Michael van Gerwen kicks off his bid for a record-extending seventh Players Championship Finals, on a bumper opening day this Friday.
Van Gerwen – eyeing his fourth big-stage title of the year – against Suffolk’s Ryan Meikle in one of 14 Main Stage ties on the opening day.
The Dutchman has celebrated Premier League, World Matchplay and World Grand Prix successes in a trophy-laden 2022 campaign despite needing wrist surgery in June, and is in confident mood ahead of his Minehead return.
“I had to dig deep most of the time but that’s good,” insisted Van Gerwen, who won two of the ten Players Championship events he competed in this year.
“Everyone knows the last few years have been tough for me, but the most important thing is how you battle back and I’ve done that well this year.
“I want to move on, I want to win more tournaments, and the only way you can do that is by working hard and keeping competing.”
Newly crowned Grand Slam of Darts champion Michael Smith also headlines Friday’s action, fresh from lifting his maiden televised ranking title in Wolverhampton last weekend.
The St Helens star dispatched Nathan Aspinall to break his big-stage duck on Sunday, and he’s now setting his sights on back-to-back TV titles ahead of his clash against Ritchie Edhouse.
“It’s a big weight off my shoulders, and now it’s time to step up again,” claimed Smith, seeded sixth this weekend.
“I’m going to enjoy the Grand Slam win, and then Friday is a different event, back on the grind.
“The hard work starts again now, and now I’ve got this one, who knows? I want to be greedy.”
Friday’s first round action will see world number one Gerwyn Price take on Ryan Joyce, with World Grand Prix and Grand Slam runner-up Aspinall set to meet Martijn Kleermaker.
Damon Heta will be the top seed at Minehead following a superb ProTour season, which has seen him scoop two Players Championship titles, reach a final and appear in a further seven semi-finals to top the Players Championship Order of Merit.
Heta also guided Australia to a maiden World Cup of Darts title in June, but after suffering early exits in his last four televised events, he is bidding to recapture the winning formula on the big stage.
“I will always base my game around consistency, so to not bring it out on the big TV stages, that can be disheartening,” admitted the 35-year-old.
“I just want to start going deeper into these TV events, and the more I get into tournaments, the better I will feel and the better I will play.
“I am my own biggest critic, but I’m so proud of what I have achieved so far.”
Peter Wright – who defeated Ryan Searle to lift the title 12 months ago – has withdrawn from the event for family reasons, and his replacement Gian van Veen will play European Champion Ross Smith in round one.
Elsewhere, second seed Luke Humphries meets Nathan Rafferty on the Main Stage, while 2012 finalist Kim Huybrechts faces Grand Slam semi-finalist Raymond van Barneveld.
UK Open champion Danny Noppert and Masters winner Joe Cullen will also feature on the Main Stage, along with former World Champion Rob Cross and ten-time TV title winner James Wade.
The Stage Two action in Reds – which will be streamed worldwide through PDCTV – will see former champions Gary Anderson and Daryl Gurney in first round action on Friday.
Searle and Mervyn King – finalists in 2021 and 2020 respectively – will collide, as 2017 runner-up Jonny Clayton, fourth seed Dirk van Duijvenbode and two-time finalist Adrian Lewis open their campaigns.
Friday’s first round winners will progress to compete in two further games on Saturday, with the second round in the afternoon session ahead of the evening’s third round.