The waiting is finally over as the new PDC season commences on Friday with the opening quartet of First Round…
The waiting is finally over as the new PDC season commences on Friday with the opening quartet of First Round ties at the Ladbrokes Masters in Milton Keynes.
The elite invitational event features the world’s top 16 ranked players battling it out from January 31 to February 2 at the Marshall Arena for £200,000 in prize money.
For half of the field, this tournament presents a timely warm-up for the new Premier League campaign, which kicks off in Aberdeen next Thursday.
Michael van Gerwen has made the Ladbrokes Masters his own in recent years, winning the title on five consecutive occasions to go unbeaten in 20 matches since the event moved to Milton Keynes in 2015.
After his heartache in the World Championship final on New Year’s Day, MVG will be determined to return to winning ways at the first time of asking and extend his stranglehold on this trophy.
The Dutchman marked a new chapter in his glittering career just 24 hours after that defeat at Ally Pally when he signed a new deal with Winmau, meaning he is likely to use his new setup for the first time in PDC competition on Friday.
Van Gerwen is situated in the top half of the draw as number one seed and starts out against Welshman Jonny Clayton for the second year running, having eased to a 10-5 victory last time out.
Clayton reached just one televised Quarter-Final in a mediocre 2019 campaign but will look to make a dream start to the year by dethroning the undisputed Masters king.
The opening match of the tournament sees two former World Matchplay finalists collide as Michael Smith takes on Mensur Suljovic.
The pair met at this stage of The Masters two years ago, with Suljovic claiming a 10-8 victory en route to the Semi-Finals, and the Austrian has won 10 of their 18 encounters in total.
Suljovic will be out to banish the memory of his last televised outing which saw him become the second victim of history-maker Fallon Sherrock at the World Championship in December.
Smith, meanwhile, begins his tenth season as a Tour Card holder still in pursuit of an elusive major title, having lost in a further three finals last year.
The former Shanghai Masters winner was a shock Second Round casualty at Alexandra Palace to culminate an indifferent season by standards, but will look to wipe the slate clean with a series of strong performances this weekend to warm up in style for the Premier League.
Nathan Aspinall is the sole debutant in this year’s Ladbrokes Masters and starts out against James Wade – one of only three players to have lifted this trophy.
Aspinall enjoyed a fairy-tale 2019 campaign, winning the UK Open and reaching his second successive World Championship Semi-Final to climb to a career-high position of eighth in the Order of Merit.
Aspinall, who will also make his Premier League debut next Thursday, has proven he has the game capable of beating anyone on his day, and will look to pile the pressure on an opponent whose performances left a lot to be desired at the back end of last season.
Wade, Masters Champion in 2014, began 2019 brightly by finishing runner-up in this event, and though he picked up five ProTour titles, he managed just one appearance in a major ranking Quarter-Final.
The final match of the evening sees 2018 World Champion Rob Cross take on two-time World Champion Adrian Lewis.
The two players’ respective careers have gone in opposite directions over the past two years, with Cross establishing himself as a regular major title contender and Lewis struggling for consistency on both floor and stage.
Cross added the World Matchplay and European Championship titles to his breakthrough triumph at the 2018 World Championship and is making his third Masters appearance.
Lewis, meanwhile, was runner-up to Phil Taylor in the inaugural Masters in Edinburgh in 2013 and enjoyed a fine spell of resurgence at the business end of last season which saw him climb back up to 13th in the Order of Merit.
The Stoke star reached the Quarter-Finals of November’s Grand Slam before making it to the Last 16 of the World Championship with epic tie break wins over Cristo Reyes and Darren Webster along the way.
The action gets underway from 7pm GMT, with First Round matches to be contested over the best of 19 legs.
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Ladbrokes Masters 2020 Match Schedule
Friday January 31
7.15pm Michael Smith v Mensur Suljovic
8.15pm Nathan Aspinall v James Wade
9.15pm Michael van Gerwen v Jonny Clayton
10.15pm Rob Cross v Adrian Lewis