Monday 4 December 2023

Aspinall, Evans, Adams

Not been a bad season for Nathan Aspinall, has it? Looking like he's put much of his injury worries behind him, his scoring is back up to a top ten level, with which he's been able to add a second major title in the Matchplay and reclaim a solid spot in the top ten in the world. Let's look through the season from the floor up - Nathan played somewhat of a truncated Players Championship schedule, playing less than half the events and not having the greatest of performances in the ones he did play - ending up outside the qualification spots for the Players Championship Finals after just a couple of board wins and no real deep runs. Stepping up, the European Tour was more fruitful, peaking with a final in Munich early in the season, going down to Michael Smith, and a generally solid run seeing few early defeats and a nice run of four straight quarter finals in the middle of the season. This would put Nathan into the European Championship as a middling seed, where he beat Ryan Searle but lost to Gerwyn Price in the second round. In unranked action, Aspinall reached the World Series of Darts final and was narrowly pipped by Clayton in the Premier League for a playoff spot. Which brings us to the ranking majors - Aspinall kicked off with a good run to the quarters of the UK Open, edging out Alan Soutar and Dirk van Duijvenbode, before dominating Joe Cullen, but then got the worst draw possible in Michael van Gerwen. This would just be a prelude to Nathan's major title however - in Blackpool, he came through potentially awkward opponents in Krzysztof Ratajski and Danny Noppert by fairly narrow margins, before pulling away from Chris Dobey after a tight first three sessions, seeing similar results in the semi final against Joe Cullen, and again in the final - after splitting the first ten legs with Clayton, Aspinall proved to be far too strong, dropping just the one leg after the second break to cruise to an 18-6 win. Nathan wouldn't get too much more from there to the end of the season - losing a tight Grand Prix opening match up against Stephen Bunting, and not coming particularly close to back to back Grand Slam finals after going out to Rob Cross in the last sixteen. Performances have been good, he's shown the quality to get big wins under large amounts of pressure, and it seems as if managing the schedule has paid its benefits. He's definitely got the combination of game, confidence, freshness and draw to make another deep world championship run.

By contrast, Ricky Evans' season is pretty much par for the course, not really progressing following a 2022 season which saw a lot of attention on him (if only for his first round worlds opponent), but not really falling back too far either, staying comfortably within the top 64 and not being in any danger of losing his tour card. Evans had just the two major appearances, first the UK Open where he won a narrow first game against Graham Usher, before drawing eventual winner Andrew Gilding in the last 64, then second the Players Championship Finals, only just making the field by a whisker and getting Gerwyn Price in round one, not winning a leg. While he only just made that field, and he'll be glad he did so, maybe he could have done more - his scoring for the season was significantly better than 64th, he just failed to make too many solid runs, exiting in the opening round nearly half the time, and only getting a handful of board finals, peaking with a late quarter final which seemed to be more down to luck of the draw than anything, getting two players who aren't even here and two who aren't seeded here, losing to Ross Smith comprehensively the first time he ran into a solid opponent. Similarly, his only other board win saw him play nobody stronger than Brendan Dolan before losing comprehensively to Rob Cross. Evans did however have his best season on the European Tour for some time, never going on a deep run, but having a solid enough showing in qualifying, making five events and pushing through to the seed three times, wins coming over Kim Huybrechts, Ian White and Alan Soutar, two of these being whitewashes. He did have a little bit of a TV cameo in the unranked World Series of Darts finals, which might have been his best result, reaching round two after coming through the qualifier and being able to defeat Damon Heta, before losing a disappointing one to Dimitri van den Bergh. With his style of play, he can quite easily get into leads, but also quite easily get behind quickly if his game is a bit off. It's odd that I see good numbers and little inconsistency, yet at the same time results are not where they should be. Maybe this tournament is a starting point.

Simon Adams will make his debut here, having won the African qualifier, previously won by Grant Sampson, Charles Losper, Cameron Carolissen and multiple times by Devon Petersen. For the first time it appears to have been set up as the culmination of a new tour, featuring four events involving a convoluted group stage followed by knockout stages. Carolissen won three of the events, while Adams reached one final, along with a semi final, quarter final and last 16 appearance. With Adams being outside the top five in the averages, only scoring in the low seventies and a fair bit below Vernon Bouwers and Carolissen, it is perhaps a surprise that Adams made it here - indeed, in the grand finals Adams would only reach the semi finals and suffer a heavy 7-0 semi final loss to Carolissen. However, in the qualifier it would be a different story, with Adams coming through several last leg deciders before really upping his game in the final against Stefan Vermaak, winning 8-0 with an impressive average into the mid 90's. Little is known about Adams, other than he's 56 years old and has been playing for some time, so it may be useful to pay attention to the Modus tournament this week, where he's making an appearance against a few other players who are appearing in this tournament to get a true gauge of where he is at - and whether the performance in the final was a real outlier, or whether he's better than his general averaging suggests. I tend to think the former.

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