Tuesday 13 December 2022

(8) Wade, (8) Williams, (EEurQ) Bialecki

James Wade - FRH #12, 514-423 (54.86%), 90.87 scoring (#32), 3.11 consistency
Jim Williams - FRH #51, 369-366 (50.20%), 91.35 scoring (#26), 2.03 consistency
Sebastian Bialecki - FRH #99, 148-119 (55.43%), 88.20 scoring (#66), 3.28 consistency

What a great first season within the PDC main system it's been for Jim Williams, having claimed his tour card through winning the previous season's (UK) Challenge Tour. After giving Joe Cullen quite a scare this time last year, the former Lakeside finalist started out modestly with a couple of board finals on the floor and a solid run to the last 64 of the UK Open, before making his statement - winning a Pro Tour at the sixth time of asking. Despite a modest average in the final against Ricky Evans, indeed it was the only one all season where the winner averaged under 80, he was consistently in the 93-98 range every single round, as he beat Pete Hudson, Kevin Burness, Andrew Gilding, Scott Williams, Michael Smith and Martin Schindler on the way to the aforementioned final with Evans. He's not yet managed to replicate anything quite so deep since then, indeed some last sixteen runs have been the peak of what he's been able to produce, but a lot of that is just running into better players, just looking at some players who have eliminated him after that point, it's been Clayton x2, Price, Wright, Heta, Humphries x2, Aspinall x2, van Duijvenbode x2, Rock... generally it's needed top talent to defeat him, such is the level of consistency in his game. Indeed, at one point this season, he was actually scoring higher in the legs he was losing than in those he was winning, which seems ridiculous, and the consistency score is still extremely low. Maybe he lacks the truly elite power scoring to push on towards, say, a top 16 level, but being in the top 30 in scoring is no joke, and his game reminds me a lot of his potential second round opponent in that he makes the most of what he has and gives very little away. His only other TV appearance was in the Players Championship Finals where he got the polar opposite in terms of consistency in round one in Mike de Decker, who turned up, although he was in with a decent chance of making Dortmund, making six Euro Tour events, only finishing a few grand short so maybe regretting a choice to, if I remember rightly, skip a couple of the qualifiers. He'd lose to Plaisier in the first, beat van Peer before losing to Cullen, lose to Rowby, beat Claydon and Peter Wright before losing to Cullen again, beat Sedlacek then lose to Clayton, and finally suffer a reverse to Willie O'Connor, so maybe this is an area he can build on in 2023. Make no mistake, Jim's a very competent player who can punish bad legs with extreme regularity.

His opponent in what should be a highlight match of the first round will be Sebastian Bialecki, the exciting young Polish star making a debut after winning the eastern European qualifier in November, defeating Rusty Jake Rodriguez in the semi final and then Christian Goedl in the final, who showed his ability to come through deep qualifiers by making the WDF worlds yesterday. Bialecki is primarily known to a UK audience through his UK Open exploits, reaching the last 64 on debut and hitting a nine in the process, then this year going even further with a miracle run to the quarter finals, beating all of Matt Campbell, Joe Murnan, Keegan Brown, Ritchie Edhouse, Ian White and Ryan Searle before coming up one leg short against Willie O'Connor. It was a remarkable achievement for someone without a card who isn't even 20 until next year, and it gave him enough ranking money to get into the Poland World Cup team with Ratajski despite there being other players with a card from his country, and they'd beat the USA in round one before losing both singles games to Belgium, Sebastian going down 4-2 against Kim Huybrechts. His main work has naturally come on the Development Tour, finishing a solid ninth in the money list and eighth in the averages, where six of the seven players above him have tour cards (and the seventh has made a Pro Tour final). He got the one win in June over Keane Barry, and it's a case of consistency - only missing the one event, he has four semis and a further nine runs on top of that to at least the last sixteen. He also won the Denmark Open in the WDF field, which would have got him into their event (and, seemingly has given they don't seem to be including those in the PDC field right now for bizarre reasons which has potentially fucked several players over), and did sneak into three Euro Tour events when Sedlacek wasn't winning all the qualifiers, losing in the first round to Kleermaker and Klaasen, but getting a win over Mervyn King in Trier and pushing Stephen Bunting all the way to a last leg shootout. This is going to be a tough ask, I'm only seeing him at about 30%, but that's more about just how solid Williams is rather than any slight on the quality of Bialecki's game, which already looks at a level where he wouldn't be out of place on the main tour.

If it seems like Wade's been around forever, it's basically because he has, and the player who arguably is the best ever never to have reached a final will have a nineteenth crack at doing so, twelve months after nearly getting there, coming up one game short against Michael Smith after, and I don't think it's unfair to say this, the draw opened up beautifully for him. Coming in as the number 8 seed, he's defending a fair chunk from his UK Open win in 2021 this season, and he's probably going to have to do so to avoid a big slip in the rankings, as his level of play hasn't been that of a top 16 standard in 2022. That said, he's always had a habit of getting better results than his scoring has suggested, which he's done to some extent in 2022, getting a decent run to the UK Open quarters but not playing a top 32 player at any point, but from there it's been limited - you'd have expected him to beat Lukeman at Blackpool and he did, but Aspinall in round two is arguably better right now, he edged out Cross at Dortmund in a bad game, but van Duijvenbode in round two is arguably better right now. Same story with Suljovic then Noppert at Minehead, while in Leicester he couldn't get past Lukeman again and went out in round one. That's one round better than he did in the Slam, where it looks like Hendo missed a match dart before Zonneveld won, meaning James didn't qualify for the first time ever. Europe wasn't good, he only just qualified for the finals having played just the three events - out of the seedings, I don't know whether he didn't attempt qualifiers or just didn't bother with qualifiers after event five, at least in the three he played he won all his opening games, and was unfortunate in Leverkusen to need to withdraw at the semi final stage. Wade did add a title on the floor right at the end of the season, defeating Steve Beaton in the final Pro Tour event of the season, but before that he only had two runs as far as the quarter finals, which for someone with James' famed consistency, isn't really what you'd have expected. Maybe the game's just got a bit too good for him, and this opening game against Williams, if Jim does beat Bialecki, will see two players with fairly similar styles, except Jim's doing it a bit better right now and I would project him to have a very slight edge by a couple of percentage points. Will be a tight one for sure.

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