Monday 12 December 2022

(3) van Gerwen, (29) Zonneveld, (DevT) Williams

Michael van Gerwen - FRH #2, 591-436 (57.55%), 95.75 scoring (#1), 3.43 consistency
Niels Zonneveld - FRH #66, 332-352 (48.54%), 89.43 scoring (#52), 5.23 consistency
Lewy Williams - FRH #70, 300-328 (47.77%), 86.83 scoring (#77), 4.83 consistency

It's been a tricky season for Niels, who's only just scraped into the field as one of the last few Pro Tour qualifiers, and is in the pressure situation of needing to win this one in order to give himself a chance of retaining his tour card. It still wouldn't be guaranteed, and if you look at his next round opponent, you can't realistically see him adding more than second round money to his account, but it would at least give him a chance. Niels returns after a one year absence, losing easily to Willie O'Connor in what was his debut appearance, and a probable highlight this year was reaching the Sunday of the European Tour event in Belgium, where he was able to defeat Alan Soutar in the opening round and then nick one against Peter Wright in the last 32 to move on and face Andrew Gilding, where he had a higher average but lost more legs. His only other appearances on that tour were three first round defeats where he didn't play badly, but just ran into competent opposition playing well. As such, that six grand needed to be augmented with a decent amount of Pro Tour money to get here, and he did enough on the floor to do so, and also creep into the Minehead field last month, and it again was another decent showing with a 98 average, but Dave Chisnall was that little bit better. His best work on the floor seemed to be mostly in the early stages of the season, with the first four events seeing no first round exits, one board final, one board win and one quarter final, picking up the scalps of Humphries and Chisnall amongst others, and it was also in the early part of the season where he had a nice UK Open cameo with a run to the last 32, defeating Jon Worsley, Berry van Peer and Jim Williams, before averaging mid-90s over nineteen legs against Keane Barry, only issue is Keane won one too many legs. Niels had another purple patch in the summer with three more board wins, pushing one through to a quarter final, but outside of that, the floor performances were pretty barren, only winning six matches between those two spells and three after that. It's weird that Niels appears to be playing well in the important matches he's losing, yet at the same time has a big consistency number, so maybe he's giving away a lot of legs very cheaply on the floor? Entirely possible. Averaging 79, 75 and 82 in three first round Pro Tour events from the last ten where he won one leg combined against mediocre opposition (Evetts, Jansen, will give mulligan vs Lukeman maybe) indicates he can have days where he just doesn't show up. He can't do that here or it'll be back to Q-School in the new year.

One player who won't be back to Q-School is Williams, who is here through finishing fourth on the Development Tour, and with both of Rock and Barry ahead of him having got cards and places through the Pro Tour, it filters down to Lewy instead. Which is fortunate, as he's only just above the cutoff line for the top 64 post worlds and could drop below that with some unfortunate combinations of results. This year's been a bit of a nightmare follow up to a 2021 season where he qualified through the Pro Tour and get an opening win over a fairly poor Japanese qualifier at the worlds - on the Pro Tour he was over five grand short from getting to Minehead, managing just a solitary board win and just a further three board finals beyond that, although he did at least win his opening game more than half the time. The Euro Tour wasn't much better for Lewy, only qualifying twice, although he did at least make the third round the first time with wins over Nilsson and Ratajski, and was the beneficiary of a bye through to a defeat against Gerwyn Price the second time. The scoring just hasn't been there, sub-87 is a rather concerning regression, but he did at least finish in the top ten of the averages on the Development Tour, indicating that for his relative age he's still doing fine, and maybe the senior level is slightly too strong for him at this point in time. On that Development Tour, Lewy won one event in August over Kevin Doets, and reached three further finals, only losing to Josh Rock and Nathan Rafferty (twice), which we can understand. He's actually been extremely consistent at that level, reaching the quarter final stages on nine further occasions beyond those finals - so getting to that stage more than half the time, and it's normally required a fellow tour card holder to knock him out, Jarred Cole and Sebastian Bialecki being the exceptions, and they aren't exactly bad players. This seems like an interesting first round game - I'm seeing Zonneveld 70/30, and he's definitely playing the better darts, but Williams is at least showing that he will show up with a decent game more often than not, and if Niels doesn't, Lewy definitely has the talent to capitalise.

But it's not going to matter too much, as the winner will play the best player in the world in Michael van Gerwen, a status he's held for years but just hasn't quite been getting the huge TV results (notably a fourth world title) of the last couple of years, hence coming in as the number three seed given the huge top heavy nature of the world championship in terms of prize money, both overall compared to other events, and within the tournament itself. That said, the relative tournament drought has been rectified impressively this season, scooping three major ranking titles in the Matchplay, Grand Prix and Players Championship Finals, while he also added the Premier League, three European Tour events, and two Pro Tour titles, only not adding more as a result of playing a truncated schedule, understandable given how congested the darts scene is nowadays. Perhaps surprisingly, the players to have defeated him in the big TV events this year have been Damon Heta, Chris Dobey and Luke Humphries (at least in knockout stages) - you might have expected Wright or Price to have done so, but they've only met once each this season, and van Gerwen's won both matchups. Clearly top in scoring by nearly a full point with only Wright within a point of him, he is correctly installed as tournament favourite with more than twice the chance of anyone else, he should win his opening matchup over 80% of the time (to be honest, I'd have guessed a bit more, against Williams it's over 90%), and the only player who you can really see offering a huge amount of resistance within his quarter is van Duijvenbode. It's a favourable draw for a confident and winning van Gerwen, which spells trouble for everyone else in the field.

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