Sunday 4 December 2022

(17) de Sousa, (13) Whitlock, (AsCh) Perez

Jose de Sousa - FRH #18, 622-540 (53.53%), 91.83 scoring (#23), 5.26 consistency
Simon Whitlock - FRH #42, 395-375 (51.30%), 90.27 scoring (#39), 4.61 consistency
Christian Perez - FRH #126, 33-28 (54.10%), 84.12 scoring (#86), 5.75 consistency

For the first time in what was likely forever, certainly since the first time since he reached the final post-switch, Simon Whitlock is outside of the top 32, and comes in as one of the more dangerous Pro Tour qualifiers, still showing enough of a game to be able to lead Australia to the World Cup, playing a comparable level of game to partner Damon Heta. Unfortunately, that doesn't give you ranking money, and after a 2020 where he reached two major semi finals as well as a quarter final dropped off the tally, he's down looking for a decent run to try to get back in. The game is still fairly decent - scoring over 90 is still pretty solid, but it's going to take something special to get back up into the top 32 soon. He exited this time last year at the first hurdle against Martijn Kleermaker, was one and done at the UK Open (only just beat Kuivenhoven, then fairly heavy loss to Wright), did not qualify for the pair of "tricky" majors for the second straight year, nor did he make the European Championship, with just the four appearances all year, only once making the final session (the one where he did the three bulls out against Larsson). Floor isn't great either - not making the top 50 in the Pro Tour rankings, which gave him a nasty tie against Danny Noppert and Danny didn't mess around with a huge average in a 6-1 victory. The floor form is the worry, he only has three board wins all season, only being able to take one of those performances any further, and that was just to a quarter final. The peak is still just about there, and there's still enough game where you wouldn't put it past him to be able to bink a Pro Tour at some point, but that seems to be the only realistic way he can get back into the top 32 at this stage in his career (he will be 54 in March), so maybe that World Cup will be the last great thing we see from Simon. Would cap a great career.

Perez will return for a fourth crack at the title, and a first in seven years, as a result of winning the Asian Championship. More on this season in a bit, his previous worlds appearance have been up and down, last time out he lost a prelim to Cristo Reyes 4-0, since then Reyes won his card, got into the top 32, and lost his card, that's how long ago it was, while previously he beat Dietmar Burger before losing to Alan Tabern, then beat Per Laursen on debut before falling to Robert Thornton. At least he got a set each time. After a few down years on the Asian scene, things are starting to return with the Asian Championship, which Perez was able to win - beating Seigo Asada and some random in the group, then from the last 16 he defeated RJ Escaros, Yoshihisa Baba, Lourence Ilagan and Paolo Nebrida to claim the title. The semi was probably the highlight, being against arguably the most accomplished player he faced in the knockouts, and averaging over 90 with no real help from his opponent. That locked up his return to Ally Pally, and also gave him the benefit of getting three stage matches, as the winner also got a Grand Slam spot. Perez was drawn in a tricky looking group on paper, with Danny Noppert being the seed, while Mensur Suljovic and, ironically, Whitlock, were also in there. Perez lost all three games, but took nine legs, only losing a decider against Danny where if I remember rightly he had one dart for the match, then cracking the 90 average against Simon, losing by an odd break. The projection really favours Simon as you would expect, but I'm going to look at that Grand Slam match as more of a fairer comparison. He's not bad, just maybe lacks the scoring to be able to generate enough chances to truly threaten someone of Whitlock's experience and calibre. Another 3-1 defeat feels like it would be the safe prediction, the projections say Whitlock at over 85%, but I think the limited data on Perez is possibly underselling what he can do a touch.

de Sousa will be the opponent in round two for either of these, who has dropped down the rankings significantly over the last few months as a result of his Grand Slam victory (and, as a corollary, his European Tour win) falling off the record books. His game was looking pretty bad in the early stages of the year, with a string of mediocre results and being on the wrong end of an absolute hiding in the UK Open from Jonny Clayton having picked up close to a free win against Steve West. That said, he picked things up a little bit, hitting the semi finals in Prague albeit with a moderately easy route to that stage, and then overcame the tag of being one of the most out of form players in the Matchplay to reach a new best stage of the quarter finals - Gabriel Clemens and Rob Cross would be the players he'd defeat (the game against Cross notably saw both average 103), before getting fairly close to seeing off Gerwyn Price in the semis, losing the third/fourth sessions a bit too much and not being able to claw back the second break which would have forced overtime. Since then, he's not been able to reach a floor final, either before the Matchplay or after, but had a nice streak of quarter-semi-quarter in back to back to back Euro Tours, seeing him get a pretty decent seeding for the European Championship (after losing in the Grand Prix 2-0 to Lewis), there he had an excellent showing with a 6-1 win over Schindler averaging 105, only to crash back down to earth against Chris Dobey. Winning nothing all season saw him need to qualify for the Grand Slam and he didn't, so the entirety of his win money was not defended, and most recently he took the 18th seed he got at the Players Championship Finals (showing he's still got an alright floor game, just not pushing super deep) and got the win as expected over Danny Jansen, before having a really poor game against Krzysztof Ratajski. The numbers are still there, and the performances are still just about there, albeit without quite the threat to go all the way as it was 2-3 years ago. Jose probably claims this a little over 60% of the time, but will he actually get the win?

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