Thursday 30 November 2023

Anderson, Whitlock, Nebrida

What a return to form this has been from Gary Anderson. After many questions were raised as to his future at the top level of the game following a moderately early exit to the worlds which saw Ando, defending final money, drop out of the top 16 and leaving him unable to rely on the order of merit to accumulate money, Gary's answered them comprehensively, scoring higher than anyone in the world in 2023 and looking as dangerous as ever. The key win was in March in Hildesheim, where Anderson won 8-5 against Ratajski, having made a final the weekend prior coming up just short against Ross Smith - this Pro Tour money would see him look safe for all the majors that rely on it, and likely gave Gary a bit of freedom to play his best darts without the pressure of needing to get results in events that he might not even have played in the past. Indeed, Anderson even started to try to qualify for European Tour events, something we'd not seen in over half a decade, although he only made two, suffering a shock loss to Roman Benecky in one, but making the quarters in Belgium with a tough run against Ratajski, Searle and Cross before running into eventual champion Michael van Gerwen. Back to the floor, Anderson would augment his win with another couple in back to back events over Ryan Joyce and Josh Rock, so he's looking absolutely safe for the big TV events in 2024 as well. What of 2023? The UK Open was maybe a bit disappointing, he got a bit of a tough opening tie against Wade but came through, then annihilated Kim Huybrechts before coming up just short at the last sixteen stage against Dimitri van den Bergh. Anderson would get a good win over Dave Chisnall before suffering a heavy defeat to an inspired Daryl Gurney despite a 102 average. Anderson would edge out de Sousa in the Grand Prix before disappointingly losing a final set against Andrew Gilding, get a tough knockout draw in the Grand Slam, having Gerwyn Price which he won before going toe to toe with Luke Humphries over the best part of 30 legs, just not quite having enough juice to get over the line with the throw at 14-14. Most recently, it would be Dimitri who would do for him again, this time in the second round of the Players Championship Finals, losing out in a deciding leg. There is no doubt that Anderson has the quality of play to win this event. The questions are whether he can put away the games he should put away - some of those TV events he would like back for sure, and he's not been without surprising losses on the floor either, although you'll always get some of those. The other question is whether he still has the stamina and longevity to be able to handle a long format match - there aren't many opportunities to play in games where the length is like that of the business end of the worlds, and while Gary was able to handle that one well enough (the Slam quarter), doing several in relatively quick succession is another question entirely that needs answering.

Simon Whitlock continues to hang around in the top 64, and will return here for a fifteenth straight appearance at the age of 54, and I don't think it's unfair to say that we've probably seen the best of his play already and we're at the spot where the only way is down from here, but there is certainly still a competent enough player even if the overall numbers have declined from just over 90 last season to 89 and a half this season. Whitlock returns through the Pro Tour rankings - getting a good chunk right in the first weekend of the season with a final run only stopped by Danny Noppert - there he beat Chisnall, Barney and Humphries amongst others, which was possibly needed as results dropped a bit from there. Simon would get another couple of board wins early in the season, but the last twelve events were poor with just a 5-12 record and only the one board final, with some losses against the likes of Adam Gawlas, James Wilson and Dom Taylor which, while not necessarily surprising, are certainly games he has the capability of winning. As such, despite reaching a final Whitlock was only seeded in the mid 40's for the Players Championship Finals where he lost comfortably to Luke Woodhouse, and needed some European Tour money to secure his place here. He'd have a decent record of qualifying, reaching six of the thirteen events, but would only pass the first round once in Austria, although he needed to earn those wins against Kim Huybrechts and Martin Schindler. Otherwise it was all losses, but generally he had competent or better opponents, so not a great deal was left on the table. His accumulation wasn't enough to get into any of the majors, which in fairness he hasn't been involved in for a couple of years now, leaving just the UK Open, where he beat Ross Montgomery as you would expect, then lost to Martin Schindler, as you'd probably expect. That's about where he is now - still a top 64 player, but a bit off a top 32 player, albeit still with the upside and peak level to cause players problems if he's on.

Paolo Nebrida returns for a second stint here, last year he got here through making the final of the Asian Championship, this year it is through a third place finish on the Asian Tour. Last time out, he drew what looked like a winnable game against Danny Jansen, and in a scrappy game he was able to overturn a two set deficit to force a deciding set, but there Jansen would win three straight legs and advance. The Asian Championship this year was a disappointment, failing to get out of the group stages, so Paolo would need to rely on the Asian Tour as stated. Here, he had a remarkable run towards the end of the season, reaching six finals over the last three weekends (each with three events), but he would lose all of them. Earlier in the season he would pick up a victory over new find Reynaldo Rivera, but it it just the one title for the season. Still, the consistency of being able to make so many finals at the right end of the season should give some level of confidence. That might be needed, as the raw numbers suggest that Simon has a decent edge over him - the Asian Tour on Dart Connect doesn't have an overall tour leaderboard for some reason, but I can filter my database down to just that tour and, while he has more legs played in the sample I use other than Lourence Ilagan, he barely rated in the top ten of scoring on that tour, albeit with higher numbers than there were on a much larger sample size to 2022. He will likely play well enough that Simon doesn't have it all his own way, but I'm not sure there's enough of a peak game to truly trouble Whitlock over a five set match.

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