The stars of PDC darts take centre for 7 days in Dublin for 14th staging of World Grand Prix, a unique tournament where players must start on a double. The double start format can lead to there being one sided legs it can also make it very difficult for players who are struggling on the doubles to get a foothold in the match, particularly in the 1st round when the format is best of 3 sets.
Unsurprisingly one man has dominated this tournament since it’s inception in 1998, Phil Taylor has won the event 10 times and has never lost when he has reached the final. Three of the four occasions that he has failed to win the tournament have been first round exits which backs up the sentiment that the first round in this event can produce more the average amount of surprise results. This year’s first round matches illustrate the depth of talent within the PDC ranks with a number of evenly contests and one that wouldn’t look out of place as a quarter or semi final. With that in mind, I’ll preview each of the opening round matches.
Phil Taylor Vs Michael Smith
Taylor has been written off as on the decline a number of times in the last 5 years but the fact is that he is still the best player in the world of darts. He will start as a big favourite to win this match and also the tournament as a whole, it will take a monumental effort by Michael Smith to get the better of The Power on Monday. Smith has recorded a victory on the Pro Tour this year but his two TV appearances this year have resulted in first round exits in the UK Open to Darren Webster and in the World Matchplay to Raymond Van Barneveld. That record added to a weakness on the doubles means it is very unlikely that Smith will upset the odds in this and I expect Taylor to win 2-0 and possibly not to lose a leg.
Mark Walsh Vs Robert Thornton
I have to admit that this is one of the least attractive of the first round matches in my opinion. Thornton produced a spectacular return to form when winning the UK Open in June, sadly it’s been short lived as he was whitewashed by Adrian Lewis in the first round of the World Matchplay and this is first TV event since that defeat as he didn’t qualify for the European Championship. I am personally surprised that Walsh has not progressed beyond the second round in this event as I feel the format should suit his consistency, and I expect him to progress to the second round once again this year, in probability with a 2-1 victory.
Terry Jenkins Vs Mervyn King
For me this is the pick of the first round matches, both players will have a point to prove after early exits at the recent European Championship and King in particular will be hoping for a big week as he attempts to move up the PDC Order Of Merit. Jenkins produced a superb run to reach the Semis of the World Matchplay and on that form will be very tough to beat. King has had a barren run in TV events this year but all three of his exits have been in tight encounters and he is still a feared opponent on the circuit. I think King will come out on top of this contest 2-1.
Dean Winstanley Vs Dave Chisnall
Winstanley has successfully made the move from BDO to PDC and is working his way up the Order Of Merit, his current rank of 56th is sure to improve and I truly believe he is destined to win TV titles, and the same can be said for Chisnall who is such a prolific scorer but gets let down at times on the double. This all makes for a mouth watering class and it is a match that can go either way particularly where Chisnall’s scoring power could quite easily blow Winstanley away but I feel his doubling is still very suspect and will cost him here as Winstanley can secure a second round place with a 2-0 victory.
Simon Whitlock Vs Justin Pipe
Whitlock secured his first PDC Major event win last month in the European Championship and he has big plans for the future judged by his stated ambitions to become World Champion and World No 1. He clearly has the game and his performance in TV Events this year has been impressive so he could be a big danger this week. Pipe will not be an easy opponent to overcome though, he has superb floor form and has won 5 Pro Tour events in the past year. He has yet to transfer that form into a sustained run in a TV event and will have his work cut out against a confident Whitlock who I believe will register a 2-1 victory.
Kevin Painter Vs Kim Huybrechts
Huybrechts is another player who I think will win TV events in the near future and his form this year leads to fear for Painter in this match. Whereas Painter has struggled in the TV Events, Huybrechts has reached the Semi Final of the European Championship, reached the last 16 of the UK Open, and went out to eventual World Matchplay Semi Finalist in Blackpool. Painter gave a decent account of himself in the Premier League but in general has struggled since his Players Championship win last December where frankly he didn’t actually play that well. I think this will be as one-sided as the form book suggests and Huybrechts will be comfortable 2-0 winner.
Gary Anderson Vs Brendan Dolan
Brendan Dolan enjoyed a superb week in this event last year, becoming the first player to hit a televised nine-darter with a double start and also the first Irish player to reach a PDC TV event. He had not enjoyed himself the TV events since until last month’s European Championship when he reached the Semis knocking out Phil Taylor in the process. Gary Anderson has had a tough time on and off the oche since being routed by Simon Whitlock 5-1 in World Championship quarter finals, he finished bottom of the league in a campaign overshadowed by the loss of his father. Since then he has early exits from both the TV events, had eye problems and sat out the recent European Championship due to suspension. He couldn’t have got a tougher draw and will need to avoid any double trouble if he is to win, I don’t think he will and Dolan will win 2-0.
Vincent Van Der Voort Vs William O’Connor
One of the fastest players on tour, Van Der Voort’s position in the top 16 is under serious threat with a number of players performing better than him TV events immediately below him, he has not got beyond the second round . He has had a favourable draw in facing O’Connor who has limited TV event experience with only 2 single tournament appearances as well as two World Cup appearances. Van Der Voort’s pace of play could unsettle O’Connor especially if struggles early on, and with that in mind I don’t foresee home success for O’Connor and predict a swift 2-0 victory for Van Der Voort.
Adrian Lewis Vs Richie Burnett
2012 started so well for Lewis with a New Years Day semi final comeback in the World Championship en route to retaining the title. Since then he has not performed to his expectations, failing to reach the Premier League play offs, and has failed to get past the last 8 in any of his 3 TV events since. He faces an important 3 month period as he not only looks to build momentum towards his World Championship defence, but also seeks to maintain his No 2 ranking in the Order Of Merit as he defends £240,000 in this event and the World Championship. He should beat Burnett easily 2-0 but with Lewis at the moment you just don’t know for certain.
Michael Van Gerwen Vs Colin Lloyd
Van Gerwen has always been considered the next superstar of PDC darts, he won the BDO masters at 17yo and while he has taken time to develop that raw potential there are genuine signs he is starting to fulfil the promise he showed as a teenager. He has won three times in floor events and reached the last 8 of a TV event at Blackpool for the first time in the PDC. Lloyd had looked to be on a downward slide after battling with his form throughout 2011 but has bounced to win his first tournament in 2 years. Van Gerwen has a superb opportunity in this tournament to make his mark in a serious way and should beat Lloyd en route to that 2-0.
Andy Hamilton Vs Mark Webster
Another closely matched encounter with just two places separating them in the Order Of Merit. Though it must be said that they are different paths at moment with Hamilton raising up the rankings and Webster struggling to maintain his form from 2011. Webster needs a pick up in fortunes and he will be forced to produce his best if he is get past the consistent Hamilton. He does have good tournament form with 2 quarter final appearances in the past 3 years, but Hamilton reached the Semi’s here in 2009. It is a really tough match to call but I just feel Hamilton’s will be too much for Webster and he’ll win 2-1.
Andy Smith Vs Steve Beaton
Andy Smith managed to reach to second round of the World Matchplay for the first time but that has been one of the few highlights in a tough 2012 for the Pie Man. He has struggled to string together good performances, his UK Open performance being an illustration of that when he looked against strong Scott Rand when winning 9-6 but then left himself too much to do against Priestley by falling 8-4 down despite forcing a decider. Beaton has been in the wilderness this year in terms of TV events, he failed to get through the preliminary round of the UK Open but has shown enough form on the floor to earn his place here. Smith does struggle on his doubles and this will make it tough for him against Beaton who is strong in this area and should battle to a 2-1 win.
Wes Newton Vs Ronnie Baxter
Both players are in good form with Baxter winning his group in the Championship League recently, and Newton was runner up at the European Championship. Baxter reached the Semis in Blackpool which was his best TV performance since 2009. Newton has become one of the consistent TV performers over the last 18 months but he has shown signs of petulance with the crowd on a number of occasions in the last year and this detracts from his performance. He also has a poor record in this event and faces a former Semi-Finalist in Baxter. Newton will expect to win this encounter but I have a feeling it won’t be easy for him and can see Baxter winning this one 2-1
Raymond Van Barneveld Vs Ian White
Despite suffering a shock first round defeat at the World Championship in December, Barney has bounced back to record his first tour win in 2 years and has shown steady progress in TV events this year without converting that into progression beyond the last 8. Ian White hasn’t won this year but has reached floor finals and claimed some big scalps in TV events, he will be looking make Barney the latest of those. Barney was unlucky to lose to Huybrechts in the European Championship with his opponent being that bit more clinical, however he has been throwing well all year and this week I think it will click into place starting with a 2-0 win over White.
James Wade Vs Colin Osborne
Wade has won this event twice with the second of those wins coming in 2010 so will be need a strong showing this week to ensure he doesn’t drop in the Order Of Merit. He showed his considerable talent by pushing Taylor to his limit whilst not playing to his full potential in Blackpool, but he is still prone to inconsistency and you have to question if he will turn up this week. Either way he should beat Osborne who has struggled for the past 12 months on TV and looks to me to be on a downward spiral despite his mannerisms that suggest he believes himself to be genuine top 16 player. Wade will prove this to be far from the truth with a commanding 2-0 win.
Michael Mansell Vs Paul Nicholson
The Asset will love this match up, a player he feels superior to but will have the crowd firmly behind so will bring out the fight in Nicholson. Nicholson hasn’t performed to his expectations on TV this year and has struggled on the floor too, he is in danger of becoming a victim of his own reputation. Mansell will struggle in this encounter despite the crowd backing he’ll receive as he has limited experience on TV and Nicholson looks a class above him. Nicholson should win this 2-0.
In terms of the tournament in general, Phil Taylor deserves his billing as tournament favourite and will take all the beating but there are question marks about him in light of his desire to win the World Championship for a 16th which is likely to lead him to use the next few TV events as preparation for his World Championship bid after peaking too soon last year. I personally think he will be at his peak in time for Alexandra Palace as such will oppose him this week, he still looks the pick from his half of the draw but the winner of a potential second round match of Whitlock and Huybrechts should provide a tough semi final for Taylor. I think Huybrechts could surprise a few by reaching his first TV final.
In the bottom half of the draw, Adrian Lewis is easily opposable having had a 2012 that has failed to back up his claims that he is the best in the world, he is guilty of underestimating people and I am not convinced he listens to Deller if he tries to remind him of his fallibilities. James Wade is hard to predict but I suggest he has one eye on Alexandra Palace as much like Taylor he has targeted the World Championship this year. Two men stick out for me in the draw, Raymond Van Barneveld who has been threatening to make a serious run on TV this year without confirming that threat, I think this week is the time for him to do so. Michael Van Gerwen is another who has threatened to make mark this year and after a series of good performances in TV events and I can see an all Dutch semi final in the bottom half.
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