World Matchplay Darts: Player-by-player guide, stats and predictions for the likes of MVG, Gary Anderson and Rob Cross

Just five of the 32 contenders bidding for World Matchplay glory
Just five of the 32 contenders bidding for World Matchplay glory

The Betfred World Matchplay gets under way in Blackpool this weekend and we bring you a player-by-player guide to the field including facts, stats and predictions.

The likes of Michael van Gerwen, Rob Cross, Gary Anderson, Peter Wright and Michael Smith are among the biggest names in the 32-man field bidding to lift the Phil Taylor Trophy while seven Blackpool debutants will take to the famous Winter Gardens stage, including Glen Durrant and Nathan Aspinall.

Here, our darts expert Chris Hammer brings you his player-by-player guide to the second biggest major in darts, which takes place from July 20-28, complete with predictions, facts, highlights & odds...

MICHAEL VAN GERWEN

  • Nickname: Mighty Mike
  • Date of Birth: 25/04/1989
  • Nationality: Dutch
  • World Ranking/Seeding: 1
  • Walk-on music: Seven Nation Army, White Stripes
  • Sky Bet odds: 11/10
  • Career highlights: 3x World Champion (2014, 2017, 2019), 2x World Matchplay champion (2015, 2016), 5x Premier League champion (2013, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019), 4x World Grand Prix champion (2012, 2014, 2016, 2018), 2x UK Open champion (2015, 2016), 3x Grand Slam of Darts champion (2015, 2016, 2017), 4x European champion (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017), 5x Masters champion (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019), 4x Players Championship Finals champion ( 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017), 3x World Cup winner (2014, 2017, 2018) & over 80 other PDC titles!
  • This time last year? Odds-on favourite to win the title having won the Masters, Premier League, World Cup and 12 other tournaments but lost to Jeffrey de Zwaan on opening night.

The World Matchplay is one that keeps getting away from Michael van Gerwen since the second of his back-to-back titles here in 2016, and I doubt his confidence has been any lower in the last three years than now.

Perhaps a strange thing to say about a man who silenced the circling doubters towards the end of 2018 by claiming a third world title before bagging a fifth Masters, fifth Premier League and six other events this season!

Not to mention three nine darter all with different routes like this one...

But on current form he's not only been dreadful by his own high standards, but poor by the rest of the world's elite, failing to average 100 for 11 matches in a row, including that shocking 6-5 defeat at the German Darts Masters when he led Martin Schindler 5-1.

Prediction: Way too short to back on current evidence and wouldn't be at all surprised to see him crash before the semi-finals to one of Steve Beaton, Adrian Lewis, Glen Durrant, James Wade, Jeffrey de Zwaan, Mensur Suljovic and Jermaine Wattimena. If he does get momentum then obviously we all know what he can do, but I'm not banking on it.

ROB CROSS

  • Nickname: Voltage
  • Date of Birth: 21/09/1990
  • Nationality: English
  • World Ranking/Seeding: 2
  • Walk-on music: Hot Hot Hot - Arrow
  • Sky Bet odds: 8/1
  • Career highlights: World champion (2018), Six other non-major PDC titles including Brisbane Darts Masters (2018)
  • World Matchplay best: Second round x2
  • This time last year? Was struggling to deal with the pressures of being world champion and his second attempt at Blackpool glory ended in a surprise second-round defeat to Darren Webster.

Rob Cross has yet to truly enjoy the magic of the Winter Gardens after a pair of second-round exits in his two previous visits but he'll fancy his chances of going much further this time.

I'm still scratching my head as to why he hasn't won a single tournament this year despite being one of the most consistent high performers on tour and going deep in many tournaments, including the Premier League and UK Open where he finished runner-up in both.

His last title came way back in August last year at the Brisbane Darts Masters so perhaps it's now starting to play on his mind a bit when it comes to the crunch. But a player as good as Voltage can't keep banging on the door and it not open eventually.

Prediction: No World Matchplay draw is going to be 'easy' but the most dangerous player in his quarter is Gerwyn Price while Peter Wright and Daryl Gurney are the highest ranked potential semi-final opponents. He knows he can beat them all - but can he overcome any mental fragilities? Personally I think 8/1 is too short a price.

DARYL GURNEY

  • Nickname: SuperChin
  • Date of Birth: 22/03/1986
  • Nationality: Northern Irish
  • World Ranking: 4
  • Seeding: 3
  • Walk-on music: Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond
  • Sky Bet odds: 22/1
  • Career highlights: World Grand Prix champion (2017), Players Championship Finals winner (2019) World Matchplay semi-finalist (2017), two non-televised PDC titles
  • World Matchplay best: Semi-finals 2017
  • This time last year? Came to Blackpool as a major winner and fifth seed but without a title in 2018 despite an encouraging Premier League debut and was thrashed by Joe Cullen in round two.

The Northern Irishman 'arrived' as an elite player by winning the 2017 World Grand Prix although over a year later he was still searching for another title of any kind.

Gurney then produced one of the great battling televised performances to stun MVG in a thrilling climax to the Players Championship Finals, which effectively earned him a spot in the Premier League for the second year in a row.

A poor start to that campaign put him in danger of relegation but he'd go on to enjoy a superb run of form - further boosted by winning a maiden European Tour title - that saw him qualify for the Play Offs.

Despite all this, motor sports nut Gurney is a self confessed negative thinker and openly admits he doesn't believe he should be ranked number three in the world. If his glass really is half empty then he won't regard his quarter of the draw as the 'easiest' but perhaps he should given he knows how to win big titles.

Prediction: I tipped Gurney at 10/1 to win his quarter in 2017, which he did, but unsurprisingly he's as short as 3/1 to repeat the trick this year and could end up facing Peter Wright in the last eight. I can see him in the semi-finals again any why not one step further? I wouldn't put anyone off backing him each-way.

GARY ANDERSON

  • Nickname: The Flying Scotsman
  • Date of Birth: 22/12/1970
  • Nationality: Scottish
  • Seeding: 4
  • World Ranking: 3
  • Walk-on music: Jump Around, House of Pain
  • Sky Bet odds: 8/1
  • Career highlights: 2x World Champion (2015, 2016), World Matchplay champion (2018), 2x Premier League champion (2011, 2015), UK Open champion (2018), Players Championship Finals champion (2014), Champions League of Darts winner (2018), over 30 other PDC titles, runner-up in 10 other major finals including the World Championship, World Grand Prix & Grand Slam of Darts
  • This time last year? Headed to Blackpool in high spirits having won six events including a maiden UK Open, and left it with the Phil Taylor Trophy and memories of hitting a nine-dart finish.

Last year belonged to Gary Anderson in many ways, and mostly it was because he was at his exhilarating best.

I'll never forget being at the Winter Gardens the night of his nine-darter against Joe Cullen but I missed the perfect leg because I was interviewing Jeffrey de Zwaan following his own superb triumph over Dave Chisnall! The roars of noise shook the room and halted the interview, which was soon wrapped up in plenty of time to enjoy the rest of an unforgettable clash to be enjoyed.

Anyway, enough of my memoirs. The Flying Scotsman would of course go on to win the title for the first time and complete the Triple Crown of Darts but ambitions of landing his maiden Grand Slam of Darts - which he so dearly wants - were blown apart in that now infamous final against Gerwyn Price.

He survived many scares en route to reaching the final of the World Championship, where he was battered by MVG, and we've hardly seen him since due to his recovery from his back injury.

All looked good again when he teamed up with Peter Wright to win the World Cup of Darts for the first time in Scotland's history but his performances in the recent World Series events have been well short of his best, and last Friday he lost 6-4 to virtual unknown Nico Kurz at the German Darts Masters.

Prediction: We'd all love to see Anderson go all the way again but he's surely too short at 8/1 - the same price he was last year - given he's not back to his very best and finds himself in the tough top half of the draw. I'd back against him even reaching the quarters if he plays Aspinall in round two.

MICHAEL SMITH

  • Nickname: Bully Boy
  • Date of Birth: 18/09/1990
  • Nationality: English
  • Seeding: 5
  • World Ranking: 6
  • Walk-on music: Shut Up & Dance, Walk The Moon
  • Sky Bet odds: 25/1
  • World Matchplay best: Last 16 x 3 (2014, 2016, 2018)
  • Career highlights: World Championship runner-up (2019), Premier League Darts runner-up (2018), World Youth champion (2013), winner of 10 non-major PDC titles including Shanghai Darts Masters (2018)
  • This time last year? Having been a favourite for Premier League relegation, he finished runner-up in a year in which he really started delivering on his rich potential but could only manage the second round here.

Widely regarded as one of the most naturally gifted players around, but also among the most sporting too as this clip testifies.

You may remember him doing the same thing during the World Championship final against MVG while his reaction to pantomime villain Gerwyn Price during this incredible leg also shows why he's a true gent.

What I should be writing here is the glut of trophies he's won in the last 12 months to announce his true arriving as a great force in the game but sadly he's not managed to do that and is so often now the nearly man.

Bully Boy won three tournaments last year, including the Shanghai Darts Masters, but since the start of 2018 he's been runner-up in nine events including the World Championship, 2018 Premier League, 2018 World Series of Darts Finals and the recent US Darts Masters.

He scored strongly for large parts of the Premier League campaign this year but finishing at key times regularly let him down while sometimes it felt he was also playing the wrong player at the wrong time.

Is this the time for everything to finally click into to place?

Prediction: Last year I wrote in this space "Michael Smith is nearing his time to win a maiden TV major and while he's in this tough half of the draw, there is literally nobody he doesn't think he can beat." The same applies 12 months on and he starts with a very tough opener against Jamie Hughes but he's very much on my 'reach the final' list.

PETER WRIGHT

  • Nickname: Snakebite
  • Date of Birth: 10/03/1970
  • Nationality: Scottish
  • Seeding: 6
  • World Ranking: 5
  • Walk-on music: Don't Stop The Party, Pitbull
  • Sky Bet odds (Price Boosted): 11/1
  • World Matchplay best: Runner-up 2017
  • Career highlights: UK Open champion (2017), World Championship runner-up (2014), Premier League runner-up (2017), World Matchplay runner-up (2017), 24 non-major PDC titles including Melbourne Darts Masters (2018) and German Darts Masters (2017, 2019). Fourth player to win 10 PDC tournaments in a calendar year (2017)
  • This time last year? Was struggling to leave up to the heights of a stunning 2017 but reached the last four here before losing to Mensur Suljovic.

It's been quite a long, arduous journey - with frequent stops to change his darts - for Peter Wright to get back to the consistent formidable displays he produced in 2017 and there's been a few false dawns of hope along the way.

I wonder if this purple patch he's in right now is just another?

Having helped Gary Anderson lift the World Cup of Darts for Scotland last month, he landed his first title of the season at the weekend's German Darts Masters - as tipped by yours truly I might add - before backing back-to-back Players Championship titles this week!

But winning those short format tournaments is one thing - especially when benefitting from a huge upset sustained by Gary Anderson in Germany - having the mental stamina and consistent high quality darts to go the distance in such a big major like this is another.

Yes, he's been runner-up here before just two years ago but that was at his peak and I'm not sure if he's back there at the moment.

Even he said on Tuesday after his first of two successes in Barnsley: "I'm still not back to my 2017 level yet, nowhere near in fact, but I'm going to keep working to get back there and this is proof of that."

Prediction: Snakebite is certainly in the 'right' half of the draw and I'm confident he'll make the quarter-finals but he's too short for me at 11/1 to bag the biggest title of his career at this moment in time.

GERWYN PRICE

  • Nickname: The Iceman
  • Date of Birth: 07/03/1985
  • Nationality: Welsh
  • Seeding/World Ranking: 7
  • Walk-on music: Vanilla Ice, Ice Ice Baby
  • Sky Bet odds: 18/1
  • World Matchplay best: Quarter-final 2015
  • Career highlights: Grand Slam of Darts champion (2018), Five non-televised PDC titles
  • This time last year? World ranked 12 and rated 125/1 having been a dismal failure in the Premier League and got thrashed 10-3 in the opening round here.

I used to think Gerwyn Price was nothing more than the 'best body in darts' - replacing Justin Pipe in the process - but over the past 12 months he's turned into one of the box office stars of the sport.

The haters of his showmanship/gamesmanship (call it what you will) reached new levels on the controversial night of his finest achievement at the Grand Slam of Darts, which of course resulted in that unprecedented £21,500 fine, and while his form dipped markedly for a few months as the crowds got on his back big time, he eventually rediscovered his mojo.

Not only has he entertained fans with some fabulous darts during the televised UK Open and Premier League season, but he's won over plenty of fans even if they are still drowned out by the pantomime boo boys.

That's not to say he hasn't been involved in a couple of unsavoury moments - not all his fault - but I personally think all sports need characters like Price to shake things up, create genuine rivalries and get people talking.

Away from the televised events he won back-to-back Players Championship titles earlier this season and also lit up Prague with this nine-darter at the Czech Darts Open.

Despite all his roars and fantastic pecs, there is clearly a sensitive side to Price when he's interviewed and you can tell the booing does actually get to him especially at key moments, so just imagine how good he'd be if fans just gave him a bit more love?

But he's not going to change his ways for anyone, which is why he's still trying to get "This Is Me" as his walk-on song even though there's some stumbling block to do with rights. Somebody give Hugh Jackman a call and sort it out.

Prediction: I really would love to write "will go all the way" but I favour White and Gurney in this half of the draw so it's a quarter-final spot at best I feel.

JAMES WADE

  • Nickname: The Machine
  • Date of Birth: 06/04/1983
  • Nationality: English
  • Seeding/World Ranking: 8
  • Walk-on music: The Boys Are Back In Town, Thin Lizzy
  • Sky Bet odds: 22/1
  • Career highlights: World Matchplay champion (2007), Premier League champion (2009), 2x World Grand Prix champion (2007, 2010), 2x UK Open champion (2008, 2011), European Championship winner (2018), World Series of Darts Finals champion (2019), Masters champion (2014), 20 non-televised PDC titles, runner-up in 11 televised majors
  • This time last year? Left out of the Premier League earlier in the season, without a title of any kind since 2016 and his televised drought was now over four years. He bowed out in round two.

A lot has changed for James Wade in the last 12 months.

A father for the first time off the oche and back to being a major - and minor - title winner on it, and it seems no coincidence that both huge life points happened at exactly the same time.

Arthur was born in October and then a few weeks later he'd bagged back-to-back televised titles (European Championship and World Series of Darts Finals) to end a near five-year drought since his last.

Never short of confidence in his own ability, he's been able to keep silencing the doubters who'd claimed his best days were behind him, winning three Players Championship events out of four during a hot streak of form which also helped him reach the Premier League play-offs.

He also hit this nine-darter on the European Tour.

Prediction: Obviously has the confidence and seasonal form to go deep but I'm going to side with de Zwaan in his opening match.

MENSUR SULJOVIC

  • Nickname: The Gentle
  • Date of Birth: 05/03/1972
  • Nationality: Austrian
  • Seeding/World Ranking: 9
  • Walk-on music: Simply The Best, Tina Turner
  • Sky Bet odds: 40/1
  • World Matchplay best: Runner-up 2018
  • Career highlights: Champions League of Darts winner (2017), World Matchplay runner-up (2018) winner of four other non-major PDC titles, including the televised German Darts Masters (2018)
  • This time last year? Arrived in Blackpool full of renewed confidence having won two titles since his disappointing Premier League debut and ended up reaching the World Matchplay final.

Mensur Suljovic's popularity and confidence have continued to rise since defying pre-tournament odds of 40/1 to win the Champions League of Darts in 2017 but you just wonder if he's approaching his ceiling - if he hasn't reached it already.

He's no longer the dangerous 'outsider' and most of the world's top players are much better at dealing with his unique slow style of play than they did in the past - not least the much quicker Gary Anderson, who edged him 21-19 in last year's unforgettable Blackpool final.

The canny Austrian hasn't actually reached any final since although the caveat being that he skips many of the Players Championship events while he still tends to have many solid runs at tournaments he does enter.

His Premier League campaign was encouraging, just missing out to Daryl Gurney in the race for the play-offs so he's not one to put a line through completely.

Prediction: An intriguing opener awaits against the Machine Gun that is Jermaine Wattimena, who he's beaten five times out of five, but he's in the same quarter as MVG, Adrian Lewis, Glen Durrant and James Wade. Wattimena has improved a lot since their last meeting in 2018 so maybe a mini surprise is on the cards.

IAN WHITE

  • Nickname: Diamond
  • Date of Birth: 17/08/1970
  • Nationality: English
  • Seeding/World Ranking: 10
  • Walk-on music: Play That Funky Music, Wild Cherry
  • Sky Bet odds: 28/1
  • World Matchplay best: Quarter-Final (2015)
  • Career highlights: Winner of 12 non-televised PDC titles, including three European Tour events in the last 12 months
  • This time last year? Ranked 11 in the world but regarded as a 100/1 no hoper having failed to ever win a stage event, let alone one on TV. He crashed out in round two.

It feels somewhat surprising Ian White is only ranked one place higher than he was this time 12 months ago despite the fact he's well and truly cracked being successful on the stage environment.

The veteran Englishman has always had widely acclaimed ability throughout his long career - to the point that Phil Taylor once told former Sporting Life journalist Nick Hext that White would win that year's World Championship (if memory serves me correctly it was about 2014 and Nick wasn't sure if it was a joke so didn't run with the quotes. Or maybe he did, there was certainly debate about it but the article doesn't exist anymore due to technical reasons I won't bore you with) - but now there's no debate of his contendership.

It tells it's own story that he was 100/1 last year and just 28/1 this year and that's down to him winning back-to-back European Tour titles in front of big crowds in May - taking his tally to three - having been runner-up thrice to MVG earlier in the season, including once at a Players Championship event.

The first of those two successes came in Germany when he edged Peter Wright in a last-leg decider and he remarkably did the same to MVG in the Dutch Darts Masters final to snap a four-game losing streak against him.

Van Gerwen v Ian White - Dutch Darts Masters Final

The significance for a man who may have struggled with stage fright in past to triumph in those pressured situations could be massive and maybe this is the time to put together his best ever run on TV.

Prediction: Diamond is in the toughest quarter of the bottom half and starts against Joe Cullen but his belief has grown a lot and he's got to be considered as an each-way shout.

SIMON WHITLOCK

  • Nickname: The Wizard
  • Date of Birth: 03/03/1969
  • Nationality: Australian
  • World Ranking/Seeding: 11
  • Walk-on music: Down Under, Men at Work
  • Sky Bet odds (Price Boosted): 66/1
  • World Matchplay best: Semi-Final x 2 (2010, 2014)
  • Career highlights: European champion (2012), World Championship runner-up (2010), Premier League runner-up (2012), winner of 15 non-televised TV titles
  • This time last year? Rated a 100/1 outsider despite his world ranking of seven and that he'd reached the previous year's World Grand Prix final. Reached the quarters here then got battered by Peter Wright.

The experienced Wizard may not have won anything since 2017 and is still searching for a second TV title almost seven years after his first but it's not as if he hasn't come close.

He's made three finals over the past 12 months, including at the European Championship where he won an astonishing last four showdown with Joe Cullen and two others on the stage environment of the European Tour, as he consistently knocks on the door for more honours.

Some will argue he's a bottler and point towards a heated Grand Slam of Darts quarter-final with Gerwyn Price as a prime example but to be in a position to 'bottle' does show there's something about you in the first place! OK, maybe that's putting too positive a spin on it.

Prediction: In the so-called softer quarter so there'll be some punters siding with him in some capacity but I wouldn't be surprised to see Big John Henderson do him in the opening round.

DAVE CHISNALL

  • Nickname: Chizzy
  • Date of Birth: 12/09/1980
  • Nationality: English
  • Seeding/World Ranking: 12
  • Walk-on music: Dizzy, Vic Reeves & Wonderstuff
  • Sky Bet odds: 40/1
  • World Matchplay best: Quarter-Final x 5 (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018)
  • Career highlights: World Grand Prix runner-up (2013), Grand Slam of Darts runner-up (2014), Masters runner-up (2016), Players Championship Finals runner-up (2016), winner of 15 non-televised PDC titles
  • This time last year? Dropped from Premier League, without a title since 2017 and rated a 125/1 outsider. He reached the quarter-finals for the fifth time.

I always start Chizzy's profile with "still waiting for his maiden televised title" but I think even those who have never watched a dart being thrown know that by now.

Interestingly he's ranked four places lower than he was this time last year but he's 40/1 instead of 125/1 because of exceptional form this season which has seen him win three titles, including a first on the European Tour since 2013.

Triumphing on a stage environment once again was much needed for the quiet yet extremely popular St Helens man and the manner of some of his victories in Denmark that day (click here to find out more) will surely bode well for more pressurised situations.

Someone of his quality really should have got the monkey of his back by now in terms of TV titles but it's all those years of mental battle scars which must surely play on his mind but hopefully this year will be different. At some point.

Prediction: I think he'll get past Max Hopp and then meet Michael Smith, who is on my potential finalist list unfortunately. That said if he does overcome Bully Boy then I reckon a semi-final run is a real possibility.

NATHAN ASPINALL

  • Nickname: The Asp
  • Date of Birth: 15/07/1991
  • Nationality: English
  • Seeding/World Ranking: 13
  • Walk-on music: Mr Brightside, The Killers
  • Sky Bet odds: 33/1
  • World Matchplay best: This is his debut
  • Career highlights: UK Open champion (2019), winner of two non-major PDC titles including US Darts Masters (2019)
  • This time last year? Ranked 93 in the world in a year which started at Q School and was nowhere near qualifying for this event. What a difference a year makes, eh?

Nathan Aspinall has rocketed up the rankings in emphatic style over the past six months and announced his arrival as a major contender when winning the UK Open at 125/1! Who on earth saw that coming?! (This would be a great opportunity to raise my hand and say I tipped him to do so on this very website, but I'm not like that.)

To be fair, I wouldn't have been the only backer of his considering how fantastically he performed in a number of different pressurised situations during his World Championship debut in December when reaching the semi-finals.

In years to come, the Stockport man may put his comeback from two sets down against the then recently-crowned Grand Slam of Darts champion Gerwyn Price in his second game at the Ally Pally as the turning point in his career as that's when his belief seemed to truly kick in and he went from strength to strength, proving to himself this is where he's meant to be.

Aspinall, who was ranked 93 this time last year and 73 before the World Championship, revealed afterwards that he'd even practiced his shouting to take on Price - a side of the Asp you wouldn't normally see - which, if you think about it, shows great sporting intelligence and realisation about how adaptable you need to be to succeed in any sport.

So many people in darts say you have to play the board and not the player - but how many times do you see even the very best get caught up in things they shouldn't because they haven't actually mentally prepared for their opponent and scenario? Compare Aspinall's approach to Price with Gary Anderson's - as just one example.

Anyway, enough waffle about a game last year.

Aspinall was brilliant at the UK Open, where he beat Price in a gripping semi-final before showing no sign of stage fright in his first major final by outplaying Rob Cross, while he backed this up by landing the US Darts Masters earlier this month in sensational style.

Prediction: I'd expect the Asp to beat Mervyn King and I'd actually back him to see off either Gary Anderson or Danny Noppert in round two. However, I'm with Michael Smith in this quarter so if their paths cross, this is where he bows out on his tournament debut.

JONNY CLAYTON

  • Nickname: The Ferret
  • Date of Birth: October 4 1974
  • Nationality: Welsh
  • World Ranking/Seeding: 14
  • Walk-on music: Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry
  • Sky Bet odds: 50/1
  • World Matchplay best: Last 32 (2018)
  • Career highlights: Players Championship Finals runner-up (2017), winner of three non-televised PDC titles
  • This time last year? Ranked 23 in the world and a 250/1 'no hoper' in the eyes of the bookies and they ended up being proved right.

The Welshman has steadily climbed the rankings into the world's top 16 over the past 12 months and in 2019 has continued his trend of a title every calendar year since the start of 2017.

However, he hasn't had too much to shout about in stage conditions since winning his maiden European Tour title at the 2018 Austrian Darts Open - although he did beat MVG in the group stages of the Grand Slam of Darts before losing to him in the quarter-finals.

Prediction: He could quite comfortably reach the quarters here but as I'm going with Gurney in this mini section then I'll have to predict Clayton to bow out in the second round at best.

DARREN WEBSTER

  • Nickname: Demolition Man
  • Date of Birth: 10/06/1968
  • Nationality: English
  • Seeding: 15
  • World Ranking: 16
  • Walk-on music: Dancing In The Dark,- Bruce Springsteen
  • Sky Bet odds (Price Boosted): 200/1
  • World Matchplay best: Quarter-finals (2017)
  • Career highlights: Players Championship Finals semi-finalist (2016), winner of two non-televised PDC titles
  • This time last year? Not a lot was expected of the 250/1 outsider and he bowed out in the second round to Rob Cross.

The Norwich thrower has consolidated his place in the upper echelons of the game by consistently plugging away on the circuit and he's done very well for himself considering he only gave up his work as a builder last year to focus more on his darts.

The Demolition Man can knock down anyone on his day although he hasn't won a title since ending his 12-year drought for one in a Players Championship event in July 2017 - the same calendar year he reach the quarter-finals of both the World Matchplay and the World Championship quarter-finals.

Two years on, this is a year he'll be defending the prize money he won at those lucrative events so he has a certain degree of pressure heading to Blackpool.

Prediction: He'll fancy his chances against Krzysztof Ratajski of course but I fancy the Polish Eagle to win that one.

ADRIAN LEWIS

  • Nickname: Jackpot
  • Date of Birth: 21/011985
  • Nationality: English
  • Seeding: 16
  • World Ranking: 15
  • Walk-on music: Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag, Pigbag
  • Sky Bet odds: 80/1
  • World Matchplay best: Runner-up (2013)
  • Career highlights: 2x World Champion (2011, 2012), UK Open champion (2014), European champion (2013), 4x World Cup winner (2012, 2013, 2015, 2016), 17 other PDC titles, runner-up in 10 majors including 2011 Premier League & 2016 World Championship
  • This time last year? In the midst of trying to claw his way back into the top 16 after a dreadful 2017. He lost to Jeffrey de Zwaan in round two.

Slowly but definitely surely, Adrian Lewis is on an upward curve again after a worrying spell in the doldrums which has seen him miss out on a Premier League spot for the past two years.

It seems a long time ago now since he claimed we were in the "Era of the Jackpot" following his second of two world titles in 2012 although obviously his difficult spell only started in 2017 even though he did win a Players Championship title that year.

He finally got back in the winners' enclosure for the first time since then at another floor event in March, when beating a man more desperate for a title in Raymond van Barneveld.

Apart from that he's been there or thereabouts on several other occasions but quite whether he's got the confidence to challenge on the big stage again yet, I'm not so sure.

Prediction: The downside to being ranked 16th is that he ends up with a second-round meeting with MVG, who has beaten him in their last eight meetings. I don't think he'll get that far anyway as he plays Glen Durrant first up.

STEPHEN BUNTING

  • Nickname: The Bullet
  • Date of Birth: 09/04/1985
  • Nationality: English
  • World Ranking: 17
  • Walk-on music: Surfin' Bird, The Trashmen
  • Sky Bet odds: 125/1
  • World Matchplay best: Last 16 (2014)
  • Career highlights: BDO world champion (2014), World Grand Prix semi-finalist (2014), UK Open semi-finalist (2015), winner of two non-televised PDC titles
  • This time last year? Came here as a 300/1 outsider virtue of a first-round draw against eventual champion Gary Anderson, which he only just lost 10-7.

The Liverpool thrower initially made a promising start to his PDC career after winning the BDO crown in 2014 but he's struggled to build on that.

However there's been some promising signs for the Bullet in 2019 with runs to a Players Championship final and also the climax of the recent Czech Darts Open as he chased a first title since 2016.

In what was his first European Tour final thanks to victories over Chris Dobey, Daryl Gurney and Keegan Brown, he came up short against the impressive PDC newcomer Jamie Hughes but took a lot of heart from the weekend.

Prediction: Plays Gerwyn Price first and I'd back the Welshman to win that one.

JOE CULLEN

  • Nickname: The Rockstar
  • Date of Birth: 13/07/1989
  • Nationality: English
  • World Ranking: 18
  • Walk-on music: Don't Look Back in Anger, Oasis
  • Sky Bet odds (Price Boosted): 80/1
  • World Matchplay best: Quarter-final (2018)
  • Career highlights: Winner of two non-televised PDC events
  • This time last year? Had shown enough promise for me to back him at 14/1 to win his quarter, but lost a thriller against nine-dart hero Gary Anderson.

Joe Cullen is now best remembered for 'that' World Matchplay quarter-final against Gary Anderson this time last year (did I tell you the story about me missing the nine-darter?!) but who knows where he'd be had he managed to sink one of his two match darts - the second of which disrupted by a fateful fly.

The atmosphere created by the pair - with Cullen also managing a 170 checkout - will never be forgotten by those in attendance and showed why darts would be better off with the Rockstar challenging more often at the highest level.

He still hasn't added to his only two Players Championship titles that he won in 2017 but he did reach his first final since the second of those as recently as Wednesday, only to lose 8-1 to Peter Wright.

Anyone who has followed my event previews in the past will know I've got a soft spot for the Bradford man but I really expected him to have delivered in a big way by now. He came so agonisingly close at last year's European Championship but failed to turn up at the Ally Pally.

Prediction: One day he'll do something special but on this occasion I'm going with his first-round opponent Ian White to go far.

STEVE BEATON

  • Nickname: The Bronzed Adonis
  • Date of Birth: 05/04/1964
  • Nationality: English
  • World Ranking: 19
  • Walk-on music: Stayin' Alive, Bee Gees
  • Sky Bet odds: 300/1
  • World Matchplay best: Semi-final (2001)
  • Career highlights: BDO world champion (1996), European Championship runner-up (2009), winner of four non-televised PDC titles
  • This time last year? A trademark solid season but lost in the opening round to Mensur Suljovic.

As far as housewives choices go in darts, the Bronze Adonis is not only the original and best, but he's still going strong at 55 years young.

His naturally smooth throw is as sublime as ever and although it's helped him maintain a lofty enough ranking to qualify for every possible World Matchplay and World Championship since Blackpool 2001 - an incredible achievement - it'd have been great to see him win a lot more titles.

The popular Englishman's last taste of glory came during a mini renaissance in 2017 when beating Gary Anderson in a Players Championship final while this year's he's reached a semi-final on the European Tour and three other quarter-finals, including at the UK Open.

He also hit this crowd pleasing nine-darter.

Prediction: Starts up against Michael van Gerwen and I'd love to see a shock. Don't rule it out!

JOHN HENDERSON

  • Nickname: Highlander
  • Date of Birth: 04/05/1973
  • Nationality: Scottish
  • World Ranking: 27
  • Walk-on music: Rockin' All Over The World, Status Quo
  • Sky Bet odds: 250/1
  • World Matchplay best: Second round (2011)
  • Career highlights: World Grand Prix semi-finalist (2017)

Everyone loves Big John and although he's still never won anything on the PDC circuit, what he did on that glorious Premier League night in Aberdeen against Michael van Gerwen this year is probably worth at least a few non-televised titles!

This is his first televised tournament since then so expect a huge reception for him as he bids to reach the second round for just the second time here in four previous attempts.

A steady operator with that hypnotic rocking motion, Henderson has reached four quarter-finals and a semi-final on the Pro Tour this year to help seal his spot in Blackpool.

Prediction: He can certainly get past Simon Whitlock in his opener but wouldn't back him to get any further unless Vincent van der Voort springs a surprise against Peter Wright.

JERMAINE WATTIMENA

  • Nickname: Machine Gun
  • Date of Birth: 09/03/1988
  • Nationality: Dutch
  • World Ranking: 22
  • Walk-on music: Trumpets - Sak Noel & Sean Paul
  • Sky Bet odds: 200/1
  • World Matchplay best: Last 32 (2018)
  • Career highlights: Last 16 of two televised majors (Players Championship Finals 2017, UK Open 2018)
  • This time last year? One of the biggest outsiders in the draw but still gave James Wade a real scare in a first round defeat.

Blink and you'll miss most of his matches, such is the speed at which the Machine Gun fires.

Jermaine Wattimena has been climbing the rankings pretty briskly - but not as quickly as his throw - over the past year and made the most of Raymond van Barneveld's decline to earn a spot in the Netherlands' World Cup team alongside Michael van Gerwen.

There he reached the semi-finals but his best individual run in 2019 came back in February when he was runner-up to his Dutch team-mate in his first ever Pro Tour final.

Overall he's pretty inconsistent although we did see what he's capable of during that heart-stopping World Championship thriller against Gary Anderson.

Prediction: A clash of styles awaits in the opening round against Mensur Suljovic but I doubt he'll go much further with either James Wade or Jeffrey de Zwaan up next.

MERVYN KING

  • Nickname: The King
  • Date of Birth: 15/03/1966
  • Nationality: English
  • World Ranking: 23
  • Walk-on music: King of Kings, Motorhead
  • Sky Bet odds: 300/1
  • World Matchplay best: Semi-final (2009)
  • Career highlights: World Masters (2004), runner-up in five PDC majors including the 2009 Premier League Darts and 2014 Masters, winner of eight non-televised PDC titles.
  • This time last year? Had ended a long drought for a title earlier in the season but bowed out in the first round to Rob Cross.

I still rank The King's appropriately selected walk-on music - King of Kings by Motorhead - as the best in the sport so it's such a shame it doesn't grace major finals anymore. He's past his peak years which saw him challenge for the sport's biggest prizes without winning one - not least the agonising 2014 Masters defeat to James Wade.

But he's still a useful operator having won his first PDC title in almost four years at a Players Championship event in 2018, while he enjoyed knocking Michael van Gerwen out of this year's UK Open in their first meeting since the Dutchman branded him a disgrace to darts a few weeks earlier.

He's had his fair share of other run ins over the years but he's an emotional guy. Arguably one of the biggest lump in the throat moments from the 2017 World Championship was the sight of good old Merv fighting back the tears after his first round win. It meant so much to him so goodness knows how he'll react if he ever breaks his major duck.

Prediction: I'm predicting an early exit against Nathan Aspinall.

MAX HOPP

  • Nickname: The Maximiser
  • Date of Birth: 20/08/1996
  • Nationality: German
  • World Ranking: 25
  • Walk-on music: Kolo Yaya
  • Sky Bet odds: 250/1
  • World Matchplay best: Last 32 (2018)
  • Career highlights: World Youth Champion (2015), Winner of two non-televised PDC events
  • This time last year? Came to Blackpool on a high having won a maiden European Tour title in Germany but lost to Ian White first up.

Max Hopp has been leading the rise of German darts for the past few years now although he'll surely be relieved that burden is now starting to be lifted slightly by those behind him.

Not that he seems to be fazed by the pressure however, and quite often we seem him revel in the atmosphere of an expectant home crowd - not least at last year's German Open, when he defeated Michael Smith 8-7 in a thrilling final thanks to a 121 checkout on the bull - an exact repeat of his victory over Rob Cross in the previous round.

Since then, he picked up another PDC title in August as well as reaching the European Championship semi-final on home soil, agonisingly losing out to eventual champion James Wade after missing three match darts, while another two were spurned when losing to Simon Whitlock in this year's German Darts Grand Prix semis.

Hopp, who did admittedly have a shocking night in Berlin as a Premier League 'Contender, was extremely unlucky last week at the German Darts Masters when he averaged 105, missed just two darts at doubles only to lose because Rob Cross hit all six of his!

Prediction: I do rate Hopp but I think Chizzy will have his number in his first match and even if he does progress, he's in a very tough quarter.

KEEGAN BROWN

  • Nickname: The Needle
  • Date of Birth: 05/11/1992
  • Nationality: English
  • World Ranking: 28
  • Walk-on music: The Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop
  • Sky Bet odds: 150/1
  • World Matchplay best: Last 16 (2015)
  • Career highlights: World Youth Champion (2014), Winner of one non-televised PDC event
  • This time last year? Wasn't given a cat in hells chance at 500/1 and crashed out to Dave Chisnall in round one.

Not to be confused with Arya Stark's weapon of choice in Game of Thrones, The Needle hasn't exactly fulfilled his promise since become world youth champion four years ago but he's turned into a reliable performer on tour.

And it seems as though his impressive little run at the World Championship, which was ended by James Wade in a thrilling last 32 clash, may have restored his belief having reached three semi-finals in 2019, with two of those coming on the European Tour.

Most recently at the Czech Open he edged out MVG in a deciding leg before eventually bowing out to Stephen Bunting.

Prediction: It wouldn't be much of an upset - if at all - to knock out Jonny Clayton in his opener but I would expect him to bow out if he plays Gurney next.

CHRIS DOBEY

  • Nickname: Hollywood
  • Date of Birth: 31/05/1990
  • Nationality: England
  • World Ranking: 31
  • Walk-on music: 'Going Home' by Mark Knopfler
  • Sky Bet odds: 125/1
  • World Matchplay best: Debut
  • Career highlights: Three-time finalist on the Pro Tour
  • This time last year? Despite reaching a second career PDC earlier in 2018, Dobey was unable to qualify for Blackpool.

Still often referred to as a rising young star in the game (even I make that 'mistake') but he's actually the same age as Michael van Gerwen.

Such is the talent and depth of proper youth coming through today and mixing it with the more senior stars, Dobey is a comparative veteran having joined the PDC circuit in 2015.

He's still looking for his first title but he has reached four finals, including one early last year when he averaged 109.6 compared to Michael van Gerwen’s 99.6...but lost 6-2.

The Northumberland ace had a superb run at the World Championship, where he gave Gary Anderson an almighty scare in one of the matches of the tournament and since then he reached his first European Tour final, losing to Dave Chisnall, and made this spine tingling entrance as the first of this season's Premier League Contenders.

If you're wondering, here's a bit bit about how Dobey started in the game by chance...

Prediction: No doubt Dobey is on the right track after early promise in his career but not sure he'll get past Rob Cross in the first round.

JEFFREY DE ZWAAN

  • Nickname: The Black Cobra
  • Date of Birth: 26/03/1996
  • Nationality: Dutch
  • World Ranking: 33
  • Walk-on music: Rocking With The Best - Deepack
  • Sky Bet odds: 100/1
  • World Matchplay best: Semi-finals (2018)
  • Career highlights: Winner of two non-televised PDC titles
  • This time last year? Rose to prominence by knocking MVG out of the 2018 UK Open and despite being ranked 68 in the world and 750/1 for Blackpool glory, he reached the semi-finals.

Have I mentioned how I was media zone with Jeffrey de Zwaan in Blackpool last year when Gary Anderson hit his nine-darter?!

The Dutchman has continued his growth in the game since knocking out MVG in last year's UK Open and has halved his ranking in the past 12 months thanks largely to his semi-final run on his Blackpool debut, which all started with another shock triumph over the world number one.

Already this season he's won his second PDC title at a Players Championship event - a few weeks after reaching a final - while he's still competing on the Development Tour to hone his skills and also the European Tour to get used to regular stage environments. Clever, mature, and talented.

Prediction: I think it'll be between de Zwaan or Durrant to win this quarter despite the presence of Michael van Gerwen. The young Dutchman is 22/1 to do it.

VINCENT VAN DER VOORT

  • Nickname: The Dutch Destroyer
  • Date of Birth: 18/12/1975
  • Nationality: Dutch
  • World Ranking: 35
  • Walk-on music: Give It Up by K.C. & The Sunshine Band
  • Sky Bet odds: 250/1
  • World Matchplay best: Quarter-finals (2009)
  • Career highlights: Winner of four non televised PDC titles
  • This time last year? Ranked 35 in the world but a disappointing season meant he failed to qualify for Blackpool for the second year in a row

His name lends itself to one of the most crowd pleasing chants in the game so it's great to see him back on the Winter Gardens stage for the first time in three yeas.

The Dutch Destroyer has endured a tough time in his recent career but showed during the World Championship that he can still operate at the highest level by reaching round three, losing an absolute thriller to Chris Dobey.

So far this season van der Voort has gone as deep as the quarter-finals three times on the Pro Tour but it's understandable to see him priced so big at 250/1 considering he's not ever won a TV title while his last success of any kind came back in 2014.

Prediction: First round exit to Peter Wright

KRZYSZTOF RATAJSKI

  • Nickname: The Polish Eagle
  • Date of Birth: 01/01/1977
  • Nationality: Polish
  • World Ranking: 37
  • Walk-on music: Hey Baby by Orquesta Poncela
  • Sky Bet odds: 40/1
  • World Matchplay best: Debut
  • Career highlights: Winner of four non televised PDC titles
  • This time last year? Was not a PDC Tour Card holder although he had already won his first PDC title.

Even before Krzysztof Ratajski had won his PDC Tour Card at the start of this year, he'd already joined an elite group of players to win back-to-back Players Championship titles.

Predominantly operating on the Challenge Tour after failing at Q School in 2018, the Polish Eagle still managed to participate in several Pro Tour events and won three of them in the calendar year, including an incredible October double in Barnsley.

His subsequent appearance at the Players Championship Finals caused one of the most crowd pleasing moments of the year when he defeated Gerwyn Price, who was at the height of his pantomime villain-ness!

Ratajski has continued to impress by adding a fourth Pro Tour title to his collection in June, when defeating Nathan Aspinall 24 hours before reaching the semi-finals as he threatened another double - but now it's time to shine on TV.

Prediction: Has he got what it takes to carry is floor form onto the stage? He hasn't really shown it yet and I wouldn't expect him to get further than the second round, where he'd meet Rob Cross or Chris Dobey.

DANNY NOPPERT

  • Nickname: Noppie
  • Date of Birth: 31/12/1990
  • Nationality: Dutch
  • World Ranking: 38
  • Walk-on music: Good Feeling by Flo Rida
  • Sky Bet odds: 250/1
  • World Matchplay best: Debut
  • Career highlights: Winner of one BDO major (Zuiderduin Masters 2017) and winner of one non-televised PDC title
  • This time last year? Ranked 72 in the world having only won his PDC Tour Card at the start of 2018 so didn't qualify for Blackpool.

Danny Noppert knew his future was going to be in the PDC when he reached the Lakeside final in 2017 and 12 months later he'd earn a Tour Card through Q School.

It didn't take long for him to find his rhythm with several strong showings on the European Tour before he won a maiden Pro Tour title in September and then going on to reach the semi-finals of the televised Players Championship Finals.

Noppie has made a couple of semi-finals in 2019 and will make his World Matchplay debut against Gary Anderson.

Prediction: A shock could be on the cards against Anderson for reasons given earlier but I'd expect Nathan Aspinall to see him off.

RICKY EVANS

  • Nickname: Rapid
  • Date of Birth: 29/07/1990
  • Nationality: English
  • World Ranking: 42
  • Walk-on music: YMCA
  • Sky Bet odds: 150/1
  • World Matchplay best: Debut
  • Career highlights: Runner-up in three non televised PDC events since start of 2018
  • This time last year? Ranked 56 in the world and unable to qualify for Blackpool

Ricky Evans is quite the character.

Evans is obviously one of the fastest throwers around but he's shown over the past 12 months or so that he's determined to be known for more than that as he strives to claim a maiden PDC title.

Since September he's reached three finals and the fact two of those came on the European Tour shows he's now beginning to produce his best in front of the crowds. He'll have to be if he wants to fulfil his ambition of becoming a household name.

Ricky Evans interview on the Darts Show

Prediction: Unfortunately for him he opens up against Daryl Gurney who I'm backing to go far.

GLEN DURRANT

  • Nickname: Duzza
  • Date of Birth: 24/11/1970
  • Nationality: English
  • World Ranking: 64
  • Walk-on music: "Papas Got a Brand New Pigbag" by Perfecto Allstarz
  • Sky Bet odds: 50/1
  • World Matchplay best: Debut
  • Career highlights: Three-time BDO World Champion (2017, 2018, 2019), winner of six other BDO majors, winner of two non-televised PDC titles
  • This time last year? The king of the BDO circuit

Glen Durrant began his incredible 2019 by emulating the late, great Eric Bristow's record of winning three successive BDO World Championship titles.

It was also the second year in a row he'd beaten a player I'd tipped pre-tournament at a big price in the final, but I don't hold a grudge.

Duzza then waved goodbye to the BDO as he headed to Q School and after just about scraping a PDC Tour Card following a nervy four days in Wigan, he set the circuit alight by reaching a final in his second tournament before winning his fourth.

His dream debut season on the PDC got even better at another Players Championship tournament in May when defeating Michael van Gerwen in their first ever meeting en route to claiming his second title of the season.

This form has helped the Teesider rocket up the rankings so fast that he's achieved one of his dreams of qualifying for Blackpool perhaps a year earlier than expect and now he'll look to grab the opportunity with both hands.

Durrant's only sense of frustration so far has been his struggles on the stage environments of the European Tour and also the UK Open, but I'm not sure we can read too much into that given how we've seen him cope in televised tournaments before, including the Grand Slam of Darts on a couple of occasions.

Prediction: It'd be great to see him take on Michael van Gerwen in the second round and I believe he'd have every chance of winning that. For a place in the semis it would be James Wade, Jeffrey de Zwaan, Mensur Suljovic or Jermaine Wattimena, so the 11/1 on him winning his quarter does have appeal.

JAMIE HUGHES

  • Nickname: Yozza
  • Date of Birth: 27/02/1986
  • Nationality: English
  • World Ranking: 66
  • Walk-on music: "Hi Ho Silver Lining" by Jeff Beck
  • Sky Bet odds: 50/1
  • World Matchplay best: Making his debut
  • Career highlights: 10 titles in the BDO including Zuiderduin Masters (2014), winner of one non televised PDC title
  • This time last year? Plying his trade on the Challenge Tour in an effort to earn a PDC Tour card for 2019

What an incredible year Jamie Hughes is having and just to be at the World Matchplay in his first season as a PDC Tour Card holder is a huge achievement.

The manner in which Yozza, who came through Q School at the start of the year, managed it was also quite remarkable as he headed into the final event before the cut off for qualification - the Czech Darts Open - knowing he had to not only reach his first PDC final but also win it.

And that's exactly what he did, beating the likes of Ian White and Simon Whitlock to get there before coming from 3-1 down to beat Stephen Bunting 8-3 with the title and £25,000 cheque on the line.

"To come out of nowhere and force myself into the World Matchplay is a bit of a fairytale story," said Hughes and you can't really argue with that.

However, not many darts fans would have been too surprised to see the former two-time Lakeside semi-finalist deliver the goods in the PDC such are his widely-hailed talents and so far this year he's around 10th in the top overall averages in ranked events.

Prediction: His first round match against Michael Smith promises to be a thriller and if he comes through it I'd expect him to get to the quarter-finals at least. However, Bully Boy is my pick in this section.

World Matchplay Draw Bracket

  • (1) Michael van Gerwen v Steve Beaton
  • (16) Adrian Lewis v Glen Durrant
  • (8) James Wade v Jeffrey de Zwaan
  • (9) Mensur Suljovic v Jermaine Wattimena
  • (5) Michael Smith v Jamie Hughes
  • (12) Dave Chisnall v Max Hopp
  • (4) Gary Anderson v Danny Noppert
  • (13) Nathan Aspinall v Mervyn King
  • (2) Rob Cross v Chris Dobey
  • (15) Darren Webster v Krzysztof Ratajski
  • (7) Gerwyn Price v Stephen Bunting
  • (10) Ian White v Joe Cullen
  • (6) Peter Wright v Vincent van der Voort
  • (11) Simon Whitlock v John Henderson
  • (3) Daryl Gurney v Ricky Evans
  • (14) Jonny Clayton v Keegan Brown

Click for World Matchplay Guide including daily schedule, results & TV information

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