Friday 8 December 2023

Searle, White, Goto

Ryan Searle's had an OK season, still floating in and around that top 16 position in both order of merits and in scoring, but it's very much a season of standing still and generally not making any real breakthroughs to try to push on higher. Still, top 20 isn't bad and there's definitely upside, as he has put in some fantastic games throughout the year. The best showings were on the Pro Tour, particularly early in the season, Ryan making the fastest start possible by winning the first Players Championship of the season, notably defeating Clayton, van Duijvenbode and Humphries along the way, following things up with a further two finals in the first six events, losing both finals to an in form van Duijvenbode. Searle would nick another semi final just before the Matchplay, while after the Matchplay it was more a case of solid but not spectacular, reaching a couple of quarters but only having a couple of events where he failed to reach the board final. Europe's never really been a great hunting ground for Ryan, and it's bizarre that while he's easily one of the strongest players to have never won one, it took until this year to even reach a semi final, which he managed on the first weekend in Kiel, an event where he put up a great effort in the semi against Luke Humphries only to lose in a deciding leg. From there, it was a pretty average run, adding just a further quarter final in Austria, and having seven events (two where he didn't qualify) where he didn't reach the final day. It's an obvious area for improvement, but to really push up the rankings Ryan's going to need to do something in a major. Here this season, it's been pretty much par for the course - at the UK Open he drew Chris Dobey, who was playing well, so that seems fair enough, but the Matchplay was a lot better, putting in a fantastic showing against Raymond van Barneveld, then knocking out Peter Wright to get through to a quarter final with Jonny Clayton, there he was pretty much toe to toe for half the game, but Jonny pulled away a bit in the second half to get the victory. After that, it's pretty much last sixteen all the way - edging out Damon Heta in the Grand Prix then losing to Peter Wright, being drawn against Nathan Aspinall in the European Championship for a first round exit, getting through his Grand Slam group and putting up a solid showing against Luke Humphries but coming up short, then at the Players Championship Finals, Searle would get past Boris Krcmar and Ricardo Pietreczko, before running into Humphries again. Suppose that going out to the eventual winner a couple of times is fine, but at some point if he wants to get back into and progress in the top sixteen, he's going to have to beat someone in the top sixteen and make a quarter or deeper - having Luke Humphries in your section of the draw might be an issue and limit Searle's upside in this tournament.

After a pretty horrible 2022 where Ian White missed the world championship and was one of the players potentially in danger of losing a tour card, but 2023 has seen a very solid rebound and sets up the possibility of climbing back away from the edges of the top 64 next season. Ian finished solidly within the top 32 in the averages table on the Players Championship circuit, and results were fairly similar - reaching the board final just shy of half the time is not the easiest of feats, and he was able to convert several of these into board wins, with a best run midseason to the semi finals, showing there is still some capability there to play the sorts of darts that can get big results on the floor. Europe was also productive, but also unproductive - White missed the first event, but then had a run of qualifying in eight straight tournaments, creating a winning streak in the qualifiers which reached eighteen games. However, once actually in the main events, White wasn't able to do much of anything, only beating Gabriel Clemens and Arron Monk and then losing to the seeds in the second round, every other tournament being a first round exit. Losses to Jose Justicia, Raymond van Barneveld, Matt Campbell, Dimitri van den Bergh, Mike de Decker and Ricky Evans indicate he's not had the kindest draws he could have got, but there were certainly some opportunities to have done a little bit better with the chances that he had - win two of those games and get one win against a seed, and he's in a tiebreaker for Dortmund, he wasn't far off making that major at all. As such, despite a good season, the only majors White did play were the pair at Minehead - in the UK Open, White got a good win against Cameron Menzies, but got an unfortunate draw in round four to Michael Smith, where his average was OK but he couldn't really do too much against him. White had done enough on the tour to get a solid middling seed for the Players Championship Finals, but would lose out in a scrappy game fairly heavily to recent Pro Tour winner Radek Szaganski. White's game is certainly somewhat back, whether the absence from TV or playing in high pressure games for some time will have any sort of effect is an open question.

Completing this section of the draw is Tomoya Goto, a Japanese debutant who was one of many players to have qualified through the Asian Tour. There, Goto finished second on the rankings, slightly above Paolo Nebrida but well below Lourence Ilagan, but getting enough to book his ticket to London. On the Asian Tour, Goto managed a pair of victories in the second half of the season, one in Singapore over Alexis Toylo, and the second in the very final event to make sure of his ranking, beating Nebrida with one of only three winning averages over 100 in finals this year. Goto would also make back to back finals in Korea early in the season, and have steady accumulation with a further five semi finals, showing a good level of consistency at that level. His scoring on that tour does possibly indicate a lack of scoring power - he is down in seventh in the stats I have looking at those players who have played at least 30 legs in quarter finals onwards, with a concerning pairing of low percentage of legs won in either four or five visits, coupled with a moderately large drop off between his winning and losing scoring, indicating that he likely gives away legs just by not getting down to doubles quickly enough. Goto also played the Asian Championship, throwing decent stuff in the group stages but then dropping down badly at the last sixteen stage in a reverse to a relatively unknown player from the Philippines, and he would also make a second straight appearance in the World Cup - in 2022 teaming with Toru Suzuki, they lost easily to Belgium with a poor average in the 70's, while this year Jun Matsuda was his partner. The scoring wasn't much better and they were easily routed by Germany, but did pick up a narrow win over Hong Kong to at least claim second place in the group. Tomoya appears to be somewhat similar to other Japanese qualifiers we've seen in the past - never outright bad, but outside of Seigo Asada (and that was only briefly), never having enough of a game to truly threaten a top 32 sort of player, the likes of which his opponent here has been in the past and is arguably fairly close to now.

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