Friday 1 December 2023

Humphries, Evans, Sosing

What a season it's been for Luke Humphries - it started out on a bit of a sour note with a shock exclusion from the Premier League, but it's ended up on the highest of high notes, winning a debut major title at the Grand Prix, and then adding the Grand Slam and Players Championship Finals titles to it to firmly install himself as one of the players in the discussion as to who is the best in the world right now, and who is the favourite to win this title. We'll look at those shortly, but let's go through the season - it had a little bit of a slow start, having a horrific set of draws at the UK Open, first getting Damon Heta and then Michael Smith, both deciders which may have taken a little out of him resulting in a one sided last sixteen defeat to Michael van Gerwen, and it took until July for Luke to add any sort of title to what he had already accumulated, dodging a bullet against Dirk van Duijvenbode in a last leg decider in Trier, claiming another Euro Tour at the fifth time of asking that season having already lost finals to Chisnall (twice, he would subsequently lose a third final in Hungary in September), van Gerwen and Cross. A Pro Tour title would follow a couple of weeks later in the lead up to the Matchplay, where Humphries had a new best run in that event of a semi final, only narrowly losing to Jonny Clayton at that stage, and then claim a second Pro Tour title at the start of September. This then lead us into the big breakthrough in Leicester. Here, Humphries took down Daryl Gurney and Luke Woodhouse in matches that played closer than the set scoreline suggested, edged out Peter Wright narrowly before demolishing Joe Cullen and then holding his nerve against Gerwyn Price in the final. Luke would follow this up with a quarter final in Dortmund with a surprising loss to James Wade, before adding to his major title count in Wolverhampton, easily coming through the group stages, defeating Ryan Searle in a good quality contest, edging out Gary Anderson in a tight rematch, before avenging that loss to Wade and then crushing Rob Cross 16-8 in the final despite Voltage averaging well into the 100's. Humphries would complete the hat trick a week later at Minehead - entering as the number 7 seed, Luke would defeat a spirited Martin Lukeman, whitewash Radek Szaganski, see further rematches with wins over Searle and Wade, before defeating surprise name Ryan Joyce in the semi final and then Michael van Gerwen in the final. Humphries has the rare distinction of getting to number 1 in the FRH rankings without world title (or even world final for that matter) money on his account, only Anderson and Price have been outscoring him this season. Is a world title the next logical progression for Cool Hand?

Lee Evans is not an unfamiliar name to in depth darts fans, but he likely will be to the general public, making the worlds for the first time after a very solid season following claiming a tour card at the start of the year. Evans has been in and around the PDC circuit for nearly a decade, having a series of UK Open appearances from 2015 to 2018, making the money more than once and typically only losing to players who were looking quite promising at the relevant point in time. However, it would not be until 2023 when Evans actually broke through onto the professional circuit finishing high on the points top up list at Q-School. Evans is here primarily through solid performances on the Pro Tour - he did make four forays into Europe, picking up wins over Kim Huybrechts in Riesa, and then Alan Soutar and Peter Wright in Munich, but would run into tricky draws the other two times, so the bulk of his Pro Tour money comes from the floor. Here, it took a bit of time to get acclimatised to the Pro Tour level - it took until PC10 for Evans to even get to a Players Championship board final, which was the first of two back to back board wins, but after that he seemed to get a gauge on the levels required, winning more matches than he lost and getting over the line into the worlds as a result. Scoring levels are OK - floating around the middle of the pack in averages on the Pro Tour, there's every indication that he's a solid enough player to retain his tour card at the end of next season, with the occasional upside to trouble elite players - in the last five floor events alone, he has wins over van Gerwen and Clayton twice to go along with that stage win over Wright. Whether that level can be seen more often, or translate to a longer format game, remains to be seen, but there's enough player here that in set play he can certainly win some, then who knows?

Sandro Sosing one of four players from the Philippines (is that a record?) making an appearance here, and it is on the back of having reached the final of the Asian Championship - in that event, Sandro came through a tightly contested group involving the Japanese pair of Yuki Yamada and a top ten finisher on the Asian Tour in Jun Matsuda. This would put him into the knockouts, where he came through another pair of Philippines players who didn't offer much resistance, then knocked out Ryusei Azemoto in the semi final before taking Haruki Muramatsu to a deciding leg in the final. Was this a fortunate run? Quite possibly - he faced opponents averaging 81 in the first two rounds and 85 in the semi, and the first time he was actually tested, Sandro's average dropped to 81, ten points below Haruki's. This gives him one of the lowest scoring stats in the entire tournament in 2023, only ahead of Darren Penhall in terms of players I actually have data on (three players in the tournament are not in my database at all), and a mediocre Asian Tour finish barely in the top 20 with no finals and just the three appearances in the last eight, makes me think that his run in the big event was rather fortunate, and it's going to be a tough ask for Sandro to get close to a player of the quality of Evans.

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