Last year’s World Matchplay was a truly remarkable week of darts. Crowds were back, the sun came out, Covid was beginning to be put behind us and some of the darts played, especially by the champion, were outstanding. Could the three 2022 editions be just as memorable?
The champion is out to defend his crown and join a very select club (see page 39). Yet if the truth be told Peter has not been at his very best recently and will be hoping to rediscover last year’s knack of finding his very best form at the most important events and moments.
World No.2 Gerwyn Price has owned up to feeling burnt out by the Premier League and other demands. Next in the rankings MVG, despite capturing the Premier League title recently, is on the return from surgery and a long event with potential 20-40 leg matches may not be the ideal return.
Moving down the rankings there seem to be more reasons to doubt players capturing the title, than positive factors. Some, such as Jose De Sousa are simply out of their best form. Others, have not got great Matchplay pedigrees, Clayton, or have yet to really breakthrough at the biggest ranking events, Searle and Heta.
Perhaps we are again due a change of generation?
Dimitri Van den Bergh seems to thrive at the Winter Gardens, he put up a sterling defence of his crown last year. The Belgian is again in fine form, coming off the back of two World Series wins, could it be a case of ‘two out of three ain’t bad’?
Both Joe Cullen and Luke Humphries have made career step-ups in the last years or so. The Rockstar has been grabbing his first Euro and then TV titles before a superb debut run to the final of the Premier League. Meanwhile, Cool Hand is fast making the Euro Tour his own and producing remarkable one-off performances as well. His 6-0 thrashing of an in-form MVG was a case in point. Both have flattered to deceive at Blackpool previously, could one or the other finally deliver?
The qualifiers list can be a sketchy predictor due to the time lag from some players’ best form. Heta, Schindler, Lukeman and Gilding are in fine shape and Ricky Evans could be a wild card if he can make the cut.
The first-ever staging of an event is always special for a sportsperson. If it’s the first event of its kind it must feel historic. Now put it on one of your sport’s most iconic stages and in the midst of one of its most prestigious televised events.
Surely there is only one thing that could be any better? Winning it and being the first name engraved on that trophy!
‘The Inaugural Eight’ contenders will take to the Winter Gardens stage on Sunday, July 24th in an effort to further write their names in history.
One will become the first Women’s World Matchplay Champion and the first to win a PDC Women’s televised major darts event. These are major milestones in our sport’s history and it is fitting that they will be witnessed by one of the game’s most passionate crowds, in an iconic venue.
Lisa Ashton should be the favourite. The Lancashire Rose has qualified at the top of the table by staging a dominant Women’s Series performance. Of the twelve events staged so far she has won seven. The four-time World Champion has stage and experience aplenty, although perhaps not quite of the type that may be at Blackpool.
Fallon Sherrock will be looking to add the Winter Gardens to the venues over which she is Queen. Having qualified second, with three event wins, whilst playing a variety of other events is a solid effort. Fallon is also highly experienced in front of all types of crowds and cameras.
The top two qualifiers may be overwhelming favourites to claim the trophy but it’s by no means a certainty. The next three players in the rankings have all hit form in recent weeks and could upset the form book.
Lorraine Winstanley is a former Women’s World Master, as is Dutch thrower Aileen de Graaf, while Laura Turner has begun to show her true level of talent. All three have defeated one or both of the top two before.
Ranked from six to eight in the qualifying table are representatives of the game’s future but that may arrive sooner than you think. Ireland’s Katie Sheldon has done damage to the Ashton/ Sherrock axis before. Wales has a representative, in Rhian Griffiths, as gritty and determined as befits any darter from the principality and Scotland’s Chloe O’Brien simply will not quit.
Popular Returns for Familiar Faces
The first of the three ‘World Matchplays’ to be held this year took place in the unusual setting of the Bonus Arena in Hull. World Seniors are seeking to replicate their, so far successful, formula of a very familiar field, with a few fresh faces, a popular title, but this time without the iconic venue.
Two new faces, and one returning one, were highly appropriate as they achieved huge Matchplay success in earlier decades.
Remember Larry Butler? Well in 1994, he became the very first World Matchplay Champion, defeating Dennis Priestley in the final. He remains the only American to win a PDC major. After a good run at the inaugural Seniors World Championship The Bald (or is it American?) Eagle was back for the initial holding of the seniors equivalent.
The USA Eagle was less than his best, and sadly looked to be physically struggling, although he and Lisa Ashton fought out a tough game, especially in the early stages.
Peter Evison takes his World Seniors bow a little over a quarter of a century after retiring Phil Taylor’s cape and claiming the 1996 title. The Fenn Tiger hit a 103.77 average and dumped out The Power 8-1 before squeaking past Dennis Priestly in the final. It will be a pleasure to see the diminutive and dapper Evison’s return to Matchplay action.
Evison was very unlucky to be paired against Colin McGarry, one of this event’s ‘new faces’ who qualified via the non-TV events. The Cheif hit the highest average seen in WSDT events on TV and brushed him aside without reply.
1998 was the turn of Ronnie The Rocket Baxter to reach the Blackpool final. Baxter had shut off The Power en route, 13-10 in the Quarter final, but could not go all the way, losing out to Rod Harrington in a very tight final. Ronnie was a popular Premier League player on more than one occasion and memorably a World Championship runner-up.
Baxter fought well and will hope to be included in future fields as there certainly seemed a flicker of his old self in his efforts.
In the end and notwithstanding some tremendous battles, with both Adams and Taylor, it was Robert Thornton who once more triumphed and held the trophy aloft.
Another case of ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ for the popular Scotsman who has seamlessly extended a hugely successful career by staying active and competitive via the Live League and other formats and embracing World Seniors Darts wholeheartedly.
The Thorn now reigns as Seniors World Champion and World Matchplay winner only being defeated by Seniors World Master David Cameron.
Now that we’ve met the field and glanced at how they performed perhaps the only question we needed to ask was: How much did Phil Taylor want his name on another World Matchplay Trophy? The answer was “quite a lot”
The Power showed signs of renewed appetite, tactical nouse, and some raw emotion not seen for quite some time. He reminded everyone that, although not quite there yet, ” The old Phil is coming back….”
Images: Lawrence Lustig / PDC (and Darts World)
The above originally appeared as three previews in our (Free) supplemental publication: Darts World Extra
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