Thursday 6 July 2023

Early Matchplay thoughts

Although there are lines out already, I'm not going to recommend any tips as of right now, as it would be incredibly poor judgment of me to do so when we have two Players Championship events (and, to a lesser extent, the interesting looking Polish World Series stop) before we get to this time next week, so I'm just going to look at the lineup (numbers listed are season to date overall scoring) and give some thoughts on how things may well go. The PC events are on Monday/Tuesday, so expect a bets post at some point midweek.

Smith (92.22) v Beaton (89.09) - Looks like a severe mismatch on paper, with Beaton being the only player in the field to be scoring under 90 for the year (and barely over 89), with most of what he's done to get here being in 2022 as opposed to this calendar year, but Smith hasn't exactly been ripping it up since he's binked the worlds either. That 92 is not a typo, on the PC circuit he's been pretty average, go look at Dart Connect's stats. Maybe Steve has more of a chance than we think.
Wade (91.78) v Dobey (93.09) - Could be a seed in trouble here, Wade is the last seed in the tournament, maybe he's picking things up as he did look decent in Trier, but Chris has been solidly outplaying Wade over the course of the year and ought to go into this as the favourite. The Premier League certainly won't have harmed his stage game.
Noppert (91.37) v Schindler (91.25) - This one looks about the tightest of the round just looking at the raw numbers with them not even being separated by a quarter of a point per turn, Noppert may have a major win behind him and Schindler may have no senior titles whatsoever, but it's testament to what Martin's done in the last couple of years that this is as tight as it is. Schindler may well be the better player right now.
Aspinall (93.74) v Ratajski (92.74) - Two players that it seems we haven't talked about a lot this year, Aspinall more notable than Ratajski but that's more to us not giving a shit about the Premier League, they're both a bit underrated I feel. Nathan's a touch better, but it does kind of feel like his form is a fraction down on what it was in the second half of 22, while Krzysztof is still doing what he's always been doing, and if he's slid in the rankings a bit it's more other people overtaking him than Ratajski getting worse. Feels like another one that should be close.

Price (96.67) v Bunting (91.64) - Price is the best player in the world by a notable chunk, with nobody with any sample size within a point per turn of him, and only four players (one of which isn't even here) within two and a half points, and it seems a touch bonkers that he's only a marginal favourite for the tournament outright. Bunting isn't the greatest opponent he could have drawn, someone we've been calling underrated for some time now, but this is an awful draw for him, and that he is one of the longest shots to win his opening match is not a slight on Stephen, it's just how much better Gerwyn is right now.
Cullen (92.33) v de Decker (91.63) - Cullen seems to be slipping under the radar a touch, lacking any finals this year, but the overall level of play doesn't seem to have dropped off at all, perhaps just being unlucky with some draws and/or having the odd duff match here and there. Going to be really interesting to see what Mike can do on debut - I don't know if anyone has ever done any sort of serious analysis on whether first time players in any major typically underperform at all, but this feels like it will be a big event for him. He's certainly not without chances, and the up and down nature of play he used to had has more or less been ironed out, we don't see anything like the number of truly awful games he used to put up. 
Cross (92.90) v Gurney (91.11) - Rob's doing well this year, having a great May where he picked up a Pro Tour title and finally a European Tour title, and while the numbers aren't as good as they were at his peak, they're certainly trending back in the right direction, if he's outside the top ten it's not by much and it's a case of other people stepping their game up, rather than Cross doing a great deal wrong. Seems like Daryl is doing similar, he's picking things back up, but it does feel like he has further to go to get back to where his peak game was, and this looks like a tough opening ask, although not one where he's completely out of it.
Chisnall (93.34) v Anderson (95.52) - Chizzy's having a very good year, with two Euro Tour titles in the bank putting him in a very good spot to claim a Grand Slam spot, and his statistics say he's likely in the top ten in the world at the moment in terms of quality of play. Problem is he's drawn the one player that nobody wanted to get (well, maybe one of two), Ando's back here after getting a Pro Tour win and in 2023 there is only Price that is outscoring him, and this is over a decent 500+ leg sample size, he's playing much more of the circuit and that number would be higher if it weren't for not getting to as many Euro Tours as he'd have liked. Dave would be a favourite against almost any of the Pro Tour qualifiers, but make no mistake, while the bookies have it even he is definitely the underdog in this one.
Wright (90.23) v Gilding (91.47) - Hard to say what's going on with Peter's game. The numbers are way down, and it seems maybe more luck than judgment that he was able to pick up a Euro Tour title. His consistency in particular is all over the place, at a huge 8 point difference in points per turn between winning and losing legs, only three card holders are more up and down than Wright is. It wasn't luck that Gilding was able to get his own televised title, getting another real spurt of form on the way to the UK Open, while the consistency difference actually projects Wright as a favourite, that can't account for the chance that Wright goes missing for a mini-session, which might be all Andrew needs to move on.
Searle (92.35) v van Barneveld (90.76) - Two players who've been moderately quiet, Searle got the first Pro Tour of the year and got to another couple of finals since then, but we've not seen any real signs that Searle is going to kick on to the next level, and his position in the seeds seems a bit false with his major final money going off by the end of this year. Then again, I'm not sure what Barney's done exactly to get here either, with his Grand Slam run obviously not counting towards the Pro Tour rankings and the PC he did win being more than two years ago now, not just one as I first thought. It's going to be a very close one to call with neither putting up a great argument.
Clayton (94.86) v Clemens (91.57) - Jonny is playing maybe the best darts this year he's ever done, with the numbers he's putting up matching a lot of what he's done in the past in non-ranking events, and there's a very strong argument he's the favourite to win this quarter. Gabriel's now firmly entrenched in the world's top 32, if not higher having got worlds semi final money in his account for at least another year and a half, but while he's playing as good as he has done for some time, this is a really nasty draw and it's hard to see how Clemens can realistically get through this one.
van den Bergh (91.55) v Smith (92.83) - This one's an interesting one, with one of the lower seeds in the event by any metric you care to mention (although he is defending final money), coming up against another major champion in Ross Smith, who wasn't too far off the seeds himself and looks to be one of the strongest Pro Tour qualifiers (only Dobey, Anderson and Rock are scoring higher in 2023), and unlike Dimitri has been in the winners circle in 2023. Seems very tight to call, maybe Ross is actually the marginal favourite, although van den Bergh's results at the venue can't be discounted too much.

van Gerwen (93.58) v Dolan (90.10) - van Gerwen's the defending champion here, and continues to look extremely strong, although the development of some other players around him, coupled with Price's sensational form, means he is perhaps a touch overlooked, but certainly won't be in any markets. He's got one of the better draws possible here, Brendan was one of the last players in and was more or less hanging on to the place here, just about doing enough but it's hard to pinpoint exactly what he's done to get here (his win last year just fell off the rankings before the cutoff) and the numbers are not great with just Steve Beaton scoring less this year. Ought to be extremely comfortable for MvG.
Heta (92.17) v Rock (94.17) - This one's extremely spicy, Damon is maybe not quite at the level he was in 2021 and 2022, but is still playing extremely solid stuff and did get the most recent Pro Tour title, so while there was a bit of an issue at some points turning performances into titles, it's not the case, at least extremely recently. Maybe that is a thing for Josh, with the hype train being a bit quieter, and him not adding to his title from last year, although he does have three finals to his credit and did not play badly in any of them, just running into someone playing better every time (van Gerwen on the Pro Tour, and Clayton on each of the Pro Tour and European Tour). Josh is playing the better darts and is still comfortably within the top ten just on numbers alone, although Heta is close enough that this is going to be a bit tense, it is a debut for Rock after all.
Humphries (95.19) v de Sousa (90.86) - This one looks like it's going to be a bit of a formality, Luke being just one of three players (Price, Anderson) to be scoring over 95 this year, with a great record of putting another five Euro Tour finals into the bank, although he's only actually converted one of them into a victory. Hard to say what Jose's done to get here, he has one final in April where he was comfortably routed by van Duijvenbode, but in general it's hard to see how he can rebuild back into the top sixteen at this stage, and it's even harder to see a path to victory in this game.
van Duijvenbode (93.20) v Huybrechts (90.29) - Our final game sees a multiple time winner this season in Dirk van Duijvenbode, getting three tour titles and coming inches away from adding a first Euro Tour to his roll of honour very recently, a second final defeat, but it does feel more when rather than if he gets a win at that level - or higher. Kim held on as the last player in the field, an early return to a title this year with a huge win over Gabriel Clemens giving him enough in the bank to get here, but he'd be an underdog against virtually any seed and Dirk's playing well enough that he's probably just in the half of seeds you don't want to draw. Real tough to see the Belgian getting this one more than about one in every four trials.

Expect formal tips next midweek.

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