Tuesday 5 December 2023

Wade, Campbell, Ilagan

2023 was a year of good consolidation for James Wade, who's arguably playing the best darts he has done for several years, as he has managed to hold on to a top 16 seeding when it could easily have slipped away in 2023, particularly given he was defending UK Open winners' money. But he has held on, and let's see how he's done it. On the floor, he has been very good - not pushing through to the latter stages, or even making a final, but winning his board on ten separate occasions, and suffering just the four first round defeats, showing a remarkable level of floor in terms of his game and giving away nothing easily, just like the entirety of his career really. He would play in seven of the European Tour events - unfortunately needing to qualify for them with his relative ranking in the Pro Tour order of merit, it was generally a little bit of a struggle, only making the Sunday evening session on the one occasion in Trier, but that showed what he could still do with wins over Willie O'Connor, Jonny Clayton, Rob Cross and Gian van Veen, before coming up just short against Luke Humphries despite an astronomical average. So what of TV? In the early stages it was a bit rough, with early exits in the first three TV events (after, of course, an opening exit in the worlds) - it was understandable to lose the first game of the UK Open drawing Gary Anderson (albeit only 10-8), in Blackpool it's arguable that Chris Dobey is the better player right now but again Wade only lost by the one break, then in Leicester he got to a deciding leg against Krzysztof Ratajski, but the Pole just about fell over the line. After that though, we had a very strong finish, with another major final in Dortmund, beating Dirk van Duijvenbode in a poor game to open the draw up, Jose de Sousa with an impressive 10-1 scoreline, Luke Humphries and then Gian van Veen, it was only a surprise that he would lose the final to Peter Wright when he was favoured in many places. Not perturbed, Wade backed this up with a semi final run in the Grand Slam, coming through a potentially tricky group, a tough first round knockouts opponent in Chris Dobey, then edging a classic in a last leg against Josh Rock to reach the semis where there wasn't much he could do against Luke Humphries. It would also be Humphries who would stop him in the most recent event at Minehead, after getting expected wins over the Irish pair of Steve Lennon and Willie O'Connor and then probably an expected win over Dimitri van den Bergh. No shame in losing to someone playing as well as Luke is doing - James has certainly displayed he is in the ascendancy, and cannot be taken lightly as he still looks for a first world title.

Matt Campbell is returning for a fifth straight attempt here, and it is somewhat of a surprise given his overall level of play, especially on TV compared to the floor, that he is still looking for his first win, spurning possibly his best chance to date twelve months ago in a 3-0 reverse to North American adversary Danny Baggish. Still, he is back again, after a steady Pro Tour season which saw him safely qualify for this event despite relatively mediocre scoring, being in the bottom third of those who qualified for this event, and barely in the top 100 for the Pro Tour as a whole. How did he do it? Well, a lot of it on the Pro Tour was done early, his best run being to a semi final in event three, which looks a bit fortunate given his toughest opponent was probably Mike de Decker with van Veen not being in full form at that time, and this would be backed up with a board win fairly early as well and a competent record of winning opening games through to the Matchplay. During that period Matt also won through a couple of rounds of the UK Open, beating a Development Tour opponent and then World Cup partner Jeff Smith to reach the round where the big names came in, and he was maybe unfortunate to run into Adrian Lewis in perhaps his last good game of the season. Also early in the year, Campbell was a regular on the European Tour, qualifying for six of the ten events that took place before the break for the summer, and he got a few good wins over Keegan Brown (nearly beating van Gerwen in round two in that one), Ian White, then a run to the Sunday in Belgium saw him defeat Callan Rydz and Joe Cullen prior to a reverse against Dirk van Duijvenbode. The summer would see Matt appear in the World Cup, and Canada, seeded in the group stages, would easily get through a group featuring Hungary and India, but fall at the first hurdle in the knockout stages to surprise packages Sweden. After the Matchplay, Campbell wouldn't add to his European Tour tally, seeing him come four places short of qualifying for Dortmund, but he did add a couple of board wins late in the Pro Tour season to sew up a Minehead place - here he was fortunate to face a replacement in Dylan Slevin as opposed to Danny Noppert, and took full advantage to creep over the line, but he wouldn't be so lucky in round two in a winnable game against Mario Vandenbogaerde. Safely retaining his tour card, Matt will look to use this as a stepping stone to start to push away towards the top 32.

Lourence Ilagan is here for an eighth attempt at a world title, and as a minimum he'll be looking to repeat what he did last year where, at the session I was at, he came through to the last 64 for only the second time (and only the first in the expanded format) by edging out Rowby John Rodriguez. Vastly experienced (although you would think with how long he's been around that he's older than 45), Ilagan is here having won the Asian Tour with a weekend to spare, claiming two titles and reaching a further four finals. This gave him a huge advantage despite not having played the events in Korea and Mongolia, and booked his return to London later this month. His scoring has perhaps not been the greatest on that tour - Rivera for one looks more dangerous, and there's several familiar names that are a bit higher overall, but Ilagan's got a consistent game which will keep hanging around and see him over the line more often than not. There's a few other data points that we've got - he was part of the Philippines team that showed up in the World Cup along with tour card holder Christian Perez, there they got through the group stage with wins over Singapore and the seeded Czech Republic, and gave the Scottish team a decent game which ended in a respectable enough 8-5 scoreline. The only other thing we've really got on him is the Asian Championship - as one of the top seeds he was expected to make a decent run here, and he got through what looked like a trivial group stage, but in the first knockout round he would blow a 4-1 lead to go out 5-4 to unheralded Japanese player Motomu Sakai, with the scoring just falling apart in the latter stages of the game rather than missing a bunch of match darts, although it looks like he got at least one in the game. We know roughly what we're going to get from Lourence, I think it's a bit below what Matt has in his locker but it's one of the more interesting first round match ups for sure.

Also on an unrelated note I don't know what happened to Hurrell yesterday. He looked a shell of what I expected and I don't recall ever seeing him play so deliberately and nervously. That was probably a two-sigma game in terms of level of expected performance at the wrong end, it didn't really need much to beat what Nilsson was putting out although the Swede did have some flashes, James just didn't have it. Not seeing much of interest today although I kind of think that the 10/1 that you're seeing on Scott is probably too much of an exaggeration despite Gates looking decent in round one.

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