Wednesday 13 December 2023

Dolan, Mansell, Zong

12 months ago, Brendan Dolan lost to Jonny Clayton (not, as the image above suggests, himself), and is hanging around in the top 32 after a relatively decent season in the majors, and a good enough season at lower levels to stay in the top 32 in the Pro Tour rankings as well, even if his scoring is a bit down on that sort of level. The Pro Tour season started promisingly, with a semi final on the opening weekend, and a further two along with a quarter final before the Matchplay, and would be able to continue that level of form afterwards, getting two quarters and a semi final in the autumn, but having a bit of a rough patch right at the end of the season with just the one win in the last five tournaments. On the next step up that is the European Tour, Brendan was a little bit hit and miss - making eight events seems fine, but going out in the first round half the time and only getting to the final day on a single occasion, early in the season in Leverkusen, but even that was only down to a late withdrawal from Luke Humphries giving him a bye. Major events were typically decent - the UK Open would see him advance to the last sixteen, getting a pair of wins over Vincent van der Voort and Chris Dobey, before pushing eventual winner Andrew Gilding close, and then the next two tricky to qualify for majors would see a similar depth of run. At Blackpool, Dolan scored a huge upset over Michael van Gerwen, but would then be destroyed by Damon Heta, then at Leicester, Brendan came from behind to defeat Dirk van Duijvenbode prior to losing comfortably to Michael Smith. Dolan just crept into the European Championship but would get Luke Humphries in the first round, and would also do well to come through the qualifier for the Grand Slam, but not get out of a group also containing Danny Noppert and Andrew Gilding, all this prior to a nice cameo in Minehead where another last sixteen run would follow, eliminating Ritchie Edhouse and Maik Kuivenhoven, coming close to Damon Heta but being a couple of legs short. The results this year have been just fine, although the scoring is a touch down from where it needs to be, although still competent - if he turns up he can still get decent wins.

Mickey Mansell has had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the World Championship in the past, but will make an eighth appearance having had a bit better time of it in his last two showings, finally picking up wins but losing to the seeds on both occasions. Mickey's here after a strong enough year to make the Players Championship Finals, and has comfortably retained his tour card after losing it two years ago, requiring a successful immediate regain of the card. Mickey's floor season was very much feast or famine - in the first 15 events, Mansell either got to a quarter final, which he managed twice, one with a pretty easy draw, and one with a good win over Gerwyn Price then a pretty easy draw, or he lost either the first or second game. We then got a little bit of a dry spell, not really doing a great deal prior to the final three events of the season, continuing early exits with just the one lost board final, but event 28 would see Mickey make his best run of the season to the semi finals, beating Josh Rock amongst others, and also get a board win in the very last event to finish strong. Mansell would add to his Pro Tour money with four appearances on the European Tour - his best run was his first run in Austria where he turned over Dave Chisnall to reach the last sixteen and force Rock all the way, but the remaining three were merely turning up, getting one win over Matt Campbell in Trier, but then losing to Stephen Bunting and Ricardo Pietreczko in first round games, so arguably not the nicest draws he could have got. Mansell was seeded through to round two of the UK Open, there he would defy a 99 average from Jose Justicia to advance to round three, but he would see his average drop to under 80 in a defeat to Mensur Suljovic in that round. Mansell would return to Minehead for the Players Championship Finals, but Stephen Bunting would be a bit too good, even if Mickey was able to keep things close and interesting for a while. We've got an interesting mixture of occasional good runs and generally steady scoring which make a top 64 ranking not seem unreasonable - with Brendan maybe not being quite the player he was, Mickey could perhaps ask some questions in the second round.

That is of course if he gets past Zong Xiao Chen, the Chinese qualifier who's making a third appearance, which could have been more were it not for bullshit reasons, and was the runaway winner, at least in terms of averages, of the China Premier League, topping the averages by seven and a half points, winning more than half of the events, and then coming through playoffs, finishing with a 90 average over a 21 leg final where he was perhaps surprisingly taken all the way by Xicheng Han, who played last year and was roundly defeated by Martijn Kleermaker. Zong is still pretty young, only turning 25 this year, so has a ton of potential if he's able to get himself playing higher level darts on a more frequent basis. In his previous appearances here, he's run into competition from down under, losing a prelim in 2018 to Bernie Smith, then losing a two set lead against Kyle Anderson in 2020. Both times he averaged in the mid 80's, which is much better than a lot of the fairly mediocre Chinese players we've seen at other times. Higher level play has been seen a few times - he showed up to around half the Asian Tour, managing to pick up two titles in Mongolia, and then add a couple of quarter finals in his home country on the final weekend, and those results would see him finish just outside the top ten on the overall Asian Tour rankings - hopefully he'll be able to play more of the events in 2024. For whatever reason, Zong couldn't play the Asian Championship, so the only other time we've seen him is in the World Cup, where China returned but were blown out by Finland, but they did have enough timing to be able to take Belgium to a deciding leg, albeit still finishing bottom of the group. We've known Zong has potential and is the best China's produced for some while now, so maybe if he's on his game he can give Mansell some problems.

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