Wednesday 13 December 2023

Huybrechts, Veenstra, Robb

It's been an up and down season for Kim Huybrechts, who looks to be floating in and around the top 32 mark in multiple metrics, but has critically kept hold of a top 32 spot in the main order of merit for the time being, and will be looking to continue a five year streak of reaching the last 32 of the worlds, then taking a likely free hit against Michael van Gerwen from there. The season started out in a very promising fashion on the floor - winning his board in the first event, then making a long awaited return to the winners' circle in event three, defeating Nathan Aspinall, Josh Rock and Gerwyn Price along the way before denying Gabriel Clemens a first title in a lopsided final. Winning a senior title has been somewhat overdue, and it will have been critical in securing his Matchplay slot, as he was the last player into that event, and results on the floor were not great in the lead up to that major with just the two board finals prior to the summer break, neither of them won, leaving Kim hanging on somewhat. Also before the Matchplay, Kim naturally played the UK Open, beating compatriot (and probable direct opponent for a World Cup spot going forward) Mike de Decker in a bit of a scrappy game 10-8, then drawing Gary Anderson, not improving his average at all and going down to a heavy 10-2 defeat. The European Tour prior to the Matchplay was also a bit hit and miss, making the five events out of the ten before the break was fine, even if one was an automatic spot in Belgium, but losing in the first round four times is not what he'd have wanted, losing to Lee Evans, Simon Whitlock, Ricky Evans (6-0!) and Keane Barry would all be to opponents ranked lower than him, and he'd only get wins in Prague over Callan Rydz and Martin Schindler, perhaps being unfortunate not to go further after losing a deciding leg to Damon Heta. Forcing Dirk van Duijvenbode to overtime at Blackpool was not bad, but still a loss, then going forward Kim missed the last three Euro Tour events, and while floor form was a little bit better with a handful of board finals, he wouldn't add another quarter final for the remainder of the season. This left Kim in the odd spot of hitting the Matchplay but missing the Grand Prix, and with that European record he'd naturally miss Dortmund as well. He'd miss out on the Grand Slam, getting to the final round of the qualifier but again missing in a winnable game against Martijn Kleermaker, before having a nice cameo back at Minehead, defeating Martin Schindler in a decider then a below par Gerwyn Price to eliminate the top seed, before going toe to toe with in-form Stephen Bunting for eighteen legs in the last sixteen, coming up just shy of the win. Kim also got to yet another World Cup semi final, only losing to the eventual champions in a last leg decider. I don't think his ranking is necessarily wrong, but looking at his overall scoring, it might be tricky for him to hold on to it going forward.

Richard Veenstra is a name that's been around for quite some time, Flyers having a relatively successful BDO/WDF career for the best part of a decade, but finally made the full switch to the PDC in 2023 and has made an immediate impact on the circuit. Richard started out the year with Q-School, comfortably booking his second round spot on day one, and had steady results throughout stage two to secure his card on points, after losing on day 4 in the final to Robbie Knops. With the two year tour card in the bank, Veenstra would go on to do his best work on the floor - throughout the season, Richard would finish just shy of the top 32 in overall averages, and make an immediate good start with a quarter final in the first weekend defeating Rob Cross and Stephen Bunting, follow it up with another two board wins in the first six events, and get through the first 16 events up to the Matchplay cutoff with just four first round defeats, and those would only be against heavy hitters in Josh Rock, Michael Smith, Damon Heta and Gabriel Clemens. Veenstra would hit another quarter final in August, and while he would have a little bit of a blip in October, he would add several more board finals in the remainder of the season to finish a strong first year on the tour at floor level. At higher levels, it's still probably a work in progress - Richard would have a bit of a disappointing return in European Tour qualifiers, only hitting four events, and only getting a win in one of them in Kiel over Florian Hempel, which would leave him well short of making Dortmund, but that ought to be improved on in 2024 with him likely to be seeded for the qualifiers and hence avoiding the possibility of nasty draws. TV was limited to just the two Minehead events - Richard had done enough early in the season to squeeze into the top 96 and hence get a first round UK Open bye, and would start with a very impressive display in a 6-1 win over Jamie Clark, but would then suffer a bit of a surprise reverse in round three to Rowby John Rodriguez. Later in the season, Veenstra would come into the Players Championship Finals in the middle of the pack seeding wise, and pull off a very good win over Michael Smith, although Smith didn't look his best, it's just a shame from Richard's point of view in the next round that he hit Jermaine Wattimena averaging well above 100 in a game that was back and forth. It's been a very good 2023, the numbers don't lie and any thoughts that Richard wouldn't be able to step up to PDC level have been well and truly negated, he has every chance to come through this group of three.

Completing this section is Ben Robb, the New Zealander who's making his fourth appearance at Ally Pally, but is still looking for a first win on that stage. Last year he was first on out of anyone and lost 3-1 to Mickey Mansell, losing a deciding leg in set 4 which could have changed the game, and he's previously also lost to Rusty Jake Rodriguez and Ron Meulenkamp. Ben has qualified through the DPNZ qualifier - consisting of the top 16 in their tour, which Ben dominated with wins in six of the twelve events, Robb came through the first group stage at a canter, dropping just four legs, and the second stage was equally easy, Darren Herewini getting three legs and Warren Parry forcing a decider but nobody stopping Robb coming through with a 3-0 record. Ben then defeated Kayden Milne in the semi and Haupai Puha in the final to secure his return to London. Numbers in those events were generally solid - only dropping below a 90 average in two of the eight games, which looked to be more down to missed doubles from the opponent in at least one of them. Ben would also play in the New Zealand World Series event, and while he averaged 98, he would still lose out 6-2 to Danny Noppert in the opening round, while in the World Cup, partnering Warren Parry, New Zealand didn't have a bad group, but would lose out on a spot in the knockouts to Latvia. Robb's also been involved in events outside of the PDC, scooping up multiple WDF events in his native country, and he would have been seeded at Lakeside if he hadn't opted to play in the PDC event, and he's also just this past week played in the Super Series, coming through the opening group and only being stopped on the finals night in the final itself by Steve West, so showing a good bit of form right now. He looks like one of the best players New Zealand has produced in a while, and while Veenstra seems better, it would not surprise me in the slightest if Ben was to put on a lot of pressure in the opening round.

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