Betfred World Matchplay – Day One Preview
The greatest Darts show of the summer is finally upon us, as the Betfred World Matchplay kicks off in earnest this weekend. Long considered as the second biggest event on the PDC calendar, this year sees no shortage of potential winners.
Day one at the iconic Winter Gardens in Blackpool sees no less than four PDC “Major” winners and three World Champions in action, as arguably the greatest 32 man field in the history of the competition has been assembled.
Here I preview the opening night. The first round is best of 19 legs, with a tie break rule to be used if the scores reach 9-9. The winner must then win the match by two clear legs.
*Seeds in brackets*
Nathan Aspinall (13) v Mervyn King
Twelve months ago, Mervyn King would have started a clear favourite for a contest with Nathan Aspinall. Fast forward to today, and Stockport’s “Asp” will begin his first campaign in Blackpool as not only an overwhelming favourite for his meeting with King, but a seed as well.
Aspinall has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the sport since the World Championship in December 2018/January 2019. He came from virtual obscurity to reach the last four at Alexandra Palace, and more than proved that this was no freak result when he lifted the UK Open in Minehead in March this year. He has steadily continued his remarkable rise, and impressively picked up the US Darts Masters in Las Vegas just two weeks ago as success continues to follow him.
He now has the honour of being the opening act on night one of the Matchplay, and standing in his way will be a man with bags of big stage experience. Former Winmau World Master King is firmly in the twilight of his career, and has been plagued with injury recently, but remains a threat on his day. Mervyn will need his 180 scoring to come to the fore, and his finishing to be tidy to stand any chance of troubling Aspinall.
If Aspinall can get into King early, then this could be plain sailing for the Stockport man. I can see “The Asp” running out a worthy 10-5 winner.
Gerwyn Price (7) v Stephen Bunting
Most punters danger man for the tournament is Gerwyn Price, and the Welshman kicks off his campaign in an intriguing clash with former BDO World Champion, Stephen Bunting in match two.
Grand Slam of Darts Champion Price is now becoming a man to avoid at TV events, especially since making his breakthrough in a heated win against Gary Anderson in the Grand Slam final last November. His heavy power scoring is impressive, and his ability to take out shots under pressure will only stand him in good stead.
Price exited at the first round stage last year, with Joe Cullen dishing out a 10-3 hammering.
St Helens native Bunting is coming back into some form after a barren couple of years. He reached the recent Czech Darts Open final, but ran into an inspired Jamie Hughes as he had to settle for a runners up spot. Bunting is a rhythm player, and can really motor with scoring when in the groove.
Bunting put up a brave display before losing to eventual Champion, Gary Anderson, 10-7 in the first round last year.
Price will rightly be the favourite though, and I think after early legs being exchanged, he can pull clear for a comfortable enough 10-6 win.
Gary Anderson (4) v Danny Noppert
Reigning Champion, and two time World Champion, Gary Anderson returns to the scene of his thrilling 21-19 triumph against Mensur Suljovic last year, when he meets rising Dutch talent, Danny Noppert.
It is still unclear how fully fit and match sharp Anderson is after taking considerable time out for a back injury at the start of 2019. A quarter final exit in Las Vegas, and a shock first round defeat in Cologne in the World Series events haven’t told us much, but a return to form with a semi final of a Players Championship event last week has given cause for optimism.
Former BDO World Championship runner up Noppert has been in superb form on the floor this year, and fully merits his inclusion in the filed in Blackpool. If he can make the transition from floor to big stage, then he could give the Scot a run for his money in this one.
This match could be the match of the night, and I can see Noppert pushing Anderson all the way if he can stay with the Scot early. Ultimately, the Dutchman may run out of time in his chase, and I lean towards a 10-8 win for the defending champ.
Rob Cross (2) v Chris Dobey
The final match of the evening could see the biggest chance of a shock occurring.
Rob Cross has been hot and cold as of late. When the 2018 World Champion is hot, he is producing eye watering averages, but he has also been guilty of taking his eye of the ball in the middle of matches. He slipped to defeat in Cologne last week, as he allowed the home crowd to get to him in defeat to Gabriel Clemens. Cross has vowed to show a nastier side to him, and not to let the boo boys get to him in the future.
Cross hasn’t had the best of times in Blackpool, and was dumped out in round two last year by Darren Webster.
He certainly has his hands full at the Winter Gardens, with his opening hurdle being Newcastle’s Chris Dobey, who makes his debut. “Hollywood” is a streak player, and he will need his scoring to be up to speed if he is to live with Cross here.
I certainly think Dobey will provide Cross with a test, and Blackpool hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for “Voltage” with two last 16 finishes in the times he’s played here. I expect him to negotiate the first hurdle, but may need extra time, so I’ll go with an 11-9 Cross win.