Monday 31 January 2022

Your next new winners

Now I'm not quite sure of the last time I did this. I can find a post in May 2018, but I'm sure I must have done it more recently than that. Maybe I didn't - I'm pretty certain that I've not done this since the world went mad, and if I didn't do it right at the start of 2020, then I doubt I would have done it in 2019, as that would surely have been too close to the previous post. So we'll just go now and try to pick out my top names to win each of a first ranking title, a first European Tour, and a first Pro Tour. I will go with the usual (?) proviso, that if someone's won a bigger event but is lacking a smaller one, I won't consider them, so while I'm fairly sure Rob Cross is yet to break his European Tour duck, that he has won the world title makes it a bit redundant.

Edit - I did it in April 2019 as well by the looks of things. Looking at who I picked then, none of the players I selected to win a major have yet, two of the Euro Tour picks (Ratajski, Cullen) have got one, and three of the Pro Tour picks (Dimitri, Dobey, Ross Smith) have got one. Not a great return, but what can you do?

Ranking majors

1) Michael Smith - Same number one I've had for the previous two lists. It really doesn't feel like he's going to become another Terry Jenkins (or, for that matter, Dave Chisnall), he has gained yet more deep run experience, his game is very clearly at a top ten/Premier League level, and he's shown a heck of a lot more maturity to pull through tight games. It'll happen sooner rather than later, but I've been saying this for four years now.

2) Joe Cullen - A name I was going to have a fair bit further down, but after last night I genuinely think he will push on and have the confidence to get over those last couple of hurdles to claim a big one. He's managed to get two Euro Tours, now has a TV title, and we've seen what winning this can do to someone. The counterpoint is that he could easily get murdered every week in the Premier League and lose a bunch of confidence. Let's hope not.

3) Luke Humphries - Already having reached one major final, three world quarter finals, it is a huge surprise that he has not yet won any sort of event at senior level. Has certainly shown he can mix it with the best, it wouldn't surprise me if he does a Dimitri and has his first bink be a huge one.

4) Dave Chisnall - Now this is somewhat similar to Smith, in that he's had plenty of chances already, but there's a fair bit of difference to previously. First, there's no one dominant name right now that makes things an auto-loss at a final stage. Secondly, he's tightened up on his finishing a bunch, which was always the Achilles heel for Chizzy. Finally, he's shown that he has been able to take out the huge names on the big stage, notably the MvG annihilation in the previous year's worlds, which is something he's likely to need to do at some stage. Playing well as well.

5) Krzysztof Ratajski - I'd normally put someone who was in the top 8 in scoring a fair bit higher in the list, but I've got a sneaking suspicion his best chance might already have come and gone. His form does look to have tailed off a touch in the last six months, and while I didn't watch either of his games this past tournament, some people have muttered the word dartitis, which even if not the case, if his game's a little bit off, that could be a big blow, given he appears somewhat of a deliberate player rather than naturally flowing. I still think there's enough there that he has a chance if everything comes together at the right time (the UK Open would possibly be the perfect chance given the nature of the event), but this could turn out to look ridiculous in the worst case scenario.

European Tour

1) Ryan Searle - Would this surprise anyone? No, it wouldn't. Searle is going to be seeded for pretty much all of these this season, and with the quality of play he has put up in the last twelve months, along with the results to push onto one major final, yet another solid worlds run and getting another ranking title, it is not ridiculous to suggest he's the player best placed to make a breakthrough at the European Tour level in 2022. I could easily have bumped him up to five in the above list instead of Ratajski.

2) Chris Dobey - If anything, Dobey is playing better. The numbers he has put up on the floor don't lie, they're phenomenal, the counterpoint is that they have only just started to convert themselves into ranking results, and Dobey lacks the super deep run into a major. He has got to a European Tour final before at least, so he knows what these are like.

3) Dirk van Duijvenbode - Dirk went a little bit off the boil in 2021, but is another major finalist, is now a Pro Tour winner compared to where he was at the end of 2020, and has done a good job of accumulating the stage experience that is really needed in order to claim a European Tour.

4) Danny Noppert - Noppie is, if anything, playing at a better standard than Dirk is, it's just not hugely worked out in terms of results - his scoring in 2021 was at a top ten level, but he's yet to add to the first Pro Tour he was able to get back in 2018. He has performed solidly in majors though, adding a second ranking semi final, and of course was able to get to the final of Lakeside way back when. It might take a little bit longer than the above, maybe he needs to final or bink another Pro Tour to get the confidence in terms of results, and he is missing this weekend, but the game is there for sure.

5) Damon Heta - There's not much that is preventing Heta from getting one at this level. He's won a World Series event, he's won on the Pro Tour, his scoring is at a top 16 level, and he has enough on the Pro Tour that he is going to be seeded for at least the first few events as he continues to rise up the rankings. Wouldn't take too much for a path to open up for Damon to push through and claim a title at the next level.

Pro Tour

1) Martin Schindler - I've backed him to do well in pretty much every single event in 2021, the numbers are indicative of him being at a level where he definitely can break through and get a senior title. He's got a bunch of experience, deceptive if you just look at his age and not his record, and has come through the adversity of playing well and not getting the results (to the point where he lost his card, only to immediately get it back). I do think he's got one of these in him very, very soon. He's not seeded in the mid 20's for no reason.

2) Gabriel Clemens - Will go with back to back Germans to open things off, Gabriel's levels have stagnated over the past couple of years it's fair to say, but he is still maintaining scoring over 90 (although both Schindler and Hempel are higher) and a solid Pro Tour seeding position. He was only a couple of legs away from getting one as recently as October and he's had a few goes at it, surely he converts soon.

3) Martijn Kleermaker - May be a little bit of an odd choice, simply because his scoring in 2021 isn't at the level of the two above, but there's a lot of things going for him. He has somewhat of a false ranking after the joke that was the 2021 worlds for him, he is not too far off being seeded for Pro Tours, so could get into a spot where he can catch a big seed early in an event and have the draw open up, which is kind of what happened in the one where he did make a final already, although he did need to take out the top seed in his quarter himself. Lastly, prior to joining the PDC, he was hoovering up everything on the floor, and knows how to win.

4) Alan Soutar - This is just looking at the impact he was able to make in his first year. Real steady performances throughout with some highlight results, like Kleermaker he is not far off the Pro Tour seedings. He's shown some real fighting qualities in the worlds to pull off games where he looked completely lost, that's the sort of thing you think he'll need to do to claim one, but he can.

5) James Wilson - He's had a pretty bad couple of years, let's not beat around the bush, but the numbers he put up in 2021 were, as mentioned previously many times, deceptively good. We've seen what players who win their card on day one have been able to do in the past - Jason Lowe a couple of years ago, Jamie Hughes the year before, Corey Cadby the year before that. Probably just a case of getting a couple of wins on the board early just to derust the whole winning at this level feeling, then it wouldn't surprise people given the class he has to get through a board, then who knows?

6) Darius Labanauskas - Labanauskas has a previous final to his name, albeit it was back in 2019, but the scoring of late is just fine clocking in north of 90, and he has the sort of game that can stick around win anyone over a short distance, or longer - you don't stick around with MvG in a world quarter final if you're not a quality player. Probably another one who could benefit from a decent run to just push himself up into the Pro Tour top 32 first.

7) Jim Williams - This is more from what he's been able to show us in the BDO for quite some time, where he was taking plenty of titles and ending up extremely high in their rankings, as well as what he's been able to show on the PDC stage - pushing Cullen to a deciding set in the worlds, winning the Challenge Tour, and being unlucky to not escape from his Grand Slam group. Maybe doesn't quite have the elite level scoring to get himself out of a tricky spot where he'd need to hit a twelve to stay alive, but he's one who will clean up the easy chances given, and it doesn't take too many of those to convert into a deep Pro Tour run.

8) Florian Hempel - More German involvement, Hempel already made waves in 2021 on basically half a season on the floor, then shocked many casual commentators by turning over Dimitri in the worlds. There does seem to be a little bit of a lack of consistency in the game, but if he can work the tour well and iron that out, his A-game is certainly enough to cause plenty of top players trouble.

9) Rusty-Jake Rodriguez - He's managed to get himself a full season on the tour, more or less, through his Q-School ranking, and now he gets to do it again as a tour card holder after cleaning up nearly half of all the Development Tours that were available to win. His scoring in 2021 matches, to the second decimal point, Simon Whitlock's, which ought to give you a decent idea of where he stands in the senior game. With the experience gained and the winning mentality, it wouldn't be a huge shock if Rusty was to get a title, 2021 might be a touch soon, but the kids these days win stuff at a pretty young age.

10) Jermaine Wattimena - This is a little bit of a more left field name given he had a quite terrible 2021 and was lucky to even make the worlds, where he looked pretty bad, but we are not too far removed from where he was able to reach Pro Tour finals (was a couple of legs away in late 2020), and was close to the top 16 and getting a contenders shot in the Premier League. There's a good enough underlying game there, that if he's able to work out whatever hasn't been clicking in 2021, he can get back to deep runs again and the stage where he was in a quarter final or better seemingly every other weekend. His scoring was only just under 90 in 2021, so it is not as if he was playing terribly. I was going to put Scott Waites here, then remembered he does have a major title, oops. It wasn't ranked then, I'm pretty sure, so does he count?

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