Thursday 7 December 2023

Cross, Vandenbogaerde, Tricole

Rob Cross remains one of the most underrated players on the circuit, and for me is getting back very close to his best game where he was able to become world champion. But what's he done this year in terms of results? While he's not been able to add to his haul of major titles, which is going to be tricky for anyone these days given the strength in depth at the top end of the sport now, it's generally been solid - Cross finished just outside the top ten on the Players Championship circuit in both results and averages (inside on averages if you exclude players with next to no games), with a highlight of a title in May where he denied Mike de Decker a first title - probably fair to say it was one of the more comfortable runs in terms of opponents, but you can only beat what is in front of you and he was tested by players who have won PDC titles. Cross also added a further four events in the second half of the season where he would reach a quarter final or better, and outside of a blip around March, have very few events at all where he didn't reach at least the board final. On the European Tour, Cross would be a little up and down with a few events where he would lose the opening game, but did at least break what was one of the more notable ET ducks with a title in Sindelfingen, beating Ratajski, Ross Smith and Humphries in a tough final session - a key win, as for all intents and purposes that was a playoff for who would partner Michael Smith at the World Cup, although that one didn't end brightly. On TV, Cross has had mixed fortunes - he did reach the final of the unranked Masters, but who cares about that, and also reach the final of the Grand Slam, winning a high quality knockout game against Aspinall, being a fortunate recipient of "post-MvG syndrome" against Damon Heta, then beating Stephen Bunting to reach a final where he played very well, only Luke Humphries played that bit better. Other than that however, it's generally been unfortunate - he did get pretty deep in the UK Open, assisted by fairly favourable draws, but a quarter final loss against Adam Gawlas is one he'd want back, but otherwise it's been mostly early exits - first round in Blackpool to Gurney, first round in Leicester to Gilding, second round in Dortmund to Noppert and second round in Minehead to Woodhouse - all games against solid players, but certainly not elite players and you can't help but feel that money's been left on the table on the TV circuit. If he gets it right this time however, and he's certainly playing well enough to do so, I'm not sure he'd really care about what's gone on previously.

Mario Vandenbogaerde is making his PDC world championship debut, the Belgian having previously made a good appearance in the BDO version of the event, reaching the semi finals, and after winning a tour card at the start of 2022 may well have done enough to secure a card for another year, currently just inside the top 64 in the world but in a situation where a win here would make him look a lot safer. Mario is here after a very solid Pro Tour season, particularly in the Players Championship series, where he was within the top 50 in both results and averages, and this is through steady play rather than high level runs, something that we have seen from a lot of players who've come over from the BDO who had a reputation of being able to go extremely deep in big open events where you need to be on your game in short formats repeatedly. Less than ten first round exits, and five board wins with one pushed along to a quarter final, indicates Vandenbogaerde was accumulating points with consistency and often in decent chunks. Mario would augment this prize money with a handful of European Tour appearances, qualifying for four events and winning the opening game in three of them, being a touch unfortunate in Prague not to go further as he lost a last leg decider to Dirk van Duijvenbode but otherwise not really being able to get close to the seeded players. It wasn't much, but more than enough to see him finish in the top quarter of Pro Tour qualifiers for the worlds. TV experience was fairly limited and only saw him in the pair of Minehead events - at the UK Open he defeated the often dangerous Daniel Klose, then average nearly a ton but come up just short against Adam Gawlas, while the Players Championship Finals saw him make a possible tour card saving run, with a pair of good wins over Mike de Decker and Matt Campbell, before picking up a decent number of legs against Michael van Gerwen but understandably being second best. A longer format set play event might not be the best format for Mario, but he's certainly not going to be a trivial opponent to defeat.

Thibault Tricole will similarly make his PDC worlds debut, again having appeared in BDO/WDF versions, most notably in 2022 where he reached the final coming up just short against Neil Duff. Touted as a very likely winner of a tour card for the past couple of years, he hasn't yet been able to do so, but he has been pretty much exclusively focussing on PDC events this season, having a pretty good record which culminated with a win in the Western Europe qualifier this past month. Missing out on a tour card by not accumulating enough points in stage 2, Tricole immediately started on the Challenge Tour, winning one of the events in the first weekend and adding a semi final to his record as well, which would put him fairly high up the initial rankings and potentially give opportunities to play on the main tour as well. Tricole wouldn't be able to repeat success to that extent, but did add another three Challenge Tour quarter finals in the last six events, which was enough to secure a top ten finish - that ought to get him into next year's UK Open unless we see some rule changes. Tricole did qualify for this year's one through the same method, losing out in a tight game to James Richardson. Thibault did, as mentioned, get call ups for some Pro Tour events, roughly half of them in the early stages of the season - it was a bit of a rough start, losing his first six games (the first one, oddly against Mario), but he would pick up a bit of form in the middle of his Pro Tour stint, topping out at a last sixteen finish in event 13, and picking up wins against the likes of Ratajski, van Veen and Noppert across the series. Thibault played in a few Euro Tour qualifiers, getting close on a few occasions, coming up just short against Lakeside champions in Kist, Mitchell and Klaasen, but where he did not come up short was in two places - first, the World Cup, France had been notable snubs for the last 2-3 years but got the call up in a new extended format, and they would dump out Northern Ireland in the group stages, as well as South Africa to reach the quarter finals where Scotland were far too strong. Second, in the West Europe qualifier for this event. In a field filled with many card holders and other very strong players, Thibault had a tough run, needing to get through the likes of Brian Raman, Robbie Knops, Jelle Klaasen and Danny van Trijp, before taking a 7-4 win against highly rated Wesley Plaisier to book his Ally Pally slot. Thibault is certainly a solid player who's looked good on big stages before, and this first round match up should be one of the better ones.

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