Darts’ biggest-ever event kicks off on Thursday night, as the 2018/19 PDC World Championship gets underway at the Alexandra Palace. With a record £2.5 million prize fund on offer, along with an expanded 96-player field, it’s set to be the best World Championship yet.
Rob Cross will be defending his title that he clinched in fairytale fashion twelve months ago, but he faces a potential showdown with World Matchplay semi-finalist Jeffrey de Zwaan on the opening night.
Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson are the red-hot favourites with the bookmakers and they’re both targeting a third World Championship title, but the pair are seeded to collide in this year’s semi-finals.
Five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld will be making his 27th and penultimate World Championship appearance, whilst Lisa Ashton and Anastasia Dobromyslova are set to make history, as two female players feature in a PDC World Championship for the very first time.
As the fun and festivities at the Palace are about to get underway, I run the rule over this year’s favourites and some potential dark horses…
Michael van Gerwen will be the top seed at the Alexandra Palace for the fifth consecutive year and he’s an 11/8 favourite with title sponsor William Hill to lift his third world title. Nevertheless, whilst MvG has scooped 18 individual titles this year, his dominance in major televised events has wavered slightly.
‘The Green Machine’ has triumphed at the Masters, Premier League and World Grand Prix, but his return of three televised titles is his lowest since 2014- which indicates the strength-in-depth throughout world darts at present. Van Gerwen remains the rightful favourite, but he’s in the toughest quarter of this year’s draw.
Gary Anderson is highly-fancied by many to triumph at this year’s tournament. ‘The Flying Scotsman’ has enjoyed a trophy-laden 2018; winning maiden titles at the UK Open, World Matchplay and Champions League of Darts.
Anderson’s Matchplay triumph also saw him become the third player to win the coveted ‘triple crown’, following in the footsteps of Phil Taylor and Van Gerwen. The Scot loves this event; having made the final in three of the previous four years. He’s arguably in the best form of his career and as a result, it’ll take an incredible display to stop him.
Peter Wright is third favourite at 10/1 to lift his second PDC major title, but ‘Snakebite’ doesn’t enter the tournament in great form. The world number three has failed to reach the quarter-finals in any of his last five televised events- since succumbing to Van Gerwen in October’s World Grand Prix finale.
Wright is renowned for tinkering with his darts and as a result, he’s lacked consistency over recent months. Despite this, the Scot’s quality is undeniable and he’s in the wide-open bottom half of the draw, so he’ll be desperate to avenge last year’s disappointment, after he was dumped out in round-two by an inspired Jamie Lewis.
One player who’s been touted for a big run at this year’s tournament is Michael Smith. ‘Bully Boy’ has enjoyed a breakthrough 2018; reaching finals in both the Premier League and World Series of Darts Finals, and he pushed Van Gerwen extremely close in a Grand Slam of Darts classic last month.
Smith is a far more mature and dangerous proposition than the player who lost out in the quarter-finals back in 2016, and he’s also in the bottom half of the draw, which doesn’t contain the likes of Van Gerwen, Anderson, Daryl Gurney, Wade, Simon Whitlock, Adrian Lewis and Van Barneveld. He’s got every chance this year.
Defending champion Rob Cross is a 22/1 shot to retain his world title and ‘Voltage’ will be hoping that a return to the scene of his famous triumph will help him recapture his spark. Cross has only reached two ranking televised quarter-finals this season, although he insists he’s ‘practising like a dream’ in the lead up to the event.
The most recent major winners are both priced at 33/1 at the Ally Pally. Daryl Gurney claimed his second televised PDC title with a thrilling 11-9 win over Michael van Gerwen at the Players Championship Finals, while Gerwyn Price defeated Gary Anderson in a controversial clash to clinch his maiden PDC major at the Grand Slam of Darts.
Mensur Suljovic finds himself in the more favourable bottom half of the draw, and he’s fifth favourite at 22/1. ‘The Gentle’ has displayed incredible consistency in 2018; registering semi-final appearances at the Grand Prix, Grand Slam and Champions League of Darts, while also reaching the World Matchplay Final.
However, the Austrian has curiously never gone beyond the last 16 at the World Championship and he could face a showdown with Michael Smith for a place in the quarter-finals.
James Wade won back-to-back majors at the European Championship and World Series Finals, but is priced at 40/1 with William Hill. ‘The Machine’ may have to overcome Whitlock, Van Gerwen and Anderson to reach the final, and he’s in the same quarter of the draw as the three players who beat him in his three World Championship semi-finals.
Raymond van Barneveld announced his intention to retire from professional darts after the 2019/2020 World Championship, therefore this year represents one of his final opportunities to clinch a sixth world title. RvB has reached the semi-finals in four of his previous six Ally Pally appearances, but he’s a huge 80/1 shot to triumph this year.
That’s probably a reflection of the nightmare draw handed to Barney. If the Dutchman wins his opener, he could face Adrian Lewis in the last 32, Van Gerwen in the last 16, Wade or Whitlock in the quarter-finals and potentially Gary Anderson in the semi-finals. It doesn’t get much tougher, but the five-time world champion can never be written off.
Adrian Lewis, who could lock horns with Van Barneveld if both players win their opening ties, is a 66/1 shot with William Hill. ‘Jackpot’ has reached four Pro Tour finals in 2018 and he notoriously comes alive at the World Championship. Lewis or Van Barneveld could pose a genuine threat to MvG in the last 16.
Jeffrey de Zwaan kicks off the tournament against Indian qualifier Nitin Kumar and if he defeats the former World Cup of Darts representative, he’ll face world champion Rob Cross later that night. De Zwaan has claimed the scalp of Van Gerwen in two separate televised events in 2018; performing magnificently to reach the Matchplay semi-finals.
The young Dutchman also claimed his maiden PDC title in a Players Championship event earlier this year and having only regained his Tour-Card in January, it’s been an astonishing turn-around for ‘The Black Cobra’. He’s an 80/1 outsider but if he topples Cross on the opening night, those odds will be reduce significantly.
Krzysztof Ratajski represents interesting value at 200/1. ‘The Polish Eagle’ has incredibly won three PDC ranking titles in 2018, despite not holding a PDC Tour Card! He defeated Van Barneveld to reach the last 16 at the Grand Slam, before beating Gerwyn Price and Adrian Lewis in impressive fashion at the Players Championship Finals.
The former World Masters champion faces Japan’s World Cup star Seigo Asada in an eye-catching first-round tie, with the winner set to take on James Wade. However, it’s a huge banana skin for Wade and Ratajski certainly has the game and composure to trouble the nine-time major winner.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig & Kelly Deckers/PDC