Sunday 11 December 2022

(30) Suljovic, (22) de Decker, (PDPA) Smith

Mensur Suljovic - FRH #34, 381-347 (52.34%), 90.16 scoring (#41), 2.44 consistency
Mike de Decker - FRH #54, 352-343 (50.65%), 91.26 scoring (#28), 6.54 consistency
Jeff Smith - FRH #68, 265-289 (47.83%), 88.13 scoring (#67), 3.93 consistency

de Decker will make his third straight worlds appearance, having suffered a surprise reverse against Edward Foulkes in 2021, then getting a fortunate call-up last year having initially missed out, taking advantage to beat Darius Labanauskas before being solidly beaten by Dave Chisnall. There was no issue making it this year, finishing comfortably high enough in the Pro Tour rankings to keep his tour card relatively safely. The work was pretty much entirely done on the floor, after a really weak European record which saw just the one appearance, and that was as one of the two highest ranked Belgians - he did at least beat a domestic qualifier before losing to Rob Cross, but that's all he did. So the floor it was, and he did competently enough there to finish nearly half way up the Players Championship Finals seedings table, converting a winnable game against Jim Williams into a win, and then giving Luke Humphries a decent enough game in the second round. Highlights of the floor included a late semi-final run, which wasn't easy having to get through Clayton, Joyce, Tricole, Huybrechts and Cross before Gerwyn Price had a bit too much, and multiple quarter final runs - most recently losing to Josh Rock despite averaging 113, but we saw the other side of the game in the one previous where he lost in the quarters to Aspinall averaging under 80, and that demonstrates the nature of his game right now. It's brilliant or rubbish, with very little in between - he absolutely has the top level to pressure anyone, but will frequently not show up for legs and play poorly for many stretches, that consistency score of over six and a half being one of the highest amongst all tour card holders highlighting just how up and down he is. UK Open - perfect example. Plays Ryan Joyce, a definite winnable game, doesn't win a leg. Next Pro Tour event was the third of his quarter finals, not averaging under 92 once, peaking with a 105 in a 6-1 last sixteen win over Mervyn King.

Smith on the other hand is probably one of the players you would think of when thinking of steady players, with the former Lakeside finalist not having the greatest of years, but he put enough together in the PDPA qualifier to edge out Jack Main, whitewash Darren Webster, see every leg go with throw against Steve Lennon (obviously Smith won the bull), before comfortably defeating Nick Fullwell to book his place here. Smith needed to get through that qualifier as a result of a pretty poor season, scoring appearing to drop of a little bit this year but still remaining at a competent level, but results not coming his way. He made five Euro Tours but only picked up £6k in the process, defeating fellow international pool player Danny van Trijp for his only win, losing out to Rusty Jake Rodriguez twice, Dragutin Horvat and Wesley Plaisier. Not the hardest of draws, but he didn't get it done. Pro Tour was a similar story - he did get to a quarter final fairly early on, albeit where the toughest opponent he beat was Daryl Gurney, but couldn't generate too many other results outside of that, with more than half of the events resulting in first round defeats. The only TV events he's played in the last twelve months saw him lose his first game, this time last year to Ross Smith, then to Martin Schindler at the UK Open, both tough draws to be fair, at the World Cup he played with Matt Campbell, but a winnable first round tie against Ireland wasn't converted, and I can't see that he's played any of the CDC events to at least get some winning form against what is a somewhat lower standard. Smith is the more consistent player for sure, but de Decker's losing leg scoring is still higher than Smith's by a point and a half, while the winning leg scoring sees Smith barely over 90 while de Decker is up at 94. It's hard to see how Jeff can score heavily enough even if de Decker is having an off day to win this opener.

The winner will play Mensur Suljovic, hanging around in the top 32 in the world for now, but continuing to show a gradual decline which, at the age of fifty already, seems unlikely to be reversed and this might be the last time that we see him as a seeded player at Ally Pally, given that he is defending money from the Grand Prix and European Championship in 2021 in the next twelve months (the latter being a quarter final), events he didn't qualify for this year, along with the Matchplay. Where is his game at? It's still alright, let's not get it wrong, but scoring just over 90 is not within the top forty of players who have qualified for here, and that is down over a point and a half from where he was at two years ago. What's he done in terms of results? Looking at the majors first, he missed the harder to qualify for ones, so looking at the UK Open first, he got past Kim Huybrechts and Geert Nentjes in tight games before losing a deciding leg to Michael Smith, we'd next see him in the Grand Slam where he won through the card holder qualifier, getting a win over Perez, but losing to Whitlock and then narrowly to Noppert to close out the group where he needed a fairly big win. Finally, we had the Players Championship Finals, he drew Wade and kind of lost the plot, you've all seen the double 12 shenanigans by now. He did have the occasional good win on the Euro Tour, Gib being the main one with a ton-plus average over Keegan Brown in a 6-0 before an upset win over Gerwyn Price, although the next game his average dropped nearly fifteen points against Gabriel Clemens, but apart from that it was a wasteland, only making three more - once as a seed where he lost the first game, once where he got a bye then a free win against Rydz who was averaging nearer 70 than 80, then lost to de Zwaan on home soil. The floor hasn't been terrible, making it out of the first round two thirds of the time and making two quarter finals in the space of four events over the summer, but all signs point to Suljovic being past his best. His losing scoring is higher than de Decker's, so should at least give a competent showing, but Mike has a clearly higher peak now and should cause Mensur lots of problems.

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