Paul Nicholson guides you through the key issues surrounding the PDC World Darts Championship with his expect analysis.
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The former major winner and pundit will be commentating for Talksport 2 at the Alexandra Palace from December 13 to New Year's Day but before the action gets under way, he’s been sharing his thought-provoking insight with us.
Nicholson, who knows what it’s like to play the role of a pantomime villain, assesses how Gerwyn Price has defied the boo boys to earn a surge in popularity and whether he can challenge Michael van Gerwen as the world’s best.
As well as picking his winners for each section of the draw, the eventual winner and which outsiders you should keep an eye on, the 2010 Players Championship Finals winner also discusses the female players, Raymond van Barneveld's farewell, the potential Premier League line-up and more.
Is Gerwyn Price right up there with MVG?
If we were to have Michael van Gerwen v Gerwyn Price in the final on New Year’s Day, I don’t think many people will be disappointed.
The quality of their most recent meeting at the Players Championship Finals confirmed that these guys are on a very similar level right now.
I think his hot streak of form has been something in the region of 12 months!
Let’s not forget he’s won the last two Grand Slam of Darts, has won four other titles and also had a much improved Premier League.
He didn’t quite warm to it the first time around and didn’t find a rhythm with his play due to the travelling and everything else that goes with it.
So not only has his talent and averages improved, he’s also planning his travelling and scheduling better, making him an even greater professional in the last 12 months.
This is not just a hot streak. What he’s done in the last three-four months is not a fluke – he’s putting in the kind of averages consistently that just a few select amount of players have done in their entire careers.
Not even Phil Taylor managed to put in some of these averages on such a consistent basis.
Everybody used to focus on Price’s image and reputations, but now the crowds and even the boo boys are taking more notice of his talents.
Hopefully we can all respect that and see what he has got to offer in terms of trying to reach the very top of the tree.
How tough is it being the villain?
People who think I enjoyed being the bad guy should have probably spoken to me after some of the incidents! The similarity between Price and I is that we were both misunderstood.
Price just wants to bring an aggressive form of darts and doesn’t want to be rolled over by anyone and tickled.
That’s the one thing I know more about him than anything else – if he’s playing a member of his own family or his worst enemy, he’ll want to win.
There’s nothing wrong with that, this is an individual sport apart from the World Cup.
He’s a great competitor and just been misunderstood. Now the people need to understand how good he is. He’s a darting poster boy and can be up there with the likes of MVG and Rob Cross for many years to come. He’s great for the game and only now are people beginning to realise that.
It’s not fun, unless people are booing when you’re trying to hit a winning leg or set and you make it.
At that moment you turn to the crowd and think it doesn’t bother you…but it doesn’t happen often!
More often than not when you go up there, you want a placid game and to keep your head down. But your reputation can precede you when you go up those steps and if there’s some people adamant about booing you from start to finish, others will join in, particularly at the Ally Pally because the atmosphere is very metastasising.
If you can focus on what you’re doing and shut out what’s happening – like what Price is trying to do – and whether the storm, you can do anything.
My skin was too thin, but Price has got the skin of the rhino. And that’s one of the reasons why he’s succeeding.
What's it like being the man in form...and also playing against someone in form?
When I was playing my best darts, I never looked beyond the first game. Back in 2011/2012 when I was playing really well, I thought it does’t matter who I play because they’ve got no chance.
I felt that good and now Gerwyn Price will feel like that.
On the flip side, I remember playing against Phil Taylor when he was bullet proof at the back end of 2010 in Germany and I remember thinking “I’m going to need a fourth dart to beat him”.
He was just that formidable at the time and I’ve also played MVG when he’s been at full tilt.
You have to think “what pressure’s on me? None.” He’s the one expected to win because of how well he’s playing so I’ll just have to do my best to stay with him as much as I possibly can and get that one chance I crave.
You've got to make sure you put the pressure on the guy who is top dog. Sink into the background a bit, let them take the pre-match limelight and plaudits, then focus on just doing your best without the pressure.
If the lower ranked guys perform that way then I think we’ll see a lot of shocks on our hands again.
How do you spot a dark horse?
Statistically you need to find out who’s been playing well in the last eight weeks when trying to find a dark horse. Who has been playing in a sneaky fashion but hasn’t been getting in the results?
I’ve been watching Ryan Joyce for the last three months, and in Gibraltar back in September he told me he’d made a slight change to his grip and it had improved his scoring dramatically.
Since then he’s been playing a lot more consistently and has started to turn round what had been a mediocre season thanks to a technical change.
I think with his comfort factor from last year’s performances on this stage, he could be a dark horse again.
Justin Pipe has endured a turbulent couple of years since a controversial appearance at the Ally Pally, and he also lost his father, but recently he’s been playing some very accomplished stuff.
He’s never had a run here before but maybe the door will open. To do that he’ll have to go through Daryl Gurney in round two so that won’t be easy.
Don’t forget about Jose de Sousa. He’s won two events this year but there won’t be too many part-time darts fans who know a lot about him.
His match with Michael Barnard last year was forgettable but he’s a different type of animal now so if he comes through his opening match with Damon Heta and then beats Glen Durrant, he could go on a big run. He’s that good.
Can Raymond van Barneveld bow out on a high?
Over the past 13 years since he’s been in the PDC, Raymond van Barneveld has always said he wanted to be judged on what Phil Taylor has done.
When Phil Taylor announced his retirement he had a full year of going to most events and even won the World Matchplay. What Raymond doesn’t need to do is judge his final year on who successful Phil’s was. What he needs to do is judge Raymond van Barneveld on what he’s chosen to do over the past 12 months.
He’s made some odd choices in my opinion by missing certain events but take that aside, he hasn’t done too badly. He reached a Pro Tour final, losing to Adrian Lewis, had a great run in Minehead .
So Raymond, go to the Ally Pally, empty the tank, give it your all and you’ll get a fabulous send off from the fans who have loved you for 25 years and don’t be depressed about that.
The reason why he can win it is that it’s only one game per day tops. Raymond has said for the past few seasons that he’s stronger in tournaments when he just has to play one match per day.
He finds his energy levels aren’t the best when he plays multiple games in a day, so that works in his favour.
It then all boils down to whether he believes he can win it. If he genuinely believes hand on heart that he can then yes he can. But I do believe if he was to win this then he’ll reverse his retirement. He wouldn’t say no to another Premier League.
I don’t think he’ll win it and I think it’s the right time for him to go because in his heart of hearts, he doesn’t want to play professional darts on the tour anymore.
What are the chances of either Fallon Sherrock or Mikuru Suzuki picking up a win?
I’m such a huge fan of Fallon. She’s setting an example for young women on how to play, behave and promote themselves.
For her to qualify and play a young man in Ted Evetts is just perfect poetry for the PDC and how they want to market the game for young people.
I really think she could cause Ted problems and I’m sure Mensur Suljovic will be watching with a very close eye.
Mikuru Suzuki has a high level of steel tip game and she loves playing in front of big crowds – she does it a lot in Japan. Admittedly this is the biggest arena she’ll have ever played in but coming in as the women’s world champion, she’ll be confident.
James Richardson has had a very iffy season and he’s done well to qualify for this – but he’ll be feeling very shaky about this game. The crowd will be on Mikuru’s side when Baby Shark is played.
If she can take one of the first two sets then James is in trouble.
Sport needs that big moment and if James was to be beaten, don’t underestimate Mikuru’s chances against John Henderson in round two.
To have big John Henderson from Scotland against tiny little Mikuru from Japan – that would make for some fabulous photography! He’s already told me he doesn’t want to play her because all the pressure will be on him.
Who will come through the top half of the draw to meet in the first semi-final?
I’m going a bit left field and pick Adrian Lewis.
There’s enough in the tank for him and he knows how to play in the worlds. I don’t think there’s many people talking about him and I think he’s playing well enough.
He doesn’t mind upsetting people at this world championship and will be trying to take them out.
People like Darren Webster in his quarter of the draw – are they playing well enough to take him out? Maybe not.
We can’t automatically think it’ll be Gary Anderson coming through because is his form good enough? Probably not? Is Michael Smith? He’s just had surgery on his chest so you have to wonder if he’ll be comfortable.
Krzysztof Ratajski is another dangerous player but I’m not sure he’s got the experience of the Ally Pally to go on a long run.
There’s a lot of players out there who could get to the semi-finals from section two such as Nathan Aspinall, who made it last year. But I’m trying to read between the lines and who’s going to find that extra bit of pop.
And I think Lewis will come up against Michael van Gerwen in the semi-finals.
I wouldn’t have said Adrian Lewis if it wasn’t for the way he played James Wade at the Grand Slam. That recovery said to me he had more passion for this championship and sport than he has done for the past three years.
He was fired up in the group and knockout stages, and also in Minehead during an altercation with Josh Payne during a fabulous match.
Lewis then ran MVG super close so that’s one of the reasons I’m looking at him.
I think the way he preps for the worlds and his confidence means he’s ripe for a great run which could reinvigorate his career.
What about the bottom half of the draw?
Gerwyn Price's bottom quarter of the draw will be tough to get out of. It won’t be that simple for him.
Potentially he’s going to start against Willie O’Connor and then he could meet the likes of Simon Whitlock, John Henderson and Mervyn King before the quarter-finals.
Then he could face Mensur Suljovic, Chris Dobey, Glen Durrant or Daryl Gurney but his experience of 2019 should mean he handles the occasion.
I’ll have to say Gerwyn Price from section four because he’s shown so much more consistency than anyone else in the biggest events, reaching three of the last four TV finals.
Statistically Durrant has also been one of the best players on the circuit and won two titles of his own.
He’s enjoyed massive semi-final runs in the World Matchplay, World Grand Prix and Grand Slam of Darts – so wherever he goes he’s a threat.
In the past few years he’s been very good at peaking for a world championship – albeit at a different venue.
When he goes to Ally Pally, he’ll be a seed which is a fantastic achievement considering it’s his first year with the PDC but he’s got a very tough draw.
I think Price will play Dave Chisnall in the semi-finals, even though Rob Cross is the man defending all the cash from two years ago.
Chizzy is long overdue a big run at the Ally Pally and he’s playing the best darts of his career this season.
So who will be in the final and who wins the title?
I’m going for Michael van Gerwen to play Gerwyn Price in the final and Price to win a very close game 7-5!
Everyone has their favourites I think after everything that’s happened in 2019 we want the best two players to meet in that final.
With all due respect to Rob Cross with his two major wins – the best two players right now are MVG and Gerwyn Price. Those two meeting over a best of 13 set match would be the perfect way to start 2020.
Finally, how is the Premier League picture taking shape?
There’s so many different permutations for the line-up if someone currently outside of the mix has a massive run.
Decision making will come even more difficult. I remember back in 2012 where the headache was so big, they didn’t know who was going in until the final day.
Andy Hamilton made the final and that’s what sealed his spot and they couldn’t not select Kevin Painter because he’d just won the Players Championship Finals.
As a result it was myself and Mark Webster who were knocked out.
This year we’re going right to the wire with this. There’s a few who will definitely be in and we’re not sure if certain stalwarts want to be in it or will play in it.
Someone I think deserves to be in it is Nathan Aspinall and it would be great for the Premier League.
Chris Dobey will be in with a shout if he can make the last four of the worlds – although he might have to make the final.
We don’t know what the format will be either. If it was 10, it would be simple. James Wade and Mensur Suljovic are possibly on the chopping block and there has to be some room left for what happens at the Ally Pally.
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