Thursday 7 December 2023

Heta, Lukeman, Puha

Damon's continued with solid progression in terms of the rankings, now within the PDC's top 10 which is a solid achievement, even if his figures statistically have declined somewhat from 2022. The key difference is in TV results, where he's starting to make inroads deeper into tournaments, making a trio of quarter finals. Looking at TV first, Heta got an unfortunate draw in the UK Open, getting Luke Humphries first game up and pushing him all the way, just not getting the last leg decider, can't do much about that. At Blackpool, things went better - winning a highly anticipated matchup with Josh Rock really quite comfortably, then absolutely destroying Brendan Dolan, who had just come off the back of a win against MvG so was clearly in a bit of form. Humphries would do for him again in the quarters, then in the next couple of events he'd lose a decider in the Grand Prix to Searle and run into an unplayable Gian van Veen at the European Championship. The back end of the season however showed Heta running into form, getting out of his Grand Slam group and then beating Michael van Gerwen, before Rob Cross was a bit too good, then a second quarter final would follow at Minehead, where Heta beat van Dongen, Doets and Dolan, but would be slightly outplayed by Ryan Joyce in the quarter final. Lower down, the European Tour was a pretty fruitful source of results, with an extremely consistent record of getting to the final session - four semi finals and four quarter finals, which is going to keep him seeded nicely for these going forward, just a bit disappointing that he couldn't add to the title he won late last season. Meanwhile on the Pro Tour, Heta was excellent, outperforming his averages with results, claiming a brace of titles in the middle of the season, as well as making regular deep runs with a further final and five semi finals, making the last four over a quarter of the time. It's a pretty weird combination of results generally getting better and numbers getting a bit worse, but with Damon picking up the form of late, we might get a pairing of good form and results in the biggest tournament of them all.

Martin Lukeman's had a bit of a down year after 2022 was easily the best season of his career, while last year he was in a vast majority of the Euro Tour events, even making one final which allowed him into all the majors, this year has been a bit more of a sedate season, looking in a little bit of danger of missing the worlds at some point, but doing enough later in the year to finish midway up the Pro Tour rankings as he'll look to do one better than just winning the opening game this time around. Let's look at where he had his best results last year and that was the European Tour - here, the contrast is mainly that rather than failing to make four events, he only made four events - that's a big drop off in numbers of opportunities. Lukeman didn't do badly once he played - he won all his opening matches, beating Martijn Dragt then losing to Dave Chisnall, Patrik Kovacs then losing to Nathan Aspinall, Graham Hall then Aspinall again, then in his last event he did push past the seed, beating Madars Razma and Ryan Searle, but then losing a tight one to potential opponent here Damon Heta. On the Pro Tour, it was a rather slow start, taking until event 23 before he won a board, twelve of those first 22 events resulting in a first round loss, but he would follow up in the immediate two events after with a best run of the season to the quarter finals, and his third board win of the season. That would be just enough to get him into Minehead as one of the lower seeds, giving him maybe the hardest draw possible in Luke Humphries - Lukeman put up a good fight winning four legs, but Luke was just a bit too good on the day. Being some way down the Pro Tour rankings compared to last season, the only other major Martin played was the automatic one that is the UK Open - he was seeded into round three, and beat Riley's qualifier and some time Challenge Tour player Dan Read, which put him into round four. There Martin avoided the big names and drew Kevin Doets, a game which looked fairly tight and it did go all the way, but it was Doets that would advance. Lukeman's numbers do look good enough to be worthy of retaining a tour card, even next season when we expect a large percentage of his ranking money to disappear, but I don't see that he's good enough to make a serious push into the top 32.

Haupai Puha is making a second appearance here at Ally Pally, and will want to forget all about last time as he underperformed significantly from what he can do now, not winning a leg against Mickey Mansell and averaging under 80 for the event. Puha is here through winning the Oceanic Masters, an event which has been won in the past by Simon Whitlock, Kyle Anderson and many other competent players from down under. Puha would enter that tournament seeded second, and come through Joe Comito, Jeremy Fagg and then top seed Mal Cuming, who appeared in the worlds last year and was looking to book a return. In between, Puha did also play in the WDF worlds, losing to Ben Hazel, and would be there again right now had he not booked a PDC return. What's he done this year? Domestically Puha finished second behind Ben Robb on the DPNZ tour, winning two events and making a further three finals, but that was some way behind Robb's six wins. That said, Puha's win over now WDF quarter finalist Jonny Tata did see the most impressive single performance with a 7-0 whitewash averaging bang on 15 darts a leg. Puha also had a nice cameo in the New Zealand World Series event, being one of two domestic qualifiers to get through their opening round, beating Dimitri van den Bergh, but then losing a sloppy one fairly heavily to Nathan Aspinall, which was enough to get him an invite to the finals weekend - there he beat qualifier Graham Usher, and only end up being a narrow 6-4 loser to Peter Wright in the last sixteen. As mentioned, Puha would have been at the WDF worlds if not for this one - he is very high up in their rankings, and this season he's been able to win the New Zealand Open, the Canterbury Classic, John Wilkie Memorial, Canterbury Open and Ted Clements Memorial, while in the biggest WDF event in the area, the platinum rated Australian Open, Puha came through a group with David Platt and Darren Carson, but go out 6-4 to Jonny Tata. His level of play might be a touch better than what the numbers suggest, and he appears good enough to be able to cause Lukeman some problems at a minimum.

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