The 2016 PDC World Darts Championship gets under way in just over 48 hours. World Number One Michael van Gerwen is red-hot favourite for the crown, whilst Phil Taylor is second favourite to win his 17th World title. Nevertheless, you cannot write off the defending Champion!
3. Gary Anderson
Reigning World-Champion Gary Anderson will be hoping for a repeat of last year’s success when he begins the defence of his crown at Alexandra Palace on Thursday.
The Flying Scotsman produced the tournament of his life 12 months ago, as he defeated Jelle Klaasen, Peter Wright, Michael van Gerwen en route to the final, before beating 16-Time World Champion Phil Taylor 7-6 in a pulsating battle to clinch his maiden World Championship.
Anderson has always possessed the natural ability to win major tournaments however, his mental fortitude has often been questioned; sometimes unfairly so. Nevertheless, Gary quashed any lingering doubts over his capability to produce under pressure, with his majestic World final display.
He also enjoyed a strong start to 2015. After reaching the Unibet Masters semi-finals in February, Anderson finished 3rd in the Premier League group-phase. On finals night at the O2 Arena, Anderson defeated Dave Chisnall 10-9 in a gripping semi-final, before sealing the Premier League title with an emphatic 11-7 victory over his old adversary, van Gerwen.
Just one month later, alongside Peter Wright, the World Number 2 led Scotland to their very first World Cup of Darts Final, where they were edged out by the English duo of Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis.
Anderson performed superbly throughout the tournament, beating both Taylor and Lewis in the singles format. However, it wasn’t quite enough, as England ran out 3-2 victors.
However, since Anderson’s Premier League triumph, his form in major TV tournaments has been slightly underwhelming, and he heads into Alexandra Palace still searching for the form that saw him crowned World Champion last year.
The 44-year-old Scot suffered a disappointing second-round World Matchplay exit at the hands of Mensur Suljovic in July, to end his hopes of winning the ‘triple crown’. Gary struggled to cope with the Austrian’s methodical approach and succumbed to a 13-9 defeat.
Gary also didn’t have the best of World Series campaigns. Out of the eight players invited to compete in the world wide exhibition events, Anderson finished 7th, having reached the semi-finals in Dubai, Perth and Japan.
The World Champion was beaten in the last 16 of the World Grand Prix in early October, losing 3-2 to World Number 8 Ian White. White was superb and in fairness, Anderson did very little wrong on that occasion.
The Scotsman enjoyed an upturn in fortunes over the next few weeks. He won the final Players Championship event of 2015 in Coventry, before reaching the final of the European Championships just a week later. Anderson faced van Gerwen in the final and led 10-7, but MvG reeled off four successive legs to clinch the title from Ando’s grasp.
In last month’s Grand Slam of Darts, Anderson finished top of his group, thanks to victories against Larry Butler, Andy Boulton and Raymond van Barneveld. Yet, in the last 16, he was beaten 10-6 by a rejuvenated Mark Webster, who missed just four doubles in the entire contest!
One week later, Anderson competed in the Players Championship Finals in Minehead. Last year, Anderson was seeded 1st for this event, having topped the Pro Tour Order of Merit. Nevertheless, this year the Scot was seeded 11th, due to his sporadic Pro Tour participation.
Gary faced Phil Taylor in an unlikely opening-round tie, although Anderson again got the better of the 16-Time World Champion, hitting back-to-back maximums in a last-leg decider to secure victory.
However, just 24 hours later, Anderson followed that up with possibly his worst TV performance of 2015, averaging just 86 in a 10-4 loss against the emerging Northern Irishman, Daryl Gurney. This wasn’t ideal World Championship preparation for Gary, although I have no doubt that he’ll be ready for this year’s challenge.
He begins the defence of his crown on Thursday’s opening night, where he’ll take on the winner of a preliminary round clash between Andy Boulton and Per Laursen.
Anderson faced Boulton at the Grand Slam, albeit over a shorter format; but with all due respect, neither man should hold much fear for the Flying Scotsman.
The World Number 2 will face a top-quality youngster in round-two, whether it be Welshman Jamie Lewis, or Daryl Gurney.
Gurney demonstrated his capability by beating Anderson en route to the Players Championship semi-finals, although Jamie Lewis continues to impress and is more than capable of causing an upset.
If Anderson were to progress to the last 16, he could face last year’s quarter-finalist and 15th seed, Vincent van der Voort. However, this section of the draw is particularly open, with Kyle Anderson and Brendan Dolan also possible third-round opponents for the 44-year-old.
In comparison to some of his main rivals, Anderson can’t complain with his potential route to the last eight. Nevertheless, if he doesn’t produce his best darts, he could still be at threat of an early exit.
James Wade could await Anderson in the quarter-finals, which would be an intriguing tie. Wade has won an array of major honours, although the World Championships has eluded him thus far.
However, ‘The Machine’ has performed very well in 2015 and his improved scoring power makes him a major threat, particularly if he can maintain his usual clinical edge on doubles.
If the highest-ranked players reach the semi-finals, Anderson will take on Phil Taylor in a repeat of last year’s World Championship final. Anderson has enjoyed the better of their recent head-to-heads in major TV events. He beat Taylor in last month’s Players Championship 1st round, whilst he also defeated him twice in this year’s Premier League.
The biggest question mark surrounding Anderson is how will he cope with the pressure of being defending Champion? By his own admission, Gary isn’t an individual who likes the attention or the pandemonium and this could be a factor.
But, if he’s feeling confident and remains focused on his darts, he has a tremendous chance of retaining his title. Michael van Gerwen has won the last four major TV events, although he is not invincible. Anderson proved that in last year’s World Championship semi, as well as in this year’s Premier League final.
Gary is arguably in the better side of the draw, as he will avoid the likes of MvG, Peter Wright, Adrian Lewis, Michael Smith, Raymond van Barneveld and Dave Chisnall, until the final at least. He’s priced at 7/1 with title sponsor William Hill to retain his World Championship title. Can lightning strike twice for the Flying Scotsman?