Sunday 10 December 2023

van Duijvenbode, Brown, Krcmar

Dirk van Duijvenbode will return for a fifth appearance, and is back as a top 16 seed for the second straight year, although 2023 has been very much a year of two halves. In the first half of the year, Dirk was playing at an extremely high level and was arguably among the best players in the world - picking up three Pro Tour victories in the first ten events with final wins over Ryan Searle (twice) and Jose de Sousa, but after that he played somewhat of a truncated schedule, missing events 17-19 and everything from event 25 onwards, and in roughly half of the events he did play, Dirk would not reach the board final, only bagging the one quarter final in the remainder of the year. The European Tour circuit is somewhat front loaded in the calendar, and here Dirk did well, although he is still searching for his first title. He came close on a couple of occasions, reaching two finals, first in Leverkusen where he lost a deciding leg to Gerwyn Price, and then even closer in Trier, where he lost another deciding leg having match darts against Luke Humphries. van Duijvenbode added a semi final and three quarter finals to those two runner up finishes, and would only lose before the final day three times - including the last two events. TV, however, would not yield great successes in 2023 - he got through Krzysztof Ratajski in the UK Open, before getting a tough draw against Nathan Aspinall, coming out a narrow 10-8 loser. In the Matchplay, Dirk was forced to overtime by Kim Huybrechts but did eventually prevail 12-10, before going out in the second round in another overtime match, this time to Luke Humphries. Maybe if he nicked that one he might have pushed through all the way - the field had been thinned out pretty heavily by then, but it is what it is. The remainder of the year on TV has sadly been almost a total loss, with Dirk being affected by shoulder issues that are severely limiting the level he can play at. Dirk started out well against Brendan Dolan in the Grand Prix, winning the first set quickly, but then losing the next two. The European Championship would be the first real public sign that something wasn't right, dropping in average to the mid 75's in a poor game against James Wade, he would get one win in the Grand Slam over Steve Lennon, but even a 100% Dirk might have been challenged to qualify given Luke Humphries and Gary Anderson completed the group, then most recently he only just averaged 80 at Minehead in a loss to Jermaine Wattimena. It's a real shame that someone who was looking so strong in the first half of the season is limited in such a way, it is perhaps fortunate that he has a moderately easy first opponent - but even that might be too much for Dirk to handle at the moment.

Keegan Brown is back here for an eighth appearance, wanting a better return than last year where he lost in the opening round to Florian Hempel. After winning his tour card back in January, Brown crept into the field as the last man in on the Pro Tour rankings, and was basically holding on for dear life at the end, with all of his best results coming in the early part of a season where he was barely in the top 100 of the seasonal Players Championship averages, and is in the bottom third of players who have made this event. Looking at those results, the best result came in the very first European Tour event in Kiel, where Brown would defeat Filip Sebesta, Danny Noppert and Peter Wright to reach the quarter final, where he was heavily outplayed by Ryan Searle. Brown however was unable to reach many more events, making just the two appearances in the rest of the season, losing in the opening round to Matt Campbell in Riesa, then in Sindelfingen he did beat qualifier Marcel Walpen, but then average just 71 in a whitewash defeat to Josh Rock. Similar patterns were seen in the Players Championship series - Brown started out alright, getting a couple of board victories in the first eight events with notable wins over Stephen Bunting and Rob Cross, but after event thirteen, Keegan would not make a single board final, picking up just four victories in the second half of the season, none of which were against a player who has qualified for the worlds, but two of them were in the last four events, giving Keegan just enough money to get over the line. This would be a poor enough run of results to not make the Players Championship Finals, finishing a clear ten places outside of the qualification spots, so it was that first Euro Tour result way back in February that made the difference. As such, Keegan's major event appearances were severely limited - the UK Open was a bad one, only just getting a seed into round two on account of those early results, but there he would come out on the wrong side of a 6-3 game to Niels Zonneveld, but one bright spot would come in the unranked World Series finals. Keegan came through as a qualifier, and was able to get past Simon Whitlock as well as Gerwyn Price to reach a surprise quarter final, where he would go down 10-5 to finalist Nathan Aspinall, but it was certainly good for him to get some TV form ahead of this event.

Boris Krcmar returns for a fifth World Championship, and the fourth back to back, last year finally being able to pick up a victory over Toru Suzuki before splitting the first two sets against Nathan Aspinall, only to lose 3-1 in the end. Boris's numbers have been pretty good - they're certainly a lot better than Keegan's, but he's not really been able to convert them into results, and required the PDPA qualifier to book his return here, without which his tour card could very well have been in jeopardy. On the floor, Krcmar's scoring was up in the top 50, and results in the first few months were promising - he'd lose his first three games, but win at least one game in the next nine tournaments, making one quarter final and making a further five board finals. However, after that, Boris would slump in form - losing in the first round more than half the time, not winning a single board and and only being in a position to even attempt to win a board twice. The early performances were enough for him to make the Players Championship Finals, where he'd play well but lose 6-4 to Ryan Searle, as such it would only have taken a relatively average European Tour season to get here by right, but Europe was almost a total loss for Boris, only qualifying for the very final event, and in Hildesheim he would get past Ryan Joyce, but a second round game with Luke Humphries went about as well as expected. Krcmar did get some TV appearances, losing his opening UK Open game in round three to Jermaine Wattimena, and along with the aforementioned game to Searle at Minehead, Krcmar also spearheaded Croatia to a surprise group win at the World Cup, narrowly beating Thailand before upsetting Ireland to reach the last sixteen, where they were able to keep it fairly close against Australia but go down 8-6. As mentioned, Boris needed the PDPA qualifier to make it here, and Boris made very hard work of it, every single match going the distance except for the game with Ronny Huybrechts, which was 6-4 - Adam Smith-Neale, Huybrechts then Bradley Brooks would be defeated before Boris won 7-6 in the final round against promising German Pascal Rupprecht, a game which was mostly on throw, before Krcmar took out 124 with Rupprecht waiting on tops to break and claim his Ally Pally spot. Boris is a player who's historically not done the greatest on TV, or converted the numbers he's capable of doing into the results he deserves, but he's certainly got a good section of the draw to be able to do that, even if the games don't end up looking the greatest.

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