Monday 5 December 2022

(32) van Barneveld, (9) Meikle, (WS) Ashton

Raymond van Barneveld - FRH #28, 412-369 (52.75%), 91.28 scoring (#27), 4.05 consistency
Ryan Meikle - FRH #47, 388-376 (50.79%), 89.89 scoring (#42), 4.05 consistency
Lisa Ashton - FRH #96, 10-24 (29.41%), 77.94 scoring (#91), 2.41 consistency

Another solid year for Ryan Meikle sees a return to Ally Pally for a fourth straight season, with the 26 year old showing continual incremental improvements in his game, but is still looking for either a big floor run or some sort of TV impact to really start to close towards the top 32 of the rankings, rather than merely being perpetually safe with a tour card. As I say, incremental improvements, he did get through to the second round last year with a competent display against youngster Fabian Schmutzler before bowing out to Peter Wright, he also matched his best UK Open run, putting in a thumping win over Rowby John Rodriguez before having the misfortune to draw Danny Noppert in the last 64, but the key thing for me was a first qualification to one of the harder majors in the European Championship. Sure, he only crept in as the 30th seed, and ran into Peter Wright immediately as a result, but it's an improvement, and showed a solid European Tour season to get there. Six appearances, only the two first round exits, and getting through the seeds twice is good. Cross fell first to a 100 average before Meikle bowed out to Boris Krcmar, then he got his best run to date with a quarter final in Hungary - defeating Clemens, Ratajski and Whitlock (who had just knocked out MvG), before getting to a deciding leg against Nathan Aspinall in the last eight. Scoring is just fine, although he'd like to put a point on if at all possible through showing his peak game (see his Minehead game with DvD last year as an example) more often. His floor form was fine, just about finishing in the middle third of the Players Championship Finals field, with the misfortune to get the exact seeding that would give him a part time MvG in round one, and he peaked with a semi final run in October, picking up the scalps of Jim Williams, Kim Huybrechts, Joe Cullen, Martin Lukeman and Gary Anderson in a nice run. Very competent, still young enough to improve a fair bit, peak game to challenge anyone, there's a lot to like here.

Lisa returns for a fourth attempt having won the Women's Series - although whether she would have won it if Beau Greaves had turned up for the earlier events is very much questionable. Of the first twelve events before Beau arrived, she won seven of them and made one further final in that period, cementing a clear place as second in the averages. That was at a mediocre looking 81, but as mentioned when looking at Beau's games, we can't use that as a great guide given the quality of opponent she would be playing, so can probably bump things up a bit, but frankly not to the level where Ryan ought to be having a great deal of problems. Last year she averaged just 74 against Ron Meulenkamp, only managed to break 85 in one of her Grand Slam matches when the pressure was pretty much off in the final round against Cullen, and from the fair amount of data that we got from the time when she did hold a tour card, hanging around the 85 barrier with the odd game where she can pick up into the 90's or better (such as the game in the UK Open against Aaron Beeney in 2021) as upside seems about the limit, which I think unfortunately is going to leave her as an underdog and a significant one at that. Unfortunate, but there aren't that many weak spots on the Pro Tour listing any more.

Barney is back into the top 32 (just about), and pretty much for one reason and one reason only - a spectacular Grand Slam run, getting all the way to the semi final having come through the PDPA qualifer. The group was tricky with both Price and Chisnall in there, but he managed to win every game, which gave him a last sixteen tie against Whitlock who averaged 101 in defeat, and then a rematch with Price who managed fractionally higher again. He'd come undone in the semi final against Michael Smith, but the game against Price showed one thing that we were looking for - that he can compete with people who are playing at a high standard over a long course match, which is something that's appeared missing for some time, either by not doing it when he got there (last season he won the first set against Cross then completely went to pieces), or simply not getting there in the first place (mainly because he spent some time in retirement in fairness). The general numbers have never gone away, albeit they are clearly not what they were when he was at his peak 15-25 years ago, and he should be favoured here, albeit not by as much as you might think, 60/40 perhaps? As it wasn't until just the last few weeks that he's been back seeded, he would have needed to qualify through the Pro Tour otherwise - and he was doing more than enough. He did play some Euro Tour qualifiers, but only got in to three and fell to Heta, de Sousa and Wright after winning the first round games, while on the Pro Tour he was averaging around what his world ranking is right now, and in terms of results, he put nearly 25 grand in the bank without reaching a single quarter final, which is kind of remarkable. Only seven first round defeats - ironically one to Meikle, and three of them were in one real bad weekend in August, it's just been steady accumulation. I said there were no quarter finals, there were only actually four board wins, so it's just been a case of turning up to all of them (which he actually did, something I didn't think I'd say ever), and not making major mistakes when he does so. Think this one comes down to two things - how Meikle will handle the occasion, and whether Barney will produce the sort of darts he was doing at Wolverhampton last month, or more of a "still good, but not elite" game which Meikle has the game to exploit. Will be one of the more interesting second round ties - even if Lisa were to win, that has multiple world champion headlines pre-written, even if the match itself were to be a bit dull.

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