win four games with the way the draw worked, but he did so. First round was Barrie Bates and the second round was Michael Barnard, which is kind of the draw you want to see, and this put him two games away. He then found his best form to average 98 in comprehensively beating Mark McGeeney, and did the same in the final against Joe Murnan, a match which went all the way, Teehan closing out with a deciding leg hold after leaving 16 after twelve darts, and didn't need more than one invitation. Certainly has a pretty good top game, we just see it so rarely, but he's got an opponent here where if it does arrive, he can get a first round win.

Jonny Clayton remains one of the most underrated players on the circuit, as such he ends up on our betting slips more than most players, and he's here for another pop at the worlds, not having moved much in the rankings at all, still in the 16/17 section. The highlight of his year will clearly have been claiming the World Cup with Gerwyn Price to give Wales their first win, but in singles competition it's not been a bad season, with two major semi finals to look back on. The first was the UK Open, beating Waites, Cullen, Dobey and Hughes before going down heavily to his World Cup partner, then in Oberhausen he beat Max Hopp then two of the biggest improvers on the circuit in de Sousa and van Duijvenbode before pushing eventual winner Peter Wright close. He also got out of his group at the Slam (but needed a 5-0 win over Mikuru Suzuki to do so) but didn't show up at all against van den Bergh, he took out Ian White in the Grand Prix before losing a close one to Cullen, couldn't do much when the draw gave him MvG in round two of the PC Finals, and got a tricky draw in the Matchplay in Michael Smith.

Off stage he's been fine - Clayton made one Euro Tour final but could do little against Devon Petersen, and has had a fairly solid record of reaching board finals and winning board finals on the Pro Tour. Everything's there - the numbers are extremely good, he's had wins on the biggest stage outside a major, and he's had major runs this year, it just needs something to click at the right time (heck, he knocked MvG out of the Masters), or a little bit of luck, and Clayton's got the game to make another major ranking final.

The same really can't be said for John Henderson, in what's been a horrific year, dropping out of the world's top 32, and having such a poor performance on the floor that he only just crept into the field as the last player on the Pro Tour list - I don't know if it was countback, £250, or something equally small, but it looked for all the world like he was going to need the PDPA qualifier to get anywhere, but results just about went his way and he'll return for a ninth crack at the PDC's version of the worlds. Worryingly, the best results were early in the season - that quarter final on the floor was during the Summer Series, but every other board final was before the cessation of play. On that quarter run he beat Ricky Evans, Matt Clark, Mensur Suljovic and Mickey Mansell, so not the toughest run really.

The trouble has been after the UK Open (where he lost to Wade in a game that wasn't close). He had that one run, but only picked up one win in the four days prior to that. He only picked up two wins in the Autumn Series. He only picked up one win in the Winter Series. He only crept into the PC Finals as the last man (moving up a spot after Jeff Smith withdrew to 63) and was thrashed by Gerwyn Price. His win in the Winter Series was against Barrie Bates, who averaged 64. His wins in the Autumn Series were against Graham Usher (a Challenge Tour player) and against John Michael (who inexplicably blew a 5-1 lead). Hendo's simply not looked like winning a game at all.

Speaking of players lucky to be here, here's Marko Kantele. Only in the field because Kim Viljanen withdrew from the field due to health reasons, the veteran Finn was the next best player on the Nordic and Baltic list, which I think was restricted to just two events this year. Kantele reached a semi and a quarter in those two events, so with Viljanen out, Labanauskas already in through the Pro Tour (where I list third, I was just looking at those who would be eligible to qualify through that list) and two qualifying spots, Marko returns to try to do better than a pretty weak showing against Willie O'Connor last year, where he won just three legs.

It doesn't look too likely though, although in terms of a draw Marko's got chances at least. Marko's managed to pick up just the four wins on the tour this season - three of which were back in February against Mervyn King, Darren Penhall and Jason Lowe, so at least a couple were quality wins. He got whitewashed by Dirk van Duijvenbode in the UK Open in his only major appearance, missed the Summer Series, got one win in the Autumn Series against Ron Meulenkamp, then went 0-5 in the Winter Series, although he got some tough draws in Lewis, Rydz and Chisnall. Suppose the worrying thing is that he didn't get close in any of those last five, he took three legs off Rydz and Keegan Brown, but then two against Lewis, one against Matt Dennant and then none against Chisnall. Maybe his game's past a point of no return - he is 52 after all. This opening game may be a pretty tough watch, and a tough game for both players. Hopefully I'm proven wrong.

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