The rejuvenated Simon Whitlock is relishing the prospect of a first-round showdown with world number one Michael van Gerwen at the European Championship in Hasselt, Belgium on Friday evening.
Van Gerwen will go in search of his third consecutive European Championship crown with a tasty tie against 2012 champion Simon Whitlock, who heads to Belgium off the back of two Players Championship victories within the last month.
‘The Wizard’ had endured a tumultuous two years which saw him plummet from 4th to 20th on the PDC Order of Merit. Nevertheless, Whitlock has enjoyed a stunning revival over recent months, winning his first PDC title for over two years at Players Championship 18 in Dublin, beating Van Gerwen en route to the title.
The Australian then reached just his second TV quarter-final in two years at the World Grand Prix earlier this month, where he was beaten in a thrilling affair. However, he maintained his fine form, by clinching victory at Players Championship 19 in Barnsley last weekend.
The Aussie ace admitted that he couldn’t have asked for a tougher assignment. “There are no easy draws but getting Michael in the first round has to be the hardest.
“I think he will be looking at it the same way as me because he knows how well I’ve been playing recently too. I’m going into it full of confidence with a couple of titles and a win against Michael under my belt this month and there is no reason why I can’t win that match.”
“If I do, my confidence will be sky high and I’d be in with a great shout for the title. It’s a tournament I’ve done very well in in the past and I haven’t felt as good entering a big tournament for a couple of years,” Whitlock bullishly claimed.
Van Gerwen has broken countless number of records this year, winning an astonishing 21 titles. Yet for the first time in his illustrious career, MvG will aim to win a TV major title for the third time in succession.
“I’m doing new things all the time and to win a big title like this three times in a row would be another personal record,” said the 27-year-old, who is the overwhelming pre-tournament favourite. “This was the first major title that I ever defended and that was a big moment for me too because I’ve gone on to do it a couple of times since.”
The world number one will be top seed in Hasselt after performing sublimely on the European Tour, winning six of the ten events hosted this year. “I also did really well on the European Tour so that makes me more determined to win this tournament but I know it won’t be easy, especially playing a good player like Simon in the first round.”
Van Gerwen has a superior head-to-head record against the Australian, although after suffering defeat against him last month, he’ll be desperate to exact revenge. “We had a great game in the World Grand Prix and he has won a couple of titles recently so I know that I will have to be at my very best right from the beginning of this tournament.”
Other tasty first-round ties see four-time European Champion Phil Taylor meet seventh seed Alan Norris, who claimed victory at the German Darts Championship in the final European Tour event of the year, whilst world champion Gary Anderson clashes with eight-time major winner James Wade.
Second seed Mensur Suljovic, who won his maiden PDC title at the International Darts Open in September, faces Dutchman Jermaine Wattimena, whilst Peter Wright, a three-time finalist on the European Tour in 2016, meets the in-form Justin Pipe.
Fifth seed Kim Huybrechts faces former BDO number one James Wilson, whilst Dave Chisnall-twice a European Tour finalist this year, faces Austrian Darts Open semi-finalist Kyle Anderson. Jelle Klaasen completes the eight seeds and faces Phil Taylor’s World Grand Prix conqueror, Steve West.
Three-time Players Championship winner Benito van de Pas plays World-Youth champion Max Hopp, whilst talented youngsters Chris Dobey and Joe Cullen collide. Michael Smith and Stephen Bunting will contest an all-St Helens’ clash, whilst 2014 European Championship finalist Terry Jenkins meets Ian White.
Last year’s World Grand Prix winner Robert Thornton takes on Spanish star Cristo Reyes, with World Series wildcards Daryl Gurney and Gerwyn Price clashing. Elsewhere, former major finalist Mervyn King locks horns with South Africa’s number one Devon Petersen, and seven-time ranking winner Jamie Caven faces debutant James Richardson.
Schedule of Play
Friday October 28
Afternoon Session (1.45pm-6pm local time, 12.45pm-5pm UK time)
First Round x8
Jamie Caven v James Richardson
Daryl Gurney v Gerwyn Price
Chris Dobey v Joe Cullen
Ian White v Terry Jenkins
Cristo Reyes v Robert Thornton
Mervyn King v Devon Petersen
Michael Smith v Stephen Bunting
Max Hopp v Benito van de Pas
Evening Session (8pm-12am local time, 7pm-11pm UK time)
First Round x8
Jelle Klaasen (8) v Steve West
Kim Huybrechts (5) v James Wilson
Dave Chisnall (6) v Kyle Anderson
Mensur Suljovic (2) v Jermaine Wattimena
Peter Wright (3) v Justin Pipe
Alan Norris (7) v Phil Taylor
Michael van Gerwen (1) v Simon Whitlock
James Wade (4) v Gary Anderson