The 2019 World Matchplay gets underway at the iconic Winter Gardens on Saturday evening, with defending champion Gary Anderson headlining the opening night in Blackpool.
Ahead of one of the biggest events on the darting calendar, I caught up with PDC major winner and pundit Paul Nicholson to preview the action from the Winter Gardens and ‘The Asset’ believes this year’s event could be the most captivating in recent memory.
The Betfred World Matchplay gets underway at the Winter Gardens on July 20th, as Gary Anderson bids to retain the crown he memorably claimed twelve months ago. Michael van Gerwen is aiming to win his third title in Blackpool, with former champion James Wade also among the favourites.
The Matchplay always proves to be one of the highlights of the darting calendar and ahead of the tournament, we’ve picked out five stand-out ties.
Adrian Lewis vs Glen Durrant
Two former world champions will collide in the opening round at the Winter Gardens, as Adrian Lewis takes on three-time Lakeside champion Glen Durrant. The pair have already met three times on the Pro Tour circuit in 2019, with ‘Jackpot’ winning two of those contests.
However, this could be a decisive tournament in the context of Lewis’ season. The Stoke-on-Trent star reached the semi-finals here two years ago and as a consequence he’s defending £30,000 in prize money, therefore an early exit could see him relinquish his top 16 status.
Durrant is appearing in just his second televised major as a PDC Tour Card holder and with two Players Championship titles under his belt already this season, he’ll be confident of claiming another major scalp. For the winner it won’t get any easier however, as Michael van Gerwen could await in the second round.
Michael Smith vs Jamie Hughes
Jamie Hughes secured his World Matchplay debut in last-gasp fashion, after winning the Czech Darts Open crown in the final event before the cut-off. His reward is a tie against World Championship finalist Michael Smith, which will take place on Sunday afternoon.
Since earning his PDC Tour Card in January, Hughes has posted a multitude of stunning averages with little reward. His yearly average is an impressive 96.79, with only Van Gerwen, Rob Cross, Gerwyn Price, Durrant, Ian White and Peter Wright boasting a higher average across the entire circuit.
Smith endured a disappointing Premier League campaign following on from a superb World Championship, but he’s still reached a UK Open semi-final and enjoyed a run to the final of last week’s US Masters. Missed doubles have cost ‘Bully Boy’ in 2019 but we can expect fireworks in a match containing two of the biggest scorers in the game.
James Wade vs Jeffrey de Zwaan
Jeffrey de Zwaan rose to prominence courtesy of his run to the Matchplay semi-finals 12 months ago, where he defeated Van Gerwen, Lewis and Dave Chisnall before succumbing to eventual champion Gary Anderson. However, the Dutchman will be forced to do it the hard way again in 2019.
Wade’s solitary Matchplay triumph came back in 2007 but he’s also reached the final on five separate occasions, losing four times to Phil Taylor and once to Van Gerwen in 2015. He’s only won a single game at the Winter Gardens over the last three years, but he’s arguably in the form of his career.
Since winning back-to-back PDC majors last Autumn, Wade has already scooped four ranking titles in 2019 and won of those triumphs saw him beat De Zwaan in a Pro Tour final. ‘The Machine’ has won all four of his previous meetings against the young Dutchman, but De Zwaan has already proven that he’s not fazed by reputations.
Gerwyn Price vs Stephen Bunting
Gerwyn Price has gone from strength-to-strength since sealing Grand Slam glory last November and ‘The Iceman’ is now universally regarded as one of the world’s best. He’s never gone beyond the quarter-finals in Blackpool but this may be his best opportunity yet.
Peter Wright is the only player in the bottom half of the draw to have reached a World Matchplay final and Price’s 2019 average of 98.46 is only bettered by the world’s top two. The Welshman could face Cross in the last eight and the winner of that potential clash would be highly fancied to reach the final.
However, Price faces a tough opener against a rejuvenated Stephen Bunting. The former Lakeside champion has reached two ranking finals over the last two months – just falling short of a third PDC title at the Czech Darts Open less than a fortnight ago. Both men are in form and proven winners; this has all the ingredients of being a belter.
Daryl Gurney vs Ricky Evans
The penultimate game of the opening round should be an entertaining affair and that’s just the walk-ons. Daryl Gurney’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ is one of the most popular amongst the fans and Ricky Evans has revealed via social media that he’ll be walking on to YMCA. That will be a sight to behold!
In terms of the contest itself, that also promises to be intriguing. The pair have met seven times and perhaps surprisingly, Evans edges the head-to-head record 4-3. However, Gurney did win their most recent showdown; prevailing 8-6 in the final of March’s German Darts Championship.
The Northern Irishman is one of the most consistent performers on the PDC Tour – evidenced by his World No 3 ranking. Nevertheless, Evans was the second highest qualifier via the Pro Tour Order of Merit which underlines his vast improvement. He’s got big match pedigree and he certainly possesses the scoring power to trouble ‘Super Chin’.
2019 Betfred World Matchplay Draw Bracket (1) Michael van Gerwen v Steve Beaton (16) Adrian Lewis v Glen Durrant (8) James Wade v Jeffrey de Zwaan (9) Mensur Suljovic v Jermaine Wattimena (5) Michael Smith v Jamie Hughes (12) Dave Chisnall v Max Hopp (4) Gary Anderson v Danny Noppert (13) Nathan Aspinall v Mervyn King (2) Rob Cross v Chris Dobey (15) Darren Webster v Krzysztof Ratajski (7) Gerwyn Price v Stephen Bunting (10) Ian White v Joe Cullen (6) Peter Wright v Vincent van der Voort (11) Simon Whitlock v John Henderson (3) Daryl Gurney v Ricky Evans (14) Jonny Clayton v Keegan Brown
2019 Betfred World Matchplay Schedule of Play Saturday July 20 (1900 BST) First Round Nathan Aspinall v Mervyn King Gerwyn Price v Stephen Bunting Gary Anderson v Danny Noppert Rob Cross v Chris Dobey
Sunday July 21 (1300 BST) First Round Darren Webster v Krzysztof Ratajski Dave Chisnall v Max Hopp Ian White v Joe Cullen Michael Smith v Jamie Hughes
Evening Session (1930 BST) First Round James Wade v Jeffrey de Zwaan Mensur Suljovic v Jermaine Wattimena Michael van Gerwen v Steve Beaton Adrian Lewis v Glen Durrant
Monday July 22 (1900 BST) First Round Jonny Clayton v Keegan Brown Simon Whitlock v John Henderson Daryl Gurney v Ricky Evans Peter Wright v Vincent van der Voort
Tuesday July 23 (1900 BST) Second Round Smith/Hughes v Chisnall/Hopp Wade/De Zwaan v Suljovic/Wattimena Anderson/Noppert v Aspinall/King Van Gerwen/Beaton v Lewis/Durrant
Wednesday July 24 (1900 BST) Second Round Gurney/Evans v Clayton/Brown Price/Bunting v White/Cullen Cross/Dobey v Webster/Ratajski Wright/Van der Voort v Whitlock/Henderson