The second biggest major darts tournament of the season is almost upon us with the World Matchplay and our tipster Chris Hammer previews the action with his best bets.
2pts Dimitri Van den Bergh to win World Matchplay at 14/1 (Betfair)
0.5pts e.w. Dirk van Duijvenbode to win World Matchplay at 50/1 (BetVictor 1/2, 1,2)
0.5pts e.w. Chris Dobey to win World Matchplay at 100/1 (BetVictor, bet365 1/2, 1,2)
0.5pts e.w Ryan Searle to win World Matchplay at 150/1 (Betfair 1/2, 1,2)
0.5pts e.w Stephen Bunting to win World Matchplay at 100/1 (Betfair 1/2, 1,2)
The World Matchplay is coming home to Blackpool (July 17-25) so expect the returning Winter Gardens crowd to crank up the volume across the week and give players an atmosphere that we’ve all craved over the past 18 months.
Apart from the Premier League contingent who got to play in front of 1,000 fans during the final five nights of the season in Milton Keynes, the vast majority have probably forgotten what it’s like to have their names chanted, their 180s and doubles cheered and their misses greeted by collective gasps, so it’s debatable whether the scenes will actually improve performance levels from what we’ve seen in the sterile environments, especially in the opening two rounds when this all feels ‘new’.
This perhaps makes the yearly stats I’ll quote throughout this article a little less reliable than if it was another behind-closed-doors major but they’ll still help you decide who is most in form and which players have built their confidence levels up to become a serious threat at the second biggest event in darts.
As usual, I’ll run through the draw quarter-by-quarter along with every player's price to come through their section if you'd rather back my bolder outright selections in a more conservative way.
Odds to win quarter one: Price 7/4, Van den Bergh 3/1, Clayton 5/1, Chisnall 9/1, van Duijvenbode 10/1, Petersen 16/1, Wattimena 28/1, van der Voort 33/1
To say Gerwyn Price’s maiden season as world champion has been a damp squib is a bit of an understatement but that’s hardly been his fault due to his unfortunate Covid-19 enforced withdrawal from the whole Premier League season that he was favourite to win.
Since his breathtaking Ally Pally triumph over Gary Anderson, the Welshman was beaten in the semi-finals of both the Masters (11-10 to Mervyn King) and the UK Open (10-6 to James Wade) so he’s hardly gone off the boil but he’d want more to show at this stage of the year than his one Pro Tour title from March.
That said, statistically he’s been phenomenal. His seasonal average of 99.30 in all competitions is second only to Jose de Sousa’s 99.53 and that sounds even more impressive when you take into account only two other players can boast overall averages of over 98 – Jonny Clayton (99.19) and Michael van Gerwen (98.58).
At last week’s Super Series he showed flashes of brilliance with six 105+ averages throughout the four Players Championship events – including an incredible 114 – but ultimately his best run was to the semi-finals, where he lost to eventual winner Stephen Bunting.
He’ll relish the prospect of being introduced as world champion to a big crowd but his honour of being top seed is more of a curse when you look at the draw, which places him in the quarter of death.
Price, who suffered early exits in four of his previous World Matchplay outings since his dream run to the quarter-finals on debut back in 2015, could face 16th seed Jonny Clayton as early as round two while defending champion Dimitri Van den Bergh and home favourite Dave Chisnall are potential quarter-final opponents.
Clayton has undoubtedly been the player of the season so far and obviously only finds himself that low down in the rankings because the £310,000 of prize money he scooped from winning two of the three majors this year at the Masters and Premier League was unranked.
He has added two Players Championship events to his 2021 haul as well but you just wonder if he’s potentially running out of steam based on a fairly disappointing Super Series last week, where he was unable to get past the quarter-finals of any event.
Therefore I’m going to side with VAN DEN BERGH as my main pick for the title from this quarter at chunky odds of 14/1 when you consider the trajectory he’s been on since lifting the Phil Taylor Trophy in Milton Keynes last year.
The world number eight may not have won another major but he played brilliantly in reaching the Grand Slam semi-finals before his fourth-round run at the World Championship was ended by an inspired Dave Chisnall in a match where both averaged comfortably over 100.
He’s enjoyed a superb 2021 so far, picking up his first ProTour title at long last back in April, and came so close to reaching the Premier League play-offs on debut only for a poor run in the final week to see him agonisingly miss out.
Nevertheless, he was the only player to post a tournament average of over 100 and his tally of 72 180s would have looked mind-blowing had Jose de Sousa not fired in a regular-season record of 81!
At last week’s Super Series he looked extremely sharp by reaching a final and a semi-final across the four days, while his seasonal average of 97.81 puts him only behind Price (99.3), De Sousa (99.53), Clayton (99.19) and MVG (98.58).
Van den Bergh, who opens up against an out-of-form Devon Petersen, loves to milk the crowd but perhaps this past year has helped him focus even more on his performance on the big stage and reach a new level of confidence.
The same can actually be said of VAN DUIJVENBODE, who many felt might struggle without a crowd to entertain and feed off over the past 18 months. His legendary techno walk-ons have taken a back seat but his true ability and potential have come to the fore instead, reaching a World Grand Prix final as a 200/1 outsider and becoming a consistent threat to the big names on tour.
A day before losing to Van den Bergh at the aforementioned Players Championship event in April, he picked up his maiden title with victory over Martin Kleermaker and while he wasn’t too hot at the last Super Series, his season stats are otherwise impressive. He’s averaged 96.21 on the Pro Tour this season and his 227 maximums have only been bettered by de Sousa’s 240.
At 50/1, the popular Dutchman is well worth a small each-way flutter, especially if the crowd really rally behind him during the week. Clayton is clearly a difficult opening clash but as previously discussed, there are signs of vulnerability.
Odds to win quarter two: Wade 11/4, Cross 4/1, Ratajski 5/1, Dolan 8/1, Humphries 17/2, Smith 9/1, Rydz 10/1, Durrant 16/1
On first glance this initially seems a weaker quarter than the first but we’ve got a repeat of the UK Open final between James Wade and Luke Humphries, a former World Matchplay champion in Rob Cross and three of this season’s Players Championship event winners in Brendan Dolan, Callan Rydz and Ross Smith.
Whereas Dolan was picking up his eighth career title, both Rydz and Smith were celebrating their maiden triumphs, further underlining the depth of talent in darts well outside the world’s top 16.
Glen Durrant is obviously still struggling despite ending a 17-match losing streak last week when defeating Joe Cullen so he’s going to find an opening Tyne-Tees derby with Rydz tough enough.
Krzysztof Ratajski hasn’t enjoyed the same kind of results we’ve got used to seeing from him over the past few seasons but average-wise he’s still among the top 10 in the world this year and is just letting himself down with the odd poor performance.
Dolan is the obvious value option to win this quarter based on his recent resurgent form and could so easily have bagged another title last week with a run to the final where he lost to Smith with his worst average of the day.
Neither Wade nor Cross have displayed sparkling form of late but as past winners here they both know what it’s like to deliver on the Winter Gardens stage, while we also know how the Machine times his best runs for majors rather than the floor events – just as we saw at the UK Open.
That said, he did reach a semi-final last week without posting a single average over 100 and he only managed one of those in the entire week.
Odds to win quarter three: De Sousa 2/1, Wright 2/1, Smith 6/1, Cullen 9/1, Dobey 12/1, Searle 14/1, Clemens 14/1, Noppert 22/1
This is another staked quarter of quality and although the bookies can’t split Peter Wright and Jose de Sousa, it’s far from a two-horse race in my opinion.
De Sousa is rivalling Jonny Clayton as the player of the season so far having won three titles and continued to mesmerise darts fans around the world with his record-breaking 180 hauls, and crazy finishing that sent social media into a frenzy.
It was great to see how the Grand Slam of Darts champion could entertain the returning crowds at the Premier League – where he finished runner-up to fellow debutant Clayton - with the same maverick style of performance he produced without them during his major-winning 2020 so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares when making his Winter Gardens bow. It is of course a venue that can catch many a debutant cold in the heat of a Blackpool summer.
The Special One's overall 2021 average of 99.53 is higher than anyone else while his 180 per leg ratio of 0.38 is only really rivalled by Van den Bergh and van Duijvenbode (both 0.37). And despite what people say about his counting, he’s still managing to win 13.51% of his legs with 100+ checkouts, including ‘that’ 120 in the Premier League. That figure is only bettered by MVG (15.57), Mervyn King (13.9) and Glen Durrant (18.57) so it shows how strong his all-round game is right now.
Wright was in typically bullish mood about his chances of winning this crown for the first time after defeating MVG with a 108 average in the final Players Championship event of last week’s Super Series.
It was his third title of the season having done exactly the same at the previous Super Series in June when another 108 average against Luke Humphries capped another unplayable final day. His first success this season came against Gerwyn Price in March but let’s not forget how inconsistency cost him dearly during a largely disappointing Premier League campaign.
He does have a good record in Blackpool, however, having reached the final in Phil Taylor’s farewell of 2017 and produced two semi-final runs, so Snakebite fans have every reason to be confident.
If last week’s Super Series hadn't happened then I would have strongly considered Joe Cullen for my staking plan due to his two titles this season – achieved against Clayton in February and Price last month – as well as his 2021 average of 96 putting him among the top 10 statistically.
That average was higher prior to posting three in the 80s during successive first-round defeats and he subsequently pulled out of the final event, citing personal reasons and the fact his head was elsewhere.
We’ll soon find out if the Rockstar is refocused but if not, this could give CHRIS DOBEY a greater chance of picking up his first victory on stage and going on to remind everyone of his potential for major success.
Since reaching a couple of televised semi-finals in 2019, Hollywood struggled to get close to those same levels in 2020 but finally ended his wait for a PDC title at last week’s Super Series thanks to the most dramatic of climaxes against de Sousa, who missed eight match darts for glory.
It was his fifth final, five years after his first, and he probably deserved that kind of luck having played so well during many of his defeat this season.
His 2021 ProTour average of 97.10 is seventh overall and he managed five of 105+ last week, so he’s definitely in a great place right now and ready to reach new levels.
My other pick from this quarter is another bold one based on his odds, a lack of previous major success and this also being his World Matchplay debut.
RYAN SEARLE has shown flashes of his big stage potential during two runs to the fourth round of the World Championship and the way he’s been performing away from the TV cameras of late strongly suggests he could go far in Blackpool.
The quietly-spoken Heavy Metal, who also looked sharp at the UK Open before losing a terrific clash with Luke Humphries in the sixth round, has been spending a lot of practice time with Gary Anderson in Somerset so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to him producing personal best averages this season.
In fact, he broke his personal best three times last week. During a run to a semi-final on the Tuesday he set a new best of 110.57 against Chas Barstow and swiftly raised that to 111.33 in the very next match against Boris Krcmar. Two days later he posted an average of 112.24 against Ted Evetts before eventually falling in the last 16.
It won’t be an easy start against Michael Smith, who has won a Players Championship event this season and finished runner-up in another to help recover from the disappointment of missing out on the Premier League, but he won’t be fazed either.
Odds to win quarter four: MVG 11/8, Anderson 9/2, Aspinall 11/2, Gurney 10/1, King 12/1, Bunting 12/1, Ian White 16/1, Heta 25/1
If you'd have predicted Michael van Gerwen would get to the World Matchplay without winning a title in 2021, nobody would have believed you despite the inconsistencies and vulnerabilities he'd shown last year.
His average of 98.58 this season may 'only' be third but it's plenty high enough to put him in title contention on a regular basis, while he lost in the Premier League semi-finals for the first time in his career and was also beaten in both of his ProTour finals to de Sousa and Wright.
Although he's clearly not feared like he was in previous times, I'd expect him to reach the quarter-finals in a softer section of the draw and at that stage of the competition he should have too much in the tank over best of 31 legs for any of his potential opponents.
However, I'm prepared to take a chance on STEPHEN BUNTING, who played fantastically with home support en route to the quarter-finals here two years ago and appeared rejuvenated at the most recent World Championship when reaching the semi-finals.
A slow start to the season followed but at last week's Super Series he brilliantly ended his five-year wait for a PDC title when defeating both Gerwyn Price and Dimitri Van den Bergh to pick up the £10,000 top prize that sealed his place in the World Matchplay field.
You can never write off Gary Anderson, Nathan Aspinall and Mervyn King on these big stages but they've not been playing to a standard that will worry the others in this quarter and Bunting can take advantage.
The 12/1 on him to win the quarter is tempting but if he can get past MVG then he's just one step away from a big each-way payout.
Posted at 2300 BST on 15/07/21
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