Saturday 5 December 2020

Section 5 - Smith, Lowe, Gorbunov, Petersen, Lennon, Larsson


Another season, another year where Michael Smith's yet to win a major, and he didn't make any finals either, unless you count the unranked Masters, which nobody cares about. It wasn't all bad though, as he got to the business end of most things, managed to break a titleless streak in the Winter Series, but two years after his final, he's defending a lot of money. Let's look through the majors first - getting Rob Cross early in the UK Open was a little bit unfortunate, and he only lost by the odd leg in 19, so I think we can let him off that one. A Matchplay semi final was fine, defeating tricky customers in Clayton, Suljovic and Ratajski, before forcing Gary Anderson to overtime and not quite getting over the line. A couple of blips followed, he'd want the game with Dimitri at the Grand Prix back, similar with the game against Dirk van Duijvenbode at the European Championships. Smith did at least finish with a couple of quarters, losing out to Jose de Sousa who went on to take the Slam, and Peter Wright, in a game where both were averaging a ton.

As such, there's reason to be optimistic for Smith here. He's picking up at the right end of the season, he did get those two Winter Series victories in back to back days, which is an impressive streak of endurance that he's going to need to show in a tournament like this. He made a semi final in Europe late in the season as well, only falling to the eventual champion in Joe Cullen - tack these on to his quarter finals and things are pointing in the right direction. Earlier in the year, Smith did also reach the final in Belgium, beating two of the big three in van Gerwen and Wright, just failing to complete the trifecta against Price. Most importantly, winning something will have brought back belief, it's never been a question of talent.

Much like last year, however, Smith could come a cropper to an under the radar Pro Tour qualifier in the early stages in Jason Lowe. He's had a quietly good year after making a statement by winning his tour card on day one, only dropping 14 legs over the course of eight matches, with a last four game run against Edhouse, Jacques, Hamilton and Steve Brown being a series of potentially tricky players who've been around and know what they're doing. Lowe then set to work in floor events - ending the season in the top 32 of the Pro Tour averages, he was able to do much of his best work in the early events, winning his board four times over the first twelve events, and through the end of the Summer Series he picked up scalps like Dave Chisnall, Stephen Bunting, Mervyn King, Rob Cross, Adrian Lewis and Gary Anderson. He'd also come incredibly close to shocking the world at the UK Open - after beating Cody Harris, Jon Worsley and Adrian Lewis, he'd draw Michael van Gerwen and take the game all the way to a deciding leg - with the darts - then wanting 86 for the match he shanked the first dart, then inexplicably went for bull needing 82, van Gerwen waiting on 20 for the match. Bizarre decision.

Lowe's second half of the year has been a bit more muted, in the last ten events he's had first round exits half the time, and has only managed to win through to the board final once - he also returned to the TV stage in the Players Championship Finals, but was only able to win three legs against Rob Cross in the opening round, tough draw in fairness. Hopefully Jason will have need able to take a bit of a break and try to rediscover what he had at the start of the season - the numbers have certainly slipped a bit, the good news is that he's got an opponent that he ought to beat comfortably enough, which should spark a bit of confidence, and then will go into a game with little to lose against someone with a bit of pressure on them.

In a huge surprise, it won't be Boris Koltsov who'll be representing the EADC as he has done for the previous two years, nor will it be any previous winners of that event. It's Dimitry Gorbunov who'll be at Ally Pally. What do we know? Firstly, his qualifying route was fairly comfortable - he dropped three legs in the quarters and semis combined, albeit against players I don't know (although the guy he beat in the semi was the guy that put Koltsov out after Boris apparently missed a chunk of match darts), then eliminated Roman Obuhkov in a best of five sets final, where seemingly neither player could hit a double to save their lives.

Elsewhere, he did try his hand at Q-School. A series average of a shade under 70 doesn't inspire confidence, while he did win a couple of matches, and force the likes of Andy Baetens and Kenny Neyens to deciding legs, it's not the best of signs. I can see that he did play a couple of Euro Tour qualifiers last season, but wasn't able to get too far in them, and one of the events he did try to qualify for didn't even happen. I think realistically it's only Koltsov who's had any sort of experience playing matches at the sort of level where you can think about winning here, and this match could end up being a quick one.

What a year for Devon Petersen. It's truly remarkable how much he's been able to improve in 2020, we were seeing some signs in 2019, but this year he's taken things to the next level completely - looking like he was going to win a tour event, then actually winning on the Euro Tour, and coming within one leg of making a major final. Let's start at the top of the year - Devon started to draw people's attentions with a semi final run in Pro Tour 5, slamming in a 110+ average against Zonneveld, taking out van den Bergh and Cross and only being stopped by Peter Wright. He'd make another semi at the end of the Summer Series, only being stopped in a deciding leg by Gerwyn Price in a match of the season contender where he averaged 113. He'd follow that up with a final in the next series, again being stopped by Price, again in a decider, but it was in Hildesheim where he really made his mark - beating de Zwaan, Price (from 5-1 down), Cross, Ratajski, Noppert and then Clayton in the final to win his first title.

That opened up all sorts of doors - he'd make the Grand Prix but get a bastard draw, beating de Sousa but then losing to van Gerwen. He'd be one of the top seeds for the European Championship, where before losing to Wade 11-10 he'd take out Hamilton, Kleermaker and White. It got him into the Grand Slam, where he won a group of death involving Wright, White and van Duijvenbode, sweeping the series but then hitting an inspired Damon Heta. He'd have a tough time both before and after this run in what'd ordinarily be the Minehead double header, losing to Bradley Brooks first game in the UK Open and being second best in a good game against Luke Humphries in the Players Championship Finals, but those have been exceptions rather than the rule for Devon in 2020.

Odd season for Lennon. He's one of a few players who've put together excellent numbers on paper, but it hasn't really turned up in terms of results. Let's see what's happened, and let's start with the Euro Tour, as he won through three qualifiers, and then won three first round games before losing to seeds - Rodriguez then Wade, Koltsov then van Gerwen, Razma then Hughes. It was enough to get him to Oberhausen at least, where if he'd have just managed a fifteen darter in the decider, he'd have beaten James Wade rather than going home at the first hurdle. He'd only appear in the two majors that most people make outside of that - Steve would lose at the first hurdle in a high quality affair against Alan Tabern, and then in the Players Championship Finals, he'd only get in as part of the bottom quarter of qualifiers, get Wattimena, then average 102 in the course of winning one leg. Strange game.

In the Players Championship series, it's been a similar tale of not great results. He has a year long standard average of 94, which is just outside the top 25 and more than quite a few top 32 players, even some top 16 players. It was just the one good run results-wise, back in event five where he lost in the semis to Gerwyn Price in a deciding leg after taking out the likes of Jeffrey de Zwaan and Gabriel Clemens with some scarily high averages. Unfortunately, that'd be the only time he'd win his board all year, and he'd only win more than one match in an event three other times. He's had more than his share of tough draws in round one, but you've got to face a seed fairly soon if you're unseeded yourself, and his numbers indicate he should be winning those games more often than he actually is.

Daniel's here after being the best player on the aborted Nordic and Baltic Tour (that's actually taking their spot through that route), winning the second of just the two events that were held, with wins over tour card holders in Kantele and Labanauskas, then over Viljanen in the final. Larsson was the only player to average over 90 in those two events, so he was throwing some alright stuff on that date, as well as doing surprisingly well on the Home Tour - I've tried not to mention it much as it's not the same, but as Larsson went 15-4 in a really strong looking group involving van Duijvenbode, Schindler and Kyle Anderson, I thought it worth the shout.

Larsson is actually a tour card holder, after claiming a card on countback in the Euro list way back in January. He's not been able to do a great deal with it unfortunately, the one Euro Tour he made was through the Nordic/Baltic qualifier, and he then won just the one leg against Willie O'Connor. It gave him a spot at the UK Open, getting into two tight games, winning the first against Ryan Meikle before losing the second against Mike de Decker. On the Pro Tour, Larsson's had an abbreviated season, missing the last two weekends before the shutdown (they were either side of the Nordic/Baltic Tour so I think he wanted some time at home), but did get his best run in event four, beating Robinson, Pallett and Carlin before going out to Maik Kuivenhoven, Daniel then missed the Summer Series, before he'd return for the final ten events, only winning three games in the process. Will be a tough ask to beat Lennon, but he seems steady enough, albeit maybe lacking in scoring a touch that might give Steve a bit of leeway.

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