The 2018 BetVictor World Matchplay gets underway at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool in just under a fortnight’s time. Josh’s Dartistry picks out four of the most intriguing first-round ties and runs the rule over the respective tussles….
Gary Anderson v Stephen Bunting
Two world champions collide at the Winter Gardens, as Gary Anderson takes on Stephen Bunting in arguably the tie of the first-round. Anderson has enjoyed an impressive 2018 so far and added the U.S Masters title to his collection over the weekend, reeling off seven straight legs against Rob Cross to seal his sixth World Series crown.
However, Stephen Bunting has also shown clear signs of improvement after a difficult 18 months. ‘The Bullet’ revealed earlier this year that he seriously considered quitting the game last year after a torrid run of form, but the St Helen’s star is now in much better spirits and feels like he’s coming back to his best.
However, the most remarkable statistic involving these two players is that they haven’t met in competition since October 2015! Their last televised meeting came in the 2015 Premier League, but Bunting will take some encouragement from the fact he’s won four of his 10 clashes against ‘The Flying Scotsman’.
Neither player has the best of records in Blackpool. Anderson is yet to reach a Matchplay final, having reached the semi-finals in both 2014 and 2016. Meanwhile, Bunting has only won one match at the Winter Gardens en route to progressing to the last 16 in 2014. Could he double his tally with victory over the fourth seed?
Raymond van Barneveld v Kyle Anderson
Raymond van Barneveld will be back in competitive action for the first time in six weeks as he takes on Kyle Anderson in the first-round in Blackpool. Van Barneveld’s last outing saw him lift a fourth World Cup of Darts title for the Netherlands alongside Michael van Gerwen, but RvB has since been taking some time off in America.
Yet in the shape of Kyle Anderson, Barney faces a very difficult first-round assignment. ‘The Original’ endured a sluggish start to the season after suffering with a complex eye condition, but he performed well to lead Australia to the World Cup semi-finals and reached the Dutch Darts Masters quarter-finals back in May.
There’s little to separate the pair in terms of their head-to-head record. Van Barneveld just has the edge with six wins to Anderson’s five, but the five-time world champion has won each of the last four meetings, including ties at last year’s World Grand Prix and World Championship.
Nevertheless, the Winter Gardens hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for the legendary Dutchman. Since reaching the final back in 2010, he’s failed to go beyond the second-round since 2011, winning just one match here in the last three years. However, Kyle’s best Blackpool showing only saw him reach the last 16 two years ago.
Michael van Gerwen v Jeffrey de Zwaan
Jeffrey de Zwaan can expect a baptism of fire when he makes his World Matchplay debut against world number one Michael van Gerwen later this month. ‘The Green Machine’ will be bidding for a fourth Matchplay title and has a score to settle with his younger compatriot.
De Zwaan stunned MvG 10-8 at this year’s UK Open in March, to end Van Gerwen’s extraordinary 77-match unbeaten run on ITV4, stretching back to the 2014 Players Championship Finals. It was Jeffrey’s first win over ‘Mighty Mike’, and the two-time world champion will be intent on making it the last.
However, De Zwaan continues to be dealt very unfortunate draws in major TV tournaments. He faced Van Gerwen in this year’s UK Open, Daryl Gurney in the first-round of last year’s Players Championship Finals, whilst he was drawn in the Group of Death with Stephen Bunting, Dave Chisnall and Scott Mitchell at the 2017 Grand Slam.
Van Gerwen has already claimed 15 titles this season alone, as he looks to eclipse his record set back in 2016. The Dutchman has triumphed in the Masters, Premier League and World Cup of Darts this year- is a fourth World Matchplay the latest title set to be added to MvG’s ever-growing cabinet?
Mensur Suljovic v Steve Beaton
Mensur Suljovic is one of the most consistent campaigners on tour, and he’ll be bidding to reach a third World Matchplay quarter-final in four years later this month. Nevertheless, in order to do so he’ll have to overcome his ultimate nemesis- the ever-green Steve Beaton.
Beaton, who is remarkably competing in his 19th consecutive World Matchplay, boasts an extraordinary record against ‘The Gentle’. They have met on eight separate occasions, with Beaton winning all eight tussles- the most recent clash coming at last September’s Dutch Darts Masters.
Since suffering elimination on his Premier League debut, Suljovic has bounced back superbly; winning the German Darts Masters, before more recently claiming the inaugural Danish Darts Open title in Copenhagen.
However, Beaton also enters this tournament in fine form. ‘The Bronzed Adonis’ recorded back-to-back semi-final appearances in a Players Championship double-header in Barnsley at the end of June, and he’ll be hoping to maintain his perfect record against the enigmatic Austrian at the Winter Gardens.
Photo Credits: Lawrence Lustig/PDC