Christmas means three things – turkey, presents and the World Championships at Ally Pally, right?
That’s just the first question as 72 players from 22 countries arrive in the capital to try and claim the Sid Waddell Trophy plus a nice pay packet of £350,000.
The bookies have been running for cover throughout the year as the unstoppable Michael van Gerwen has collected 20 plus titles, including the six bigger events on the darting calendar but can he add to his 2014 world title?
Personally I have my doubts. My main concern is because of the format – set play. For example, in the recent Players Championships he was 6-0 down against Darren Webster in the semi-finals and if that was in this tournament (or the World Grand Prix) he would be two sets to nil down.
That’s an uphill task if it’s a best of 5 or 7 like the opening three rounds. If you add to that there is the potential of Mighty Mike meeting Darren Webster in the third round, however likely or unlikely, it adds some spice to the pot to see if the Norwich builder can bring that form to the table once more.
There are chinks the van Gerwen armour, as that match showed, despite him eventually coming back to reach the final and get his hands on the trophy. There are times during games his scoring power reduces and his finishing becomes every so sloppy, for his high standards.
If his performance ever did drop ever so slightly against one of the bigger names then he could face and early exit. At this juncture it’s worth pointing out that he was nearly a first round casualty last year when he required a tie-break to see of Rene Eidams.
The Dutchman is in the top half of the draw (first quarter) and you’d expect him to canter through to the quarter-finals in honesty. There he could meet Mensur Suljovic, who many are tipping to be the underdog. The Austrian’s unorthodox throw and slower play could pose a few problems to MvG’s rhythm and would be an interesting match up.
Semi-finals against either Phil Taylor or his conqueror last year Raymond van Barneveld, which we know he can win but prove to the biggest hurdle on his quest.
His best price is 4/5 (Betfair) to claim the Sid Waddell Trophy and despite his phenomenal season I think he’ll fall short given the amount of expectation and self-pressure.
Horses for courses! That’s how you’d describe Gary Anderson. The Scot comes to life at Alexandra Palace having won the last two world titles and this will be no different.
The 45-year-old has admitted that van Gerwen will take some stopping in a recent interview with SportingLife but also started the mind games by saying:
“I’d love to meet Michael van Gerwen in the final. I like playing him and I don’t think he likes playing me.”
Fighting talk indeed but when you’re two-time and defending champion you have a right to be.
Anderson has won five titles this year and was beaten by MvG in the World Grand Prix final, if ever you needed to prove his calibre in this sort of format.
One thing has changed about his appearance at the oche – his glasses. The positives are he can now see where his darts are going plus he’s had time to get used to them.
However after reading the Sportinglife interview it’s clear he has had a change of equipment – new darts. We’ve seen this hundreds of times (and that’s just Peter Wright) and it takes time to settle with a set.
He used them in the Players Championship and despite averaging over 101 he was beaten in the second round by world number 83 Ron Meulenkamp and he has admitted he is contemplating to switching back to his old darts.
If he brings his A-game to the table then every man and his dog know what he is capable of achieving and sometimes he knows how to get over the line, which is crucial up against an underdog looking to make a name for themselves.
A quarter-final against Dave Chisnall could be in the pipeline then fellow Scot Peter Wright is likely to be his semi-final opponent and Anderson has very good records against both of them.
The Twitter account @3dartanalyst has some fascinating statistical analysis of how well Anderson has performed in the last two years compared to the individual success of MvG in 2014 and Taylor in 2013.
As mentioned above Peter Wright is a potential semi-finalist for Gary Anderson and Snakebite has been the nearly man this year.
He’s reached plenty of semi-finals and has been edged out in a few finals by van Gerwen, which included the World Series of Darts and UK Open.
Since the start of 2015 Wright has won the second most matches in TV Ranking events (39), once again beaten by MvG’s whooping total of 72. This just proves he’s been playing to a consistently high standard but the trophy cabinet stills looks a little bare.
He should really take Claudio Ranieri’s nickname as the Tinkerman given how often he has switched or made changes to his darts but in recent times the 46-year-old looks to have settled down on a set that have bought him some joy.
This has been his best season and if continuing on his form then he has a fantastic chance to reach a second World Championship Final – the first in 2014 saw him lose to the thorn in his side MvG.
It’s no surprise that his efforts this season have seen him climb the rankings up to a lofty third and he is reaping the rewards because it means what looks a relatively safe passage to the quarter-final.
Then that’s where it gets tricky with a likely meeting with James Wade – a man he’s beat four times in 2016. If he gets through that then we could have a classic on our hands with Anderson likely to be his rival. If that happens then just sit back and enjoy.
There has been no mention that he is going back to old darts because that would be stupid quite frankly with the scoring power he’s shown plus as the saying goes ‘it’s doubles for dough’ and his checkout percentage’s have improved to around the 40-50% mark, which if he maintained that here would give him an excellent chance.
That’s three quarters mentioned and all look pretty easy to solve. Now here comes the tricky part – the second quarter.
It contains Potteries pair Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis plus Raymond van Barneveld. This is the most fascinating part of the draw and it shows the strength in depth in the competition that Barney is only the 12th seed this time around.
Phil Taylor has had a quiet time of things after not playing enough qualifying events to reach the Players Championships and given his talk of retirement lingering in the air, could there be one more big showing from him yet?
He won the Inaugural Champions League of Darts (CLoD) and reached the World Matchplay Final, where he was beaten van Gerwen.
In the CLoD he twice beat van Gerwen before lifting the trophy and was imperious on both occasions. The Power has shown glimpses through the year that he still is capable of adding to his 16 world titles.
In the Grand Slam he only reached the quarter-final where he played to a decent standard but so did opponent Peter Wright, who was in unbelievable form. That was one of the best matches this year!
The fact he sat out of the Players Championship was put down to the hectic schedule and it has given Taylor time to prepare fully for the biggest event on the calendar.
A slight problem for him is the quarter he is in. A third round clash with a rejuvenated Kim Huybrechts is a possibility then a quarter-final against either Adrian Lewis or Raymond van Barneveld draws the eye immediately to this part of the draw.
Oh and if he staves of their attentions then it’s the small matter of van Gerwen in the semi-final. It won’t be easy for him but we all know on his day he is capable of producing one final hurrah.
The 56-year-old is looking for one more world crown and he sounds focused on getting down to business in a few days.
Two things in a Guardian interview with Taylor stood out:
“I can still perform when it counts” and “A 17th world title would be the icing on the cake.”
The fire still burns strongly in Taylor and he has spoken in the past about his desire to go out on top and he could just do that after having plenty of time to prepare fully.
Best of the Rest
Adrian Lewis’ season was summed up in the Grand Slam where he finished bottom of his group on zero points from three games and to be honest he did very little wrong.
That is likely to be the story once again. This former two-time World Champion still looks mentally fragile and if he falls behind in a game against one of the big boys then there is part of me that thinks he’ll just give up.
Possibly a harsh accusation to make but that’s how it sometimes looks. The counter argument to that is if he was more relaxed on stage then the darts would release better than they have been at certain times this year.
These words could come back to haunt me in a few weeks but you could offer me any price for this to be Lewis’ third world title because I wouldn’t be interested. It just hasn’t been his year!
Raymond van Barneveld, a five-time world champion and semi-finalist last year, has only reached four semi-finals this season and reached the World Cup of Darts final alongside MvG.
It was the Grand Slam of Darts that proved Barney still had the capabilities at the top level. He won his group by winning all three matches and averaged 100+ in all three.
He reached the quarter-final but his event was ended by Gary Anderson. The Dutchman didn’t play too badly in honesty – a 98 average, nine maximums, a 164 checkout and 43% on his doubles.
If he brings that sort of the form into this tournament then he’s a candidate to reach the latter stages.
More recently in the Players Championships he had a very tough draw. First round against Mensur Suljovic, second round he faced Adrian Lewis then Joe Cullen in the Last 16, which he played poorly but still won convincingly.
Then came the stumbling block of MvG in the quarter-final. With what Barney achieved in that game you can easily argue it would have been enough to beat any other player – a 103 average, highest checkout of 161 and a checkout success rate of 71%.
If the 49-year-old can achieve those sort of figures when he gets deeper into this tournament then the quoted 40/1 looks a huge price.
However he has one of the trickier routes to progress. A first round match against Robbie Green looks tough. We saw how well Green played in the Players Championship, which included him hitting a nine-darter, so for RvB this is a potential banana skin.
Then it doesn’t really get any easier with Alan Norris likely to be waiting for the winner then it’s on to Adrian Lewis then Phil Taylor. If he’s going to win this trophy, he’s going to have to do it the hard way but that’s what happens when you slip down the rankings.
If he relaxes and doesn’t get affected mentally then he could have a good run despite it being tough. You have to feel he’ll be a nearly man once more.
Mensur Suljovic has had a meteoric rise up the rankings and he’s seeded as number eight for this tournament.
The Austrian is a player many are putting forward as the underdog and he’s best priced 125/1 with Paddy Power.
However a potential third round tie with Robert Thornton won’t be easy then it’s MvG likely to be awaiting him in the quarter-final.
It’s been a fantastic season for him whatever happens here. He won his maiden title by winning the International Darts Open plus he reached three finals, only to lose all of them to the unstoppable MvG.
One more worth mentioning is Dave Chisnall. A bit of an in-out performer in truth but if bringing his recent form that saw him reach the Players Championship final then he could be in with a shout in the third quarter.
He could face Justin Pipe in the second round, which is a contrast of styles to say the very least and that could prove a stumbling block for him.
However if he got through that then he’ll be more suited to playing the speedy players his path could cross with the likes of Jelle Klaasen then Gary Anderson.
There is still some 40/1 knocking around on him and if he was able to find his groove then this man from St Helens isn’t totally out of it. He has the game to beat the big boys but he just lacks consistency.
You never know which Chizzy is going to turn up, which is the biggest problem with him.
Peter Wright (12/1 Each-Way – Betfair)
To Win Quarter Treble: 4.55 or 7/2 – SkyBet