There are just 5 days remaining until the biggest darting event of the summer, as the 2018 BetVictor World Matchplay returns to the iconic Winter Gardens venue in Blackpool.
A star-studded 32-man field will descend upon the Lancashire coastal resort, harbouring ambitions of lifting The Phil Taylor Trophy and following in the footsteps of the 16-time Matchplay king.
In part 3 of our player guide, we take a closer look at the outsiders capable of upsetting the apple cart in 2018…
Adrian Lewis (40-1)
In any previous year, Lewis would have been considered one of the favourites to triumph in Blackpool.
The former back-to-back champion of the world endured a miserable 2017 culminating in a drop down from 4th to 20th in the world rankings. In turn, this led to his absence from the 2018 Masters and Premier League events for the first time in his career.
Defiantly, Lewis has worked his socks off and clawed his way back to the top table of the sport. For the first time in years, ‘Jackpot’ hasn’t skipped a single Pro Tour weekend and has participated in far more European Tour events this season as well.
Deservedly, his dedication has yielded 3 finals and 4 semi-finals in ranking tournaments to this point in 2018, moving him back into the elite top-16 in the Order of Merit.
Adrian has a storied history in the Matchplay- an event which, incredibly, he has never won but has often threatened to do so.
Halted in the semi-finals the past two years by eventual champions Michael van Gerwen and Phil Taylor, the mercurially talented 33-year-old has mustered 2 further semi-final appearances and 4 quarter-finals across his unbroken 13 appearances at the Winter Gardens.
Undeniably, 2013 was the golden year for Lewis in Blackpool. He stormed through the field, defeating MVG in an epic last-4 encounter to set-up a dream final against his former mentor Taylor.
Here, fans bore witness to one of the greatest matches in PDC history, as Lewis piled in a record 19 180’s to put the pressure on Taylor. Ultimately he would fall short of glory, succumbing 18-13 to Phil’s unbelievable 111.23 average- still a record for a World Matchplay final.
How far can he go?
Despite 2 World Titles, a UK Open and European Championship crown on his C.V, many believe Lewis has underachieved in his career to date.
He is the first in action this year- facing former BDO no.1 James Wilson at 7pm on Saturday night. Victory provides another potential showdown with van Gerwen in round 2.
Their most recent meeting came in the Gibraltar Darts Trophy final last month, with ‘Mighty Mike’ running out a comfortable 8-3 winner to deny Adrian a first PDC title in over a year.
Lewis will be gunning for revenge and, such is his ability, could be the man to dump out the tournament favourite.
Only 5 players have beaten van Gerwen more times than the rapid-fire Englishman. On the other hand, the last time he got the better of the World no.1 over a longer format was that aforementioned 2013 Matchplay semi-final.
Joe Cullen (125-1)
With 10 years of experience on the PDC circuit under his belt, Cullen is on the verge of a breakthrough into the World’s top 16 for the first time.
Odds of 125-1 from the tournament sponsors confirm that Cullen’s steady improvement over the last 18-months has gone somewhat under the radar.
Joe has quietly gone about his business this year after snatching his first 2 Pro Tour titles in 2017.
Those results helped to elevate his Pro Tour ranking considerably, making him an ever-present seed at all European Tour events on the 2018 calendar.
Mainly, consistency was the issue for a player that has always been super talented but taken longer than expected to start fulfilling his potential.
‘The Rockstar’ has maximised his opportunity to gain valuable stage experience and picked up numerous victories in Europe along the way- 5 quarter-finals and 1 semi-final attest to that.
Cullen qualified just once in his first 8 seasons as a professional but 2018 will be his 3rd consecutive appearance at the event.
He is yet to win a match on the Blackpool stage, losing 10-4 to Justin Pipe on debut in 2012, 10-5 to Peter Wright in 2016 and 10-8 last year to Raymond van Barneveld- despite recording a higher average than the big Dutchman.
In fact, Cullen’s run to the quarter-finals at the UK Open 2 years ago is the only time he’s achieved that feat in any PDC Major tournament.
How far can he go?
That said, the 29-year-old from Bradford is certainly on an upward trajectory in his career and, if he can find his rhythm in front of the capacity crowds, could prove to be a spoiler for 12th seed Gerwyn Price when they meet on Sunday afternoon.
Price sits only 6 places higher than Joe in the Order of Merit and after a difficult Premier League campaign- where he finished bottom of the table- he ruptured his Achilles tendon in a freak accident whilst out running.
Cullen will fancy his chances of beating the ailing Welshman and progressing to a second-round meeting with either Daryl Gurney or Steve West.
He holds 5-3 and 6-2 win-loss records against each man respectively.
It could finally be time for the ‘Rockstar’ to wow his fans with a long overdue on-stage performance.
Ian White (100-1)
Ranked as high as 11th in the world, 47-year-old White should be a serious threat for all major titles but has yet to make his name on the big stage.
Since 2013 only Michael van Gerwen, Gary Anderson, Peter Wright and Phil Taylor have won more PDC Ranking Titles than Ian White.
Furthermore, he has won the 4th highest prize money on the Pro Tour across the same time period.
With 2 Players Championship titles to his name in 2018, ‘Diamond’ has proved once more that he is one of the very best floor tournament players in the world. For whatever reason, he has found it hard to transition from the floor to the big stage and has never progressed past the quarter-finals of a Major.
White’s best showing at the Winter Gardens came 3 years ago, knocking out Stephen Bunting and Simon Whitlock before losing narrowly to van Gerwen 16-13 in the last-8.
His Pro Tour prowess has meant guaranteed qualification for almost every TV event over the past few years, including the last 6 World Matchplays.
That sole quarter-final loss to MVG was sandwiched by 4 second-round defeats and an even earlier exit last year at the hands of Rob Cross.
How far can he go?
If Ian continues to carve out the chances for himself it is inevitable he will eventually take one and have a run to the latter stages on T.V.
First up for him this year is young German sensation Max hopp who claimed the biggest victory of his career so far at the German Darts Open in April.
Since then, Max has struggled to make a further impact on tour and, aside from some good showings at the World Cup of Darts, seems to have dipped slightly off the top of his form.
Expect White to overcome Hopp on this occasion and give himself another shot at reaching a Major quarter-final.
Mensur Suljovic is the likely second-round opponent- a man who has turfed ‘Diamond’ out of the last 3 Premier events in which they’ve clashed. It would be an almighty tussle and could go either way.
Mervyn King (200-1)
The former World Master is a 5-time PDC Major finalist and has reached at least the semi-final of every PDC Premier event- an enviable record indeed.
Oche veteran Mervyn King won Players Championship 15 just over 3 weeks ago. He defeated James Wade to lift his first ranking title in 4 years, dispelling any thoughts that the 52-year-old might be coming to the end of his illustrious career.
It was an unexpected victory for ‘The King’, who had slipped down to 21st in the rankings over the previous months.
Speaking after, Mervyn admitted it was a massive day for him and claimed there was a bit more left in the tank for the coming months.
King has been an ever-present at the World Matchplay since switching codes from the BDO in 2007.
He reached the quarter-finals on debut, before his best run to the semis in 2009 where he was crushed by the unstoppable Phil Taylor 17-6.
Thereafter, he suffered 6 first-round exits in the next 8 attempts including last year when Dave Chisnall got the better of him 10-7.
But in 2016, King upset James Wade in round 1, took out Brendan Dolan and pushed Taylor to the limit in an enthralling quarter-final which ended 16-14 in favour of ‘The Power’.
How far can he go?
He may have missed his best chance of claiming a Major PDC crown- notably against James Wade in the 2014 Masters final where he led 9-2 and 10-6 in a race to 11 legs- but on his day King remains a real danger to anybody in the world.
Over his 24 year professional career he has seen everything, defeated nearly everybody at one point or another, and Rob Cross will need to have his wits about him when the two square off on Sunday night.
If Mervyn replicates the form he’s shown in recent weeks and upsets the World Champion the draw could open up very nicely for him…
In what could be the tie of the first-round, expect the wily Englishman to use all his nous and experience to push Cross all the way. Can he roll back the years to shock the World Champion? It wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if he did.
Find out who will prevail as Sky Sports and PDCTV present live coverage of every dart thrown across the 9 days of action!
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 21 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