A general view of the iconic Winter Gardens venue (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
The field of players for the 2019 World Matchplay has been confirmed, with seven players to make their debuts at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.
The 32-player show-piece takes place from July 20-28, as a star-studded field competes for the Phil Taylor Trophy and a record £700,000 prize fund.
World Champion Michael van Gerwen is the number one seed as he aims to claim a third World Matchplay title, while Gary Anderson is bidding to defend the title as the number four seed.
The weekend’s Czech Darts Open – the final tournament before the qualification cut-off – produced high drama as players challenged to claim the final places in the prestigious major.
Former World Youth Champion Keegan Brown’s run to the Semi-Finals saw him claim a qualification spot at the expense of Australia’s Kyle Anderson, while former quarter-finalist Vincent van der Voort held on to his spot.
However, Jamie Hughes provided the most remarkable display to earn his Betfred
World Matchplay debut by winning the title in Prague – the only result which could have won him a Blackpool place.
A Tour Card winner at Qualifying School in January, Hughes had to qualify just to claim a place in Prague, and defeated top 16 stars Adrian Lewis, Ron Meulenkamp, Ian White and Simon Whitlock on his way to the final before overcoming Stephen Bunting 8-3 to claim the £25,000 prize, a first full PDC title and his World Matchplay bow.
The other six Blackpool debutants are headlined by 2019 UK Open champion Nathan Aspinall, who makes his maiden World Matchplay appearance as the number 13 seed following his superb rise up the rankings.
Poland’s Krzysztof Ratajski and English duo Ricky Evans and Glen Durrant were the three leading ProTour Order of Merit qualifiers as they comfortably secured their Blackpool places.
Durrant’s qualification is another fine achievement given that he – like Hughes – began 2019 from scratch in the rankings after moving onto the PDC circuit – but the reigning Lakeside Champion has won two Players Championship titles and reached one other final so far this year.
Chris Dobey and Danny Noppert are the other players set to take to the iconic Winter Gardens stage for the first time in this year’s event as a result of their form on the ProTour in the past 12 months.
Sandwiched between Van Gerwen and Anderson in the top 16, 2018 World Champion Rob Cross is seeded second and 2018 Players Championship Finals winner Daryl Gurney the third seed.
World Championship finalist Michael Smith will be seeded fifth, with 2017 World Matchplay finalist Peter Wright the sixth seed and Grand Slam of Darts champion Gerwyn Price the number seven seed.
2007 World Matchplay winner James Wade is seeded eighth, while Mensur Suljovic – the 2018 runner-up following an epic final with Anderson – the ninth seed.
Ian White, Simon Whitlock, Dave Chisnall, Jonny Clayton, Darren Webster and 2013 finalist Lewis join Aspinall as the remaining seeded players for the draw – which is due to take place in the week commencing July 8.
Jeffrey de Zwaan, a semi-finalist last year, and 2018 quarter-finalist Joe Cullen return to Blackpool as ProTour Order of Merit qualifiers, alongside veteran star Steve Beaton – who will be making his 20th World Matchplay appearance.
Czech Open finalist Bunting will head to Blackpool in confident mood, while the remaining qualifiers included former semi-finalist Mervyn King, Dutch World Cup ace Jermaine Wattimena and 2019 Premier League contenders Max Hopp and John Henderson.
Betfred World Matchplay 2019 Field
PDC Order of Merit Qualifiers (Seeded)
1. Michael van Gerwen
2. Rob Cross
3. Daryl Gurney
4. Gary Anderson
5. Michael Smith
6. Peter Wright
7. Gerwyn Price
8. James Wade
9. Mensur Suljovic
10. Ian White
11. Simon Whitlock
12. Dave Chisnall
13. Nathan Aspinall
14. Jonny Clayton
15. Darren Webster
16. Adrian Lewis
ProTour Order of Merit Qualifiers
Jeffrey de Zwaan
Vincent van der Voort