Thursday 7 December 2023

Clemens, van Veen, Leung

Gabriel Clemens was able to make a major breakthrough 12 months ago, reaching the semi finals and even being involved in Premier League rumours. Since then, it's been an OK season, but one where he's not been able to make significant progress and he is still one of the best players still looking for a first senior title. He had a very good chance to do so early in the season, reaching the final of Players Championship 3, but in that final against Kim Huybrechts he seemingly ran out of steam, losing 8-1. Gabriel would then struggle for much of the early part of the season - reaching quite a few board finals but not winning any of them after that final run, crashing out of the UK Open at the first hurdle to Dimitri van den Bergh, and prior to the Matchplay he would play all but two of the European Tour events but only get past a seed once in Belgium, taking out van den Bergh. Clemens would push Jonny Clayton close in the Matchplay but be a narrow loser, but after that floor performances did pick up a bit, reaching a quarter final in September and also playing through to a quarter final on the Euro Tour, defeating Dave Chisnall and Ross Smith before coming close to defeating Michael van Gerwen. TV would be a bit more of a struggle, losing twice to Peter Wright in Leicester and Dortmund, and he didn't make the Grand Slam after losing in the qualifier to James Wilson, but good signs for this tournament would be seen at Minehead, where Clemens would make his second major semi final. Gabriel would be able to defeat Connor Scutt, Josh Rock, Niels Zonneveld and Luke Woodhouse, and put up a decent display in the semi final against Michael van Gerwen, but come up short. Still, it's a sign he's hitting form at the right time, his level of play in that event was pretty good and somewhat better than his seasonal scoring record, something which he may well need in the opening round.

Gian van Veen has been one of the sensations of the season, drawing comparisons to Josh Rock and being arguably the one player off the Pro Tour list which nobody would want to face. Gian had picked up some fame in the darting world last season having got into some of the Players Championship events through the Challenge Tour, getting to the final of one and creeping into the Players Championship Finals, but in 2023 he has exploded up to a level where he can be considered in the world's elite. Winning his tour card on countback, van Veen has been excellent throughout the year - on the Pro Tour, he would reach another final (losing to Price), and adding another six events where he reached at least a quarter final, ending up in the top ten in averages and finishing within the top 20 in terms of results. The Development Tour was still on his agenda, and he (along with Luke Littler) would dominate, winning six events and reaching a further two finals, doing enough to top the table and open up further opportunities down the road. The European Tour took a while for Gian to get going, but he made all of the last five events, reaching two quarter finals losing out to Luke Humphries and James Wade, but doing enough to make Dortmund. On TV, he would start well in the UK Open, with a pair of 100 averages against Robert Owen and Scott Waites, before doing that again only for Jim Williams to do better in the third round. The next time we would see him is in Dortmund - here he made his breakout senior performance, running all the way to the semi finals, knocking out Damon Heta, Daryl Gurney and Michael van Gerwen, only to run out of a little bit of steam and come up just short against James Wade. van Veen did qualify for the Grand Slam through the Development Tour, but here he was a bit disappointing, losing all three of his games to Price, Searle and Rafferty, leaving just the recent Minehead weekend, where Gian appeared twice - once in the main event, where he comfortably beat Chris Landman but then lost to an in form Stephen Bunting, and also in the world youth final, where the two best players on that circuit collided but Littler would come out on top. It's possible his numbers have tailed off ever so slightly in the last couple of months since that Dortmund run, but van Veen is an extremely dangerous player regardless and will be a threat to make a deep run in this event right here, right now.

Man Lok Leung is the opponent Gian will face in the first round, who is here through the Asian Tour and a little bit of luck - originally just missing out on fourth place in the rankings on a tie break match against Reynaldo Rivera, Haruki Muramatsu's performances in the Asian Championship were enough to see an additional spot drop to the Asian Tour, allowing Leung to make his debut here. Still pretty young, he did appear in a couple of World Youth Championships in recent years, getting to the quarters last year, but it's only this year where he's really made strides on the senior circuit. On that Asian Tour, Leung played close to all the events, missing the weekend in Mongolia primarily, and he was able to make a decent impression - winning the first title in Japan over Lourence Ilagan, getting another the next set in Korea over Tomoya Goto, and finally adding a third in Thailand against Paolo Nebrida. Leung would also make a few quarter finals, which ended up being just about enough to get into the worlds. Leung did play some other events - in the Asian Championship, he wouldn't get out of the group stages facing compatriot Kai Fan Leung, who he did beat, but Raymond Copano won both of his matches. He would play in the World Cup with Lee Lok Yin, but got in a tough group with Germany, who were far too strong, and they just missed out on beating Japan to get second place. Leung was also one of the invitees in the bizarre World Series event in Bahrain, where he averaged 90 in a 6-3 defeat to Luke Humphries. Looks like his numbers aren't amazing, but they are competent, and might cause quite a lot of Pro Tour opponents - just not this one.

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