The wait is almost over for the PDC’s flagship event of the summer, with action getting underway in the 2018 BetVictor World Matchplay from 7 pm tonight.
It is the ultimate test of stamina and endurance across the leg format- with the champion required to win a minimum of 72 legs across 5 games in just 9 days.
A daunting task for the players who are used to competing over best-of 11 matches for the majority of the season.
Larry Butler remains the only man to win the World Matchplay at his 1st attempt- in the inaugural staging of the tournament back in 1994.
The incredible £500,000 prize fund on offer in 2018 presents a huge opportunity for the newcomers to take the next step forward in their careers.
In the final part of our player guide, we concentrate on the 6 debutants looking to do just that…
Jonny Clayton (200-1)
At 22nd, he is the highest ranked debutant this year and only one inside the world’s top 32 players.
After claiming his first Players Championship title last October, Clayton made the biggest impact of his career at the season-ending Players Championship Finals the following month.
There he defeated Jeffrey de Graaf, Gerwyn Price, Stephen Bunting, Steve Beaton and World Champion in waiting Rob Cross en route to his maiden Major final-coming up short of the grand prize against, whom else, but Michael van Gerwen.
Undeterred, ‘The Ferret’ has continued his fine form into 2018, rocketed up the world rankings and represented Wales at the World Cup of Darts for the first time.
Most impressively of all, the 43-year-old won in Austria on the European Tour in April, claiming more impressive scalps along the way and pipping World Cup teammate Price 8-5 in a surprise final.
How far can he go?
Despite having only held a tour card for 2 and a half years, Jonny has shown enough promise to think there’s no chance he will be returning to his previous life as a plasterer anytime soon.
Clayton faces Michael Smith in the last match on opening night, and ‘Bully Boy’ will need to bring his ‘A’ game in order to preserve his perfect 4-0 record against the Welshman.
It should be a close call, but if Jonny doesn’t progress at the Winter Gardens, he will have plenty of further chances to do so in the coming months- with qualification almost assured for most of the years remaining Major events.
Max Hopp (200-1)
The young starlet has stamped his authority as the undoubted German no.1 and carries his countries hope for Major PDC success- a position he is now used to.
Max realized his long-standing potential with a coming-of-age performance on home soil back in April.
The manner of his victory in the German Darts Masters confirmed that, at just 21 years of age, he has every chance of becoming a massive force in the game.
Stunning 3 figure checkouts secured last leg victories over Rob Cross in the semi-final and Michael Smith in the final, with Hopp incredibly nailing the bullseye on both occasions.
Subsequently, he captained Germany to the quarter-finals of the World Cup, showing great maturity in guiding his partner and fellow rising star Martin Schindler throughout the event.
How far can he go?
Disappointingly, Max has only produced in fits and starts on the Pro Tour since collecting the £25,000 winner’s cheque from Saarbrucken- the prize that ultimately secured his qualification for the Matchplay.
An 83% winning record against first-round opponent Ian White breeds hope for his legion of fans, although the last time the two butted heads White came out on top 6-2.
No doubt, ‘The Maximiser’ will have a bucketful of opportunities to win a major in his career, especially with how at ease he appears up on stage. This chance may have come too soon for him to grasp though.
Jeffrey de Zwaan (500-1)
Richard North and de Zwaan are the joint rank outsiders to taste victory in Blackpool.
One of the stories of 2018 so far, ‘The Black Cobra’ burst to life at the 4th UK Open qualifier- reaching the final just 3 weeks after regaining his tour card.
De Zwaan repeated his feat at the 4th Players Championship, before going one step further in Wigan on April 29th.
This was the 22 year-olds first senior title in the PDC and he now occupies the lofty position of 24th in the Pro Tour Order of Merit.
How far can he go?
The Dutchman’s 500-1 tournament odds are a direct reflection of his first-round adversary- World no.1 Michael van Gerwen.
However, memories of a seismic upset at the UK Open finals flood back…
Butlins, Minehead was the venue for the now infamous tournament played behind closed doors due to the treacherous weather conditions in the aftermath of Storm Emma.
It provided the stage for an unbelievable 10-8 victory for de Zwaan over his fellow countryman, sending MVG packing in the last-64 of a major tournament for the first time since the 2011 World Championships.
The two lock horns once more tomorrow night across the same best-of 19 format. So can history repeat itself?
The bookies have probably got this one spot-on. Michael will be out for revenge for that UK Open disaster and look to punish the youngster for daring to upstage him.
Jermaine Wattimena (200-1)
Wattimena is another up-and-coming Dutch star, emanating from their seemingly endless pool of talent.
The 30-year-old has been plying his trade on the PDC circuit since 2015 with modest success up to this point- but that’s not to say he hasn’t impressed along the way.
Aptly nicknamed ‘The Machine Gun’, his high tempo style can be mesmerizing when he’s firing on all cylinders, producing ‘blink or you’ll miss it’ 180s and lightning fast checkouts to boot.
Sadly, the speed of play can also lead to erratic performances from Jermaine, especially when the 1st dart thrown isn’t going exactly where he would like.
6 Players Championship semi-finals show what he is capable of when he hits top form.
The bad news is these are the sole latter stage appearances he has mustered in his career to date, attesting to his inconsistencies.
How far can he go?
The good news, however, is Wattimena last reached the semis just a month ago- on both the Saturday and Sunday of the doubleheader in Wigan.
In fact, things seem to be changing for Jermaine in 2018. He has been a regular qualifier for the European Tour events this season, guaranteeing him more prize money and, in turn, raising him up to 34th in the Order of Merit.
Now- on the cusp of a breakthrough into the elite top 32- the marathon of the Matchplay provides a perfect platform to test how far his game has improved in recent times.
And what better first-round opponent than Mr. Consistency himself- James Wade.
It’s hard to see Jermaine getting the better of a player who is totally at home in the Winter Gardens and seems rejuvenated at present. Whatever happens though, this can only be a positive experience for him going forward.
Steve Lennon (200-1)
The first time a player from the Republic of Ireland has qualified for the World Matchplay since Mick McGowan did so in 2006.
With a quiet and unassuming personality, Lennon has a growing reputation amongst his fellow professionals after climbing into the World’s top 50 barely 18 months since winning his Tour Card at 2017 Q-School.
Granted, it’s not a rise of Rob Cross proportions but we may never see the likes of that again.
The qualifier captured the attention of darts fans everywhere when he whitewashed BDO stalwart Jamie Hughes 5-0 (averaging 100.23) at the Grand Slam of Darts last November.
Just prior to his 24th birthday, Steve showed great composure and maturity during a 10-3 defeat to Michael van Gerwen in the last 16 and has grown in confidence ever since.
His finest outing so far came at the 2018 Dutch Darts Masters, where he defeated Mensur Suljovic and Kim Huybrechts to reach the final.
How far can he go?
Of all the debutants this year, Lennon has probably been handed the kindest draw and a genuine chance to get through to the second round.
He faces ‘The Demolition Man’ Darren Webster in the first match of Sunday’s afternoon session.
Certainly, Webster has enjoyed a stellar 18 months- creeping up to a career-high 14th in the rankings close to his 50th birthday.
Aside from reaching the quarter-finals of last year’s Matchplay and this year’s World Championship, though, his pedigree in Major tournaments isn’t what it could be for a man who has competed in the PDC since 2002.
These two should be more closely matched than the 34 places between them in the Order of Merit would have you believe. Might be a nervy tussle and Lennon could just nick this one.
Richard North (500-1)
The former Bricklayer gained his Tour Card at the same time as Lennon, enjoying a similar rise thereafter.
North reached 4 Players Championship quarter-finals in 2017 and was 1 leg away from securing his first PDC title at the 18th event in Barnsley last August.
Notably, he defeated Joe Cullen and Stephen Bunting before being edged out by Dave Chisnall 6-5 in the final.
But his best efforts since turning professional certainly came at the European Darts Open this March- taking out Gerwyn Price and Rob Cross on his way to a first European Tour semi-final.
As so often the case, Michael van Gerwen put paid to any further progress for the 28-year-old on that occasion with a 7-1 drubbing.
North was the final man to qualify for the Matchplay and was left to sweat right up until the cut-off point.
‘Mighty Mike’ came to his rescue this time by preventing William O’Connor from claiming an unlikely European Tour crown of his own in Germany on July 1st.
Had O’Connor picked up the £25,000 first prize he would have been heading for a Blackpool debut of his own.
How far can he go?
Relieved, and knowing he will pocket £7,000 even if he loses his first-round encounter, Richard should adopt a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude heading into his match with Simon Whitlock.
He has never before competed over the best-of 19 legs in competition, so Monday evenings clash with ‘The Wizard’ will cover new territory indeed.
It would be a huge surprise if North managed to topple the World no.7, but there is always an upset at the Matchplay!
Adrian Lewis, Michael van Gerwen, Dave Chisnall and Michael Smith all get their campaigns underway tonight from 7 pm!
Don’t miss a dart with comprehensive coverage of the entire 2018 BetVictor World Matchplay on Sky Sports and at PDCTV in HD.
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