The 2016 World Matchplay kicks off on Saturday evening, and Josh’s Dartistry casts his eye over the favourites, the contenders, the dark-horses, as well as the seeds under pressure. It promises to be a fantastic tournament at the Winter Gardens!
Michael van Gerwen
Michael van Gerwen is the favourite to retain his BetVictor World Matchplay title. He faces seven-time Pro Tour winner Jamie Caven in round-one, but ‘The Green Machine’ will be confident of progressing.
‘Jabba’ has only once gone beyond round-one at the Winter Gardens, and if MvG progresses, he will face either his good friend Vincent van der Voort, or Kyle Anderson in the last 16. Van Gerwen claimed victory in the recent Shanghai Darts Masters, but the world number one wasn’t in vintage form throughout the World Series.
World champion Gary Anderson will enter this tournament with real self-belief. ‘The Flying Scotsman’ has won three of the four World Series titles in 2016, beating Van Gerwen in two of those finals. The Scot is one of the select few who relishes the challenge of facing MvG, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see these two face off in the final.
However, Anderson has been handed a difficult first-round assignment, against former Lakeside world finalist Alan Norris. Norris has been in fine form in the last 6 months and this promises to be a quick-fire contest. Anderson suffered a shock second-round defeat to Mensur Suljovic last year, so he’ll be determined to make amends this time around.
However, whilst we consider the enthralling possibility of a Van Gerwen v Anderson final, how can we rule out Phil Taylor, who has won this tournament on an astonishing 15 occasions? ‘The Power’ had won seven successive Matchplay titles prior to last year’s semi-final loss to James Wade, and he enters this event in good form.
Taylor has yet to reach a World Series final in 2016, but he’s been averaging consistently over the 100 mark. The 55-year-old relishes the long-format at Blackpool, as he typically grinds down his opponents with his punishing consistency. He may be third favourite with the bookmakers, but you’d be a brave man to dismiss Taylor’s chances.
James Wade,2007 winner, will be hoping to go one better than last year. ‘The Machine’ ended Phil Taylor’s 38 match-winning streak at the Winter Gardens in the semi-finals last year, although he was unable to overcome Michael van Gerwen in the final. However, Wade enters this tournament in fantastic form.
He was a runner-up in the Shanghai Darts Masters, whilst he reached the semi-finals in Tokyo, beating Phil Taylor on both occasions. The left-hander has always been a clinical finisher, but his scoring power has improved immeasurably in recent months. Odds of 22/1 look brilliant value for a proven winner, who has a special affinity with the Winter Gardens.
Adrian Lewis is another man you simply cannot write off. Lewis is one of the most naturally gifted players to have ever thrown a dart, and his best game is good enough to blow away everyone on the planet. The only question is: Will Lewis produce his ‘A-game’ in Blackpool?
Jackpot suffered a surprise second-round defeat to Gerwyn Price twelve months ago, but he’ll be hoping to usurp his 2013 performance, where he lost to Phil Taylor in a magnificent final. The two-time world champion also has a relatively kind draw. He faces Mark Webster in round-one, and will meet either Kim Huybrechts or Price in the last 16.
Raymond van Barneveld
It appears bizarre to label a five-time world champion as an outside bet, but Raymond van Barneveld is 28/1 and eighth favourite to win his first ever Matchplay title. Van Barneveld reached the final in 2010, although in recent years Blackpool hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Van Barneveld.
However, Barney enters this tournament with confidence and purpose. He’s played well throughout the recent World Series tour, losing to the tournament winners in all four events.He faces Brendan Dolan in round-one, and the Dutchman will be quietly confident of progressing. RvB is a proven winner, which always makes him a serious contender.
Benito van de Pas
Benito van de Pas’ clash against Dave Chisnall promises to be one of the ties of the round. ‘Big Ben’ has enjoyed a wonderful year thus far, winning two Players Championship events. He’s beaten all the big names on the Pro Tour, and he is capable of transferring his form to the big-stage, as he showed in last year’s Players Championship Finals.
The most impressive aspects of Van de Pas’ game are his cover-shooting and clinical finishing. The Dutchman is ruthlessly proficient on the T19 and T18 segments, whilst his finishing under pressure is mightily impressive. If he were to beat Chisnall, he would meet either Thornton or Payne in round-two. Could this be Benito’s time to shine?
Mensur Suljovic has enjoyed a phenomenal rise over the last two years, and the unconventional Austrian is on the verge of breaking into the world’s top 16. Suljovic faces former world champion Stephen Bunting in the first-round, but he’ll be confident of upsetting the odds, as his methodical approach could disrupt Bunting’s free-flowing style.
Mensur could potentially face Phil Taylor in round-two, but ‘The Gentle’ would be unperturbed by that prospect. He memorably defeated Gary Anderson in the second-round twelve months ago, as Anderson imploded in the face of Suljovic’s style and consistency. The Austrian certainly isn’t an opponent anyone would relish playing.
Seeds Under Pressure:
Robert Thornton will be hoping to finally end his Blackpool hoodoo in 2016. ‘The Thorn’ has suffered six successive first-round exits at the Matchplay, and is yet to record a victory on the Winter Gardens stage. He faces young debutant Josh Payne in round-one, but the 22-year-old will play with no fear.
The World Grand-Prix champion has endured a difficult start to the year. After struggling with illness in the early stages of his return to the Premier League, Thornton finished bottom of the league on a miserly 5 points. He is one of the most tenacious campaigners on the circuit, and he’ll need all his battling qualities to prevail against the talented Payne.
Vincent van der Voort
Vincent van der Voort will be keen to enjoy a good-run at the Matchplay. Van der Voort, a quarter-finalist in Blackpool back in 2009, is the lowest seed in this year’s competition, and he has a difficult tie against the emerging Australian Kyle Anderson.
Van der Voort is just £5,000 above Mensur Suljovic on the PDC Order of Merit, and an early exit against ‘The Original’ could see the imposing Dutchman drop outside the world’s top 16; meaning he would no longer automatically qualify for TV majors.