Sunday 6 December 2020

Section 7 - Cross, van Duijvenbode, Brooks, Hughes, Hunt, Ashton


Seems quite a long time ago that Cross was able to claim the world title, and it now seems as if there's quite a gap between the top three in the world and where Cross' level is right now. All in all it's got to go down as a very disappointing season for Voltage, who didn't claim any titles, and apart from one run in the Summer Series, where he got through to a final but was routed by James Wade, he's not really looked like doing so either. It's the floor form which has looked more concerning than the majors, but neither look that great, Cross having only won his board on four occasions, being stopped by players you wouldn't necessarily expect - Scott Baker. Karel Sedlacek. Vincent van der Meer. Mickey Mansell. William Borland (twice). Lisa Ashton. He's only finished with a 50% record on the Euro Tour as well, although the only surprise loss there was to surprise package Franz Roetzsch.

The majors wasn't much better, outside of the UK Open quarter final run, with a good win over Michael Smith in there before van Gerwen was way too strong. Opening round defeats to Gabriel Clemens, Gary Anderson and Martijn Kleermaker in consecutive majors aren't ideal. He got through his Grand Slam group before losing a decider to Michael Smith, which I suppose isn't too bad, but then was only able to get past Jason Lowe last time out before going down to Joe Cullen. Rob's not become a bad player, but he's certainly not at a level where you're thinking he might be able to win a major. He may not be at a level where he'd be in consideration for the Premier League. A run here would certainly be useful.

The problem for Rob is that he's got a potential second round match against one of 2020's breakout players in Dirk van Duijvenbode, who's making his first appearance at the worlds since that one game against Barney which will only be remembered for Dirk busting a score of 180 rather than anything else. We've known Dirk has quality for some time, but he's actually started to put things together extremely nicely this season after needing to win back his card in January. We saw promising signs early on - Dirk made a Pro Tour semi final on the opening weekend, only being halted by Gerwyn Price, and then would make the same stage in Belgium soon after, beating Woodhouse, White, de Zwaan and Aspinall before being stopped again by Gerwyn Price, the eventual winner. The best would come later in the year in the majors, but early on Dirk would do alright in the UK Open, only being stopped by Mensur Suljovic, and the rest of the Pro Tour would see him win his board on five further occasions.

It's all about the Grand Prix though, where Dirk made a massive run all the way to the final, avenging that earlier major loss to Suljovic then going through van den Bergh, Anderson and Whitlock before eventually coming up short to Gerwyn Price again. An amazing run that will give him very good chances of hitting the top 32 once he's got two years of money on his account, but Dirk would do alright elsewhere - getting two wins at the European Championship with a whitewash of Danny Noppert and a ground out win against Michael Smith, and reach the same stage of the Players Championship Finals, taking out O'Connor in a high quality game before dropping just one leg against each of Niels Zonneveld and Luke Woodhouse, van Gerwen being too strong in the quarters. Only bad spot was not making it out of the group at the Grand Slam, after beating Peter Wright in the first game he'd end up in a three way tie with one win and not make it on leg difference.

Last season Bradley Brooks was one game away from making the worlds, losing out in the PDPA qualifier to Kevin Burness and losing his tour card as a result. This year, he has made it, albeit as the world youth champion - dropping just one leg in his group, then in the knockout stages beating Rhys Griffin, then three tour card holders in Borland, Schindler and Zonneveld before winning over Joe Davis in the stage final to clinch his spot. A great performance for Brooks, which will open up the Grand Slam for him next season, and he'll hope to get a similar sort of run to his last major, where he got three wins at the UK Open over Menzies, Kenny and Petersen, before having a game he'd like back against now disgraced qualifier Kyle McKinstry.

As a card holder he's played the full tour, and in fairness it's continued to be a learning experience - he was born this century after all. He didn't make the European Tour at all, and had just the three board finals, of which only one was a win. Ending up outside the top 100 on the tour averages, he had a poor start going 0-9 to begin the year, but had closer to a .500 record afterwards, although looking back at the players he has defeated, it's mostly been opponents lower down the pecking order, with the most notable win being over Ian White. It's a tricky draw for Bradley, but certainly one that he'll be able to gain a lot out of as a minimum.

It's been a fairly quiet year for Jamie Hughes, at least in the sense that we've not talked about him a great deal - he's not made a great impression in any tournament outside of a good UK Open run where he got through to the quarter finals, and it really should have been a deeper run, having missed eight match darts in the deciding leg against Jonny Clayton. Still, he did enough generally to be able to get into all the majors except the Grand Slam, with six board wins and three visits to the Sunday on the European Tour (he was, in fairness, seeded for all of these, but still needed to pick up wins in order to get ranking money and did so on every occasion). His scoring on the Pro Tour has been pretty darned consistent - it's very rare that you see his scoring slip below 90.

In terms of the majors, apart from that UK Open sortie, Jamie's not done a lot. Can't really complain about his performance in the Matchplay - Hughes averaged over a ton, but Mensur was able to do the same and just get home in added time. He maybe could have done a little better in the Grand Prix, having got drawn against an alternate in de Zwaan, and maybe the disruption at the last minute affected Hughes, with de Zwaan able to coast to a final set win. He got a good win at Oberhausen over Chisnall but was incredibly disappointing against O'Connor, losing heavily either by not scoring or missing bunches of doubles. The Players Championship Finals was fair enough, while he easily disposed of Ricky Evans, the lack of real deep scores saw him pretty much in the middle of the field and he couldn't live with Gerwyn Price in round two. Jamie's still a fine player, but a fair bit off the level he was at in early to mid 2019.

Adam Hunt was another player in this section who lost out at the last hurdle in the PDPA qualifier (to Matt Edgar who we talked about in the previous post), but got here on merit to return after a one year absence - in 2019 he made it in through the PDPA qualifier, and was hammered by Luke Humphries. He'll hope to do better this year, and has every chance having picked up in form in terms of results both on the floor and off it - on TV, his season was capped by getting through the Grand Slam qualifier, and then despite losing his first two games in the group, including a 5-0 reverse against MvG, he got through the group by defeating Clemens by just enough to finish ahead of Gabriel on leg difference, and then Joe Cullen couldn't take enough legs against van Gerwen to stay above Adam either. He'd lose in a scrappy last 16 game to Simon Whitlock, but getting multiple stage games is a big deal.

Looking more widely, his start to the year was poor, only winning more than one game once on the floor before the break, then not winning a match in the Summer Series, and also getting whitewashed by Karel Sedlacek at the UK Open. As we've mentioned though, things improved, he won more games than he lost in both the remaining two Pro Tour series, and was more or less only being stopped by much higher level players. He did well in the European events having qualified for two of them, and while on both occasions he got to the seed and lost, the second event was notable for a big one sided defeat of Damon Heta before going all eleven legs against Rob Cross, nearly getting the upset win. Trending upwards at the right time, Hunt's been around for a long time now so has the experience, and the added TV experience might just make the difference.

It's been a huge year for Lisa Ashton no matter what happens here - looking back to January, just getting onto the tour was a huge deal. It was close - she was looking very good on the points table going into the final day, but suffered an early defeat and it was just a waiting game, and it was only leg differential that was the difference in the end, but nevertheless we had the first woman onto the Pro Tour. I don't think it's unfair to say that it was always going to be tough, and Lisa's been out in the first round more often than she hasn't, but on occasions she's got some good results, with a board win in the Autumn Series, and getting some big wins over Rob Cross, Jamie Hughes, Michael Smith, Dimitri van den Bergh and Gabriel Clemens.

Lisa got here by finishing top of the Women's Series, winning two of the four events and also finishing in the final of another, and during that weekend she also won the Grand Slam qualifier, and while she ended up in a tough group with Smith and de Sousa advancing, she almost picked up a win against Ratajski, going one leg away before Krzysztof became pretty much unplayable to turn around a big deficit. She wasn't able to do anything in the UK Open, losing in the first round to Mike de Decker, but I think the important thing we've seen is that she can compete with the men and has a very high level A-game, which we saw a couple of years back in the first set against Jan Dekker - it's just a case of keeping it going for a full long match.

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