Tuesday 8 December 2020

Section 9 - Wright, West, Gilitwala, Clemens, Hamilton, Kurz


Your current world champion will be looking to defend his title from the number 2 seed, but how was his inaugural season as the winner of the biggest event the sport? Hit and miss really. Peak was to claim another major title by claiming the European Championship, an early semi final in Belgium being enough to get him into the field (which would allow him to withdraw from the last two Euro Tours). Wright won it by defeating Gabriel Clemens, Gerwyn Price (only playing a truncated season gave him a fairly low seeding, hence the early meeting), then the run arguably got easier with wins over possible first opponent Steve West, then Jonny Clayton and James Wade. Four Pro Tour titles is a decent enough haul, winning two against Price and one each against de Sousa and Madars Razma. But could he have done more?

Maybe. He'd definitely want that semi final in the PC Finals against Mervyn King back. Whether he'd beat van Gerwen in the final is a different question, but an 84 average is way below par. He had an easily winnable group in the Grand Slam, but had a really poor game against Devon Petersen which he needed to win having already lost to Dirk van Duijvenbode, and didn't even finish second. The UK Open would have been open, but having done the hard part by beating Durrant and White he then lost to Gurney despite averaging 101. Durrant would do for him in the Matchplay which at the time is understandable, but a loss in the opening round of the Grand Prix to Ryan Joyce was a huge shock, although Joyce was missing next to nothing. Perhaps it's a greedy assessment, but maybe a bit more could have been expected. Still, a major title is never a bad result given how competitive the game is these days.

Thank god for the European Tour is probably what Steve West is thinking. After a pretty darned disastrous Pro Tour season, where West didn't win his board once and had a shocking fifteen first round defeats, to some pretty ordinary players as well (Darren Penhall, Brian Raman, Gavin Carlin, Dave Pallett, John Michael, Ciaran Teehan etc), Steve would finish outside the top 60 on the averages, not make the Players Championship Finals, and only win eleven matches all season - four of which were in the first three events, making up two of his three board finals. It's a long way away of Steve's best - he was seeded last season.

However, Europe recovered things somewhat. Making three events and hitting a last sixteen in Belgium early in the year was enough to get him to Oberhausen - there, West would pull off two big last leg shocks, first against Krzysztof Ratajski, all eleven legs going with throw where Krzysztof missed eight darts to break throughout the match. Second would be against Mensur Suljovic, pulling out a 106 out to break in the decider. Peter Wright would be too strong, but hey, it's a result, and he'd also do slightly better than seeded (being just outside the top 32 at the time) in the UK Open, winning over Conan Whitehead and Lewis Williams, but would be spanked 10-1 by Jelle Klaasen. Tough one. Suppose it's comforting that his best results have been on stage, and he's at least got a winnable game here.

This is an odd one. The last couple of seasons, we've actually had an Indian qualifier, and Nitin Kumar played both times. He didn't look great the first time, but was a lot better the second time round, and has been playing some of the Asian Tour, has tried Q-School and then the Challenge Tour, and is quite clearly the country's number one player. However, for reasons that you can go down a Twitter rabbit hole to find if you want, Indian darting politics is best described as "lol", and in the absence of a qualifier they picked their number one on their rankings, which is Amit. Oh dear.

We don't know a great deal about him recently. He's still fairly young at least - he was at least young enough to play two Development Tour weekends in 2018, where he finished with a 6-8 record, averaging in the sixties overall and only just scraping over 80 once. In that year he also played Q-School, where he won one game over the four days, and tried two Challenge Tour weekends, not winning a game the first weekend and being one and out for three of the events in the second weekend. Doesn't look like this one will be pretty.

Any questions that Clemens is Germany's number one player have pretty much fallen by the wayside now, the only real thing holding things back was Hopp having a higher ranking, which certainly isn't the case anymore, and while Gabriel is yet to win a ranking title, it can only be a matter of time given the consistent level of play he's been able to produce. He's also starting to get wins on TV as well, which we'll come to shortly, but let's mention the floor first - two Pro Tour semi finals (halted only by Aspinall and van Gerwen), a further three quarter finals, and extremely steady production throughout. It's maybe a bit of a surprise that Clemens wasn't able to get through to the Sunday of any Euro Tour events (he was invited straight into the first round of three of them, so didn't even need to qualify), but no first round exits isn't bad, and apart from the Gurney game in the second event, he was facing either a top ranked player statistically (Ratajski) or someone averaging 100 (Wade, Suljovic). The big run will come.

TV results are improving though. In the UK Open, Clemens got past Kuivenhoven, Joyce and then Boulton before going to a decider against Gerwyn Price, who broke with an eleven for perfect timing, he'd take out Rob Cross at the Matchplay and push Ratajski to overtime, and he'd take out Nathan Aspinall at the Grand Prix before putting in a disappointing performance against Jeffrey de Zwaan. He got Wright at the Euros and ran into a rampant Ian White at the Players Championship Finals, so can probably be excused those, but the real disappointment will be the Grand Slam - needing just three legs against Adam Hunt, he lost five in a row from a 2-0 lead. That'd have given him a very winnable match against Simon Whitlock. Small margins, but now he's in the top 32 he needs to push into the top 16 of majors frequently, if not further, to advance. Still, it's all more progression.

The Hammer's back after a couple of years in the BDO system, and will be just about back at Ally Pally after creeping into the field via the Pro Tour list. It was looking very dicey on the final day - winning just one game in the last three days would have given him quite a bit more leeway, but results fell Andy's way and he will make it back. It's ironically a bit of a similar story to Steve West really - his Pro Tour results have been extremely poor, landing outside the top 100 on the averages, only reaching a board final once (over van den Bergh and Sedlacek), and losing in the first round more than he's won. It was such a mediocre record that he didn't make the Players Championship Finals, and wasn't close to it at all, and a return to the UK Open was ended a round prior to the money by Niels Zonneveld.

However, there was the European Tour. Having won his opening round game against Andy Boulton (in a decider) in Belgium before losing comfortably to Peter Wright, he had an outside chance of Oberhausen in the final event of the season. He beat a domestic qualifier first up (of which there was a lot), then dodged three match darts against Stephen Bunting before edging through, again in a decider. He actually managed to push van Gerwen close in round three as well, missing a dart at the bull for the match, but it was enough - first to make the European Championship, where he'd win just the one leg against Devon Petersen, but critically, it got the money in the bank to make this event. He's going to need to improve to retain a card next year, but it's not a bad start cash wise to make two majors.

Hamilton's going to have a tough task to get through to Clemens though, as another rising German will be his opponent in Nico Kurz. Nico debuted last year and had a routine win over James Wilson before pulling off a fair shock against Joe Cullen (I was there, it was a fun match), before Luke Humphries was a bit too strong. Nico qualified here by winning the German Superleague - retaining the title that got him to Ally Pally last year, and while the event was mostly notable for the legend that was the lollipop bloke keeping distancing, the standards in the group stages being pretty ordinary, Nico brought out his best in the knockout stages - first eliminating former worlds player Kevin Münch (he who beat Lewis a few years ago), then potential second round opponent Clemens before winning a decider 10-9 against another former worlds qualifier, Dragutin Horvat. He was in quite a hole down 8-4, but held his nerve and survived a match dart to get over the line.

Nico's played a couple of the European Tour events this year, beating Lowe then losing to Wade in ET2, then beating Stefan Bellmont before losing to Durrant in ET3. Just making it through the huge qualifier in Riesa would have got him into the European Championship, but he bizarrely didn't show and get any of the eight places available. Oh well, at least it's believed he will do Q-School properly this year (he only did the one day in 2020, supposedly he didn't want to do the full tour), which will be good as he's clearly good enough to make it as a card holder.

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