Thursday 1 December 2022

(4) Smith, (12) Wattimena, (DevT) Rafferty

Michael Smith - FRH #3, 864-641 (57.41%), 94.46 scoring (#7), 4.36 consistency
Jermaine Wattimena - FRH #43, 383-390 (49.55%), 89.65 scoring (#48), 2.29 consistency
Nathan Rafferty - FRH #63, 389-385 (50.26%), 89.07 scoring (#57), 4.29 consistency

We've got another good first round tie here. Wattimena had a pretty dodgy 2021, where he only just crept into the worlds and got crushed in round one by Boris Koltsov, and the first part of the year wasn't great either, putting him in some danger of possibly being dragged into the tour card race, but picked things up a little bit with a tour quarter final in July, and is finally starting to show a trend back towards the game where he was in and around the top 20. Back to back quarter finals at the end of the Pro Tour season clinched his worlds spot comfortably, and he also qualified for the Grand Slam and got out of his group there as a huge bonus, where he'd fall to the eventual finalist in Aspinall. Definitely heading in the right direction, and with a low consistency score indicating that he might be getting a bit of a thin end when it comes to results, Jermaine will look to secure a first round win and get some good ranking money on the board.

His opponent will be yet another player on the conveyor belt of exciting young Irish talent in Nathan Rafferty, who was fairly close to qualifying on the Pro Tour rankings (only missing out by less than two grand), but is here through a win of the Development Tour as a whole - outperforming Josh Rock by £550, no mean feat. He won five titles there, including three of the last five, winning over Lewy Williams (twice), Gian van Veen, Kevin Doets and Niko Springer. Not a bad run of results at all. You can see from the overall scoring that the game is very much there, and he is in the business of getting results on the senior stage - he did do enough on the Pro Tour to make the Players Championship Finals (albeit only just, so ran into Luke Humphries in the first round), was alright in the Grand Slam in a tough looking group where he did finish bottom but got a win over Luke Woodhouse, and also has a stage win over Dirk van Duijvenbode in the Euro Tour. Certainly a player that is here now, rather than just one to watch, maybe with Jermaine's uptick in form he'll come in as a slight underdog. Season long, he actually rates to just nick it, although that consistency figure might have something to do with it.

However, either of these will be a big underdog to Michael Smith, who jumped up to number three in the FRH rankings (ahead of the official world number one) after finally getting that elusive major title victory with a one-sided win over Nathan Aspinall to claim the Grand Slam. This will surely be a huge burden off of him, although thoughts that he'd just win whatever now kind of came immediately unstuck with a shock loss to Ritchie Edhouse at Minehead, who he'd defeated in the Slam group stage just a few days prior. Obviously the major win will be the talking point, but there's enough all round game and results elsewhere. Comfortably top ten in scoring, he also added another Euro Tour over Noppert in the Netherlands to avenge that UK Open final loss, another major final in the European Championship where he surprisingly lost to an inspired Ross Smith, is of course a defending finalist in the worlds, and had a red hot Pro Tour won where he won three in a row, two on back to back days. Smith should be confident and, despite getting a potentially dangerous draw, a prohibitive favourite in the second round.

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