World Matchplay Day One preview, schedule and predictions: Van Gerwen and Anderson feature on opening night
The Betfred World Matchplay commences at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes on Saturday evening, away from its iconic Blackpool home for the first time since its 1994 inception.
After a four-month hiatus at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic, darts returns to television screens across the globe as the prestigious World Matchplay gets underway.
With fan interactions being projected onto a massive screen which replaces the usual boisterous crowd, a rather different experience awaits both the players and spectators.
Nevertheless, onlookers will be extremely grateful that the second biggest tournament in the professional echelons of the sport was given the green light after a torrid few months.
Former champions Michael van Gerwen, Gary Anderson and James Wade all feature on the opening night in Milton Keynes, with their faces situated on the winners’ wall behind them.
SIMON WHITLOCK VS RYAN JOYCE
Meetings since July 2019: 2-2
Televised meetings: 0-1
After claiming his maiden ranking title at the recent Summer Series and defeating multiple-time major finalist Dave Chisnall in the final, Ryan Joyce secured a World Matchplay debut out of nowhere.
Joyce endured four first round exits in the opening eight Players Championship events prior to the break, but a £10,000 winner’s cheque in Milton Keynes last Thursday awarded Joyce with a clash up against two-time semi-finalist Simon Whitlock.
Despite previously reaching the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Championship, Joyce remains a relative rookie to the televised auditorium, whereas his Australian-born opponent has produced the goods on the big stage for nigh on a decade.
The former European Championship winner scrapped into the seeded positions for the tournament after finishing considerably lower down the ProTour rankings compared to his first round opponent.
Whitlock hasn’t lost his opening round match since 2016, though, Joyce holds the advantage when it comes to major contests against the Aussie in spite of a small sample, and all aspects considered proves too much for the out-of-form Australian.
Prediction: 10-7 Joyce
KRZYSZTOF RATAJSKI VS JERMAINE WATTIMENA
Meetings since July 2019: 1-0
Televised meetings: 0-0
Many darting experts, from podcast hosts to respected writers, have tipped Krzysztof Ratajski to embark on a deep run in Milton Keynes – that speaks volumes and highlights the Pole’s remarkable rise in recent times.
Since sealing his coveted professional tour card after qualifying for his Alexandra Palace debut at the backend of 2018, the ‘Polish Eagle’ has soared up the rankings, and now finds himself as the 13th seed on just his second World Matchplay appearance.
Ratajski has claimed two titles on the stage in his short career at the forefront of the sport, lifting both the World Masters and Gibraltar Darts Trophy in front of depleted crowds.
The crowd-less atmosphere could play into the hands of the Warsaw-based ace, though, that may also prove the case for four-time ProTour semi-finalist Jermaine Wattimena – who has also enjoyed the majority of his success behind closed doors.
Ratajski has ran out victorious the pair’s last six meetings, with Wattimena having only beaten the Polish sensation in smaller scale qualifying events beforehand. It would be a considerable shock if the Dutchman was to end that impressive streak.
Prediction: 10-7 Ratajski
James Wade greeting the crowd during last year’s World Matchplay (Photography: Chris Sargeant)
JAMES WADE VS KEEGAN BROWN
Meetings since July 2019: 1-0
Televised meetings: 3-1
A few were quick to question the sharpness of James Wade heading into the recent Summer Series, though, those doubters were quickly silenced by the former World Matchplay champion as he scooped the Players Championship 12 crown.
Wade clearly put in the work needed to keep his game ticking over during the lockdown period, whereas his opponent Keegan Brown’s expertise was required elsewhere, with the Isle of Wight-based thrower admirably accepting added shifts as an NHS key worker.
According to leading statistical analyst Carl Fletcher, Brown collated a rolling Summer Series of just 89.36 – only two-time world champion Adrian Lewis recorded lower – which will likely prove not enough to better an in-form Wade.
Both players have encountered one another twice at Alexandra Palace in recent years with both being extremely closely contested affairs, but the experienced Wade is the more consistent customer whatever the surroundings.
Prediction: 10-5 Wade
MICHAEL VAN GERWEN VS BRENDAN DOLAN
Meetings since July 2019: 0-1
Televised meetings: 4-1
Brendan Dolan’s resurgence has been there for all to witness away from the television cameras since the World Matchplay took place this time last year.
The Northern Irishman defeated the world number Michael van Gerwen to tease a comeback two years ago, before ending a five-year title drought, and announcing his World Matchplay return by virtue of his healthy position near the top of the ProTour Order of Merit.
Meanwhile, van Gerwen immediately returned to the winners’ circle as professional darts restarted last Wednesday evening, before two days later completing a Summer Series brace.
The three-time world champion was far from invincible in Milton Keynes as shock defeats to Devon Petersen, Joe Murnan and Maik Kuivenhoven would suggest, whereas Dolan was lacking quality throughout the five days.
Van Gerwen will be fully focussed on regaining the Phil Taylor trophy for the first time in four years and a special showing will be needed to overcome the recent UK Open champion – a performance that Dolan might struggle to match if his Summer Series form is anything to go by.
Prediction: 10-4 Van Gerwen
GARY ANDERSON VS JUSTIN PIPE
Meetings since July 2019: 0-0
Televised meetings: 1-1
An injury-struck Justin Pipe was forced to partly withdraw from last week’s Summer Series at the same venue, despite producing a relatively solid standard in the two events that he did participate in.
After handing himself an extended period to rest his problematic elbow, it‘s currently unclear as to how the two-time quarter-finalist will perform on his eighth World Matchplay appearance, while fellow Somerset-based thrower Gary Anderson will almost definitely adjust to the current climate with ease.
The two-time world champion adapted to the crowd-less UK Open successfully two years ago after spectators were prohibited due to atrocious weather conditions, similar to the behind closed doors staging that takes place over the next nine days in Milton Keynes.
It should prove a comfortable victory for 2018 winner Anderson, with Pipe perhaps unable to perform to his highest quality and reach the heights needed to oust the esteemed multiple-time major champion.
Prediction: 10-3 Anderson
Day One of the World Matchplay commences from 6pm and will be broadcast live on Sky Sports throughout the tournament.
(Featured Image: Chris Sargeant/Tip Top Pics)