With the 2018 BetVictor World Matchplay just 12 days away, it’s time to take a closer look at some of the competitors who will battle it out on the iconic Winter Gardens stage in Blackpool.
For the first time, the champion will receive the Phil Taylor Trophy, which was renamed in his honour following his retirement from the sport in January this year.
‘The Power’ dominated what was his favourite event, winning an astonishing 16 Matchplay crowns across his unparalleled career, including last year’s tournament.
Who will step up and lead the post-Taylor era of this prestigious event as its new champion?
In Part 1 of our player guide, we chronicle the tournament favourites…
Michael van Gerwen (8/11 Favourite)
Undoubtedly, he is the favourite to succeed Taylor and claim a 3rd World Matchplay crown.
The World No.1 has been in scintillating form in 2018, scooping up 15 PDC titles, including the Premier League and 6 European Tour events. Remarkably, he stands over £1 million clear at the top of the Order of Merit.
This will be MVG’s 10th appearance at the Winter Gardens, since debuting as a teenager way back in 2007.
‘Mighty Mike’ stormed to back-to-back victories in 2015 and 2016, defeating Taylor comfortably 18-10 in the final of the latter.
However, he was famously reduced to tears by ‘The Power’ in the 2014 final, and will be glad to see the back of the man who also dumped him out emphatically (16-6) at the quarter-final stage last year.
How far can he go?
With Taylor now occupying a seat in the Sky Sports studio as a pundit this time around, most expect van Gerwen to stampede through the field on his way to glory.
But, the No.1 seed faces a very difficult route to the final and opens up against fellow Dutchman Jeffrey de Zwaan.
‘The Black Cobra’ shocked everybody at the UK Open in March, toppling van Gerwen in the Round of 64.
Assuming MVG gains revenge over de Zwaan, he faces the prospect of a meeting with resurgent former Double World Champion Adrian Lewis in Round 2.
Premier League finalist Michael Smith, arch rival Gary Anderson and World Cup winning teammate Raymond van Barneveld also lurk as genuine roadblocks before a final in which van Gerwen would seek a 32nd Major PDC title.
As great as he is, van Gerwen is not infallible and the tough nature of the draw could see him drawn into a lot of close encounters. He could run out of steam and slip up here.
Gary Anderson (6-1)
Second favourite with the tournament sponsors is 2018 UK Open Champion and World No.4 Gary Anderson.
‘The Flying Scotsman’ has chalked up 5 ranking titles so far this calendar year with his most recent coming this past weekend in Las Vegas.
Only half way through the season, this is already Anderson’s most successful campaign on tour since 2014 where he secured 8 titles all told.
His UK Open victory in March heralded a 1st Major triumph since his World Championship victory in 2016.
Historically, this has not been Gary’s most profitable event. Only 2 semi-final appearances- flanked by 7 failures to progress past the second-round- suggest the 47 year-old Scot isn’t entirely at home in Blackpool.
He bowed out to Daryl Gurney in 2017, albeit averaging north of 105 in the process.
How far can he go?
All the way- Gary is unfazed by previous records, his red-hot form should give him a great chance and this could be his year.
He should have too much for 1st-round opponent Stephen Bunting, and will grow in confidence as the tournament format lengthens in the subsequent rounds.
Seemingly on a collision course for a spectacular semi-final showdown against van Gerwen, Anderson will believe this could be the time he joins MVG and Taylor as the 3rd man to win World, Premier League and Matchplay titles in their careers.
Anderson seems to have the bit between his teeth in 2018, managing his schedule to perfection and peeking for the big occasions. He is the one man who truly worries van Gerwen and will surely add this title to his C.V sooner rather than later.
Rob Cross (6-1)
The World Champion will attempt to win a second Major title in his burgeoning career.
Cross hasn’t hit the heights that saw him dismantle Phil Taylor in the World Final at Ally Pally on New Year’s Day.
But, there are signs that ‘Voltage’ is ready to have another deep run in a Major tournament.
He reached the play-offs at the O2 in his debut Premier League campaign and appears to have adjusted to the intense media furore that has surrounded him since becoming World Champion.
A recent lifestyle change- in a bid to garner more energy for the endless run of tournaments- has paid dividends with Rob picking up his 1st PDC Pro Tour title of the year in Wigan last month.
Cross made his debut in Blackpool last year, qualifying despite only having held his tour card for 6 months at the time. It was an early indicator of the meteoric rise that was about to follow.
He knocked out Ian White 10-7 in round 1, before succumbing to ‘Jackpot’ Adrian Lewis 11-8 in a phenomenal second-round affair, with Cross averaging in excess of 104 in defeat.
How far can he go?
Having rocketed up to No.3 in the World Rankings, the 27 year-old finds himself in what’s considered the ‘easier’ bottom-half of the draw.
Rob will believe he has a great shot at winning this tournament. If he can avoid a potential early banana skin against wily in-form veteran Mervyn King, expect Cross to be a serious contender for the title.
Cross has no fear of the unknown and truly relishes the chance to compete in these prestigious tournaments. His form is good and it will be difficult for anybody to stop him reaching the final if he gets past a tricky opener.
Peter Wright (10-1)
Bookies believe Peter Wright has a good chance of going one step further that he managed in 2017, where Taylor put a stop to his party in the final.
Wright has been as consistent as ever on tour in 2018- reaching 4 finals, 5 semi-finals and 4 quarter-finals in ranking events.
He only has 1 title to his name though, in stark contrast to the 9 he had accumulated by this point last year.
Notably, ‘Snakebite’ reached last year’s final without facing a single seeded opponent. Though still a great achievement, he was no match for an inspired Phil Taylor in the final.
Prior to this, Wright was downed by Adrian Lewis in the 2016 quarter-final and van Gerwen at the semi-final stage in 2015. When Wright loses in a major tournament, it is invariably to a top-class player.
How far can he go?
Peter will always be a huge threat to win major tournaments, but it could all depend on which darts he chooses to play with come the 21st of July.
The first two rounds should be plain sailing for the World No.2. Jelle Klaasen has struggled all season to get over his wrist injury and results have been hard to come by for the former Lakeside Champion. But harder tests lie ahead for Wright and constant tinkering with his setup could harm his consistency over the longer format and see him come unstuck.
Peter was riding the crest of a wave in 2017 but hasn’t performed as well so far this year. James Wade and Simon Whitlock could be well positioned to take down ‘Snakebite’ if he continues to change his equipment.
The 2018 BetVictor World Matchplay commences on Saturday 21st July, with live coverage of every session on Sky Sports right through until the final on Sunday 29th July.
2018 BetVictor World Matchplay
Schedule of Play
Saturday July 21 (7pm)
Adrian Lewis v James Wilson
Dave Chisnall v Keegan Brown
Michael van Gerwen v Jeffrey de Zwaan
Michael Smith v Jonny Clayton
Sunday July 22
Afternoon Session (1pm)
Darren Webster v Steve Lennon
Ian White v Max Hopp
Gerwyn Price v Joe Cullen
Daryl Gurney v Steve West
Evening Session (7.30pm)
Mensur Suljovic v Steve Beaton
Gary Anderson v Stephen Bunting
Rob Cross v Mervyn King
Raymond van Barneveld v Kyle Anderson
Monday July 23 (7pm)
Kim Huybrechts v John Henderson
Simon Whitlock v Richard North
James Wade v Jermaine Wattimena
Peter Wright v Jelle Klaasen
Tuesday July 24 (7pm)
Chisnall/Brown v Smith/Clayton
Gurney/West v Price/Cullen
Van Gerwen/De Zwaan v Lewis/Wilson
G Anderson/Bunting v Van Barneveld/K Anderson
Wednesday July 25 (7pm)
Whitlock/North v Wade/Wattimena
Suljovic/Beaton v White/Hopp
Cross/King v Webster/Lennon
Wright/Klaasen v Huybrechts/Henderson
Thursday July 26 (7pm)
Friday July 27 (7pm)
Saturday July 28 (7pm)
Sunday July 29 (7pm)
First Round – Best of 19 legs
Second Round – Best of 25 legs
Quarter-Finals – Best of 31 legs
Semi-Finals – Best of 33 legs
Final – Best of 35 legs
Winner – £115,000
Runner-Up – £55,000
Semi-Finalists – £30,000
Quarter-Finalists – £17,500
Second Round Losers – £11,000
First Round Losers – £7,000
Total – £500,000