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“I’m glad he’s number two” – Wright reignites rivalry with Van Gerwen ahead of the Ladbrokes Masters

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Lewis edges Smith in Ladbrokes Masters decider as King and Dobey enjoy dominant wins

Ladbrokes Masters Darts 2021 Day One preview and order of play: New season commences in Milton Keynes

Jamie Shaw in The Masters 29 Jan 2021
Premier League champion Glen Durrant celebrates (Photo by Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

The curtain is raised on the new darts season at the 2021 Ladbrokes Masters on Friday as 16 players vie to join the seeds in the Second Round.

In a change to the format this year, the line-up is comprised of the top 24 players from the PDC Order of Merit, with the top eight seeded through to Round Two on Saturday.

Six players will make their Ladbrokes Masters debuts in the behind-closed doors event at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.

Among those is reigning Premier League champion Glen Durrant as he takes on 2014 Masters runner-up Mervyn King in one of the stand-out ties of the opening round.

Durrant ended his first two-year cycle as a PDC Tour Card holder ranked 13th on the Order of Merit, having reached four major ranking Semi-Finals and won two Players Championship titles.

The three-time BDO World Champion, however, tested positive for covid-19 just days after his remarkable Premier League triumph in October and suffered a dip in form as a result.

His World Championship campaign was ended by Dirk van Duijvenbode in a nail-biting sudden death leg in the Last 16, and the Teessider will be chomping at the bit to return to action.

He faces a formidable opener against last November’s Players Championship Finals runner-up King – who has enjoyed a sensational spell of resurgence which also saw him whitewash Jose De Sousa 4-0 at Ally Pally before losing to eventual champion Gerwyn Price in the Last 16.

Another unmissable show-down sees last year’s Masters runner-up Michael Smith take on two-time World Champion Adrian Lewis.

Smith came agonisingly close to securing his first televised title on UK soil here 12 months ago, only to squander three match darts in the deciding leg of the final against Peter Wright.

The St Helens ace went on to reach the Semi-Finals of the World Matchplay and final of the World Cup of Darts, but a shock Last 64 defeat to Jason Lowe at Ally Pally crushed his world title dream and saw him drop to ninth in the rankings.

Michael Smith celebrates (Photo by Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

Smith is one of a clutch of players in contention for the last available Premier League spot and will be determined to embark on a strong run this weekend in order to remain a front-runner for selection.

World number 24 Lewis is the lowest ranked player in the field and is also out to banish a shock early exit Ally Pally in which he went down to America’s Danny Baggish at the same stage of the competition.

The Stoke star is making his eighth Masters appearance in nine stagings of the event and will be keen to recapture the form which led him to the inaugural final in Edinburgh back in 2013.

Reigning World Matchplay champion champion Dimitri van den Bergh takes on fellow Ladbrokes Masters debutant Chris Dobey for the right to face 2014 champion James Wade on Saturday.

Belgium’s Van den Bergh enjoyed a sensational season in 2020 which also saw him reach the Semi-Finals of the Grand Slam as well as a further two major Quarter-Finals, storming into the world’s top ten in the process.

Dobey, meanwhile, failed to progress beyond the Last 16 stage in his four major tournament appearances last season and will be keen to recapture the form which carried him to two major Semi-Finals the previous year.

Two players who enjoyed ground-breaking World Championship performances go head-to-head as Joe Cullen takes on Stephen Bunting.

Cullen suffered an agonising Last 16 defeat to Michael van Gerwen in a sudden death leg, having led 3-1 and squandered two match darts, hitting 19 maximums in the process.

The world number 16 claimed glory at the International Open last year as well as on the ProTour and will look to kick-start the new campaign with a bang.

Bunting, meanwhile, embarked on a terrific run to the Semi-Finals of the World Championship, only to be denied 6-4 by eventual champion Price.

Prior to that, ‘The Bullet’ had not been in the Semi-Finals of a major tournament since the 2015 UK Open, but is now back on the coattails of the top 16 and believes he is back to his best.

Stephen Bunting celebrates (Photo by Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

Grand Slam champion Jose De Sousa marks his Ladbrokes Masters debut with a clash against World Cup winner Jonny Clayton.

De Sousa’s breakthrough season, which also included a European Tour title, saw him rewarded with a place in this year’s Premier League.

Clayton partnered Price to glory for Wales in the World Cup and reached a further two major Semi-Finals, while also defeating MVG in the First Round of The Masters.

Daryl Gurney aims to bolster his hopes of a Premier League pick by overcoming Dutch debutant Jeffrey de Zwaan.

Gurney banished a below-par run of results at the back end of the season by reaching the Quarter-Finals of the World Championship – where he was narrowly denied 5-4 by Price.

De Zwaan reached the Quarter-Finals of last year’s World Grand Prix but was beaten in straight sets by Ryan Searle in Round Two at Ally Pally despite a 98.2 average.

A further pair of potential Premier League candidates go head-to-head in a repeat of their recent World Championship tussle as Krzysztof Ratajski faces Simon Whitlock.

Ratajski pulled off a comprehensive 4-0 whitewash at Ally Pally on his way to reaching the Quarter-Finals, capping off another fine season which saw him pick up a ProTour title and reach the Last Eight of the World Matchplay.

Whitlock, who established himself as one of the sport’s most clinical 180 hitters last season, reached the Semi-Finals of both the World Grand Prix and Grand Slam and defeated MVG three times in major competition throughout the year.

The opening match of the tournament sees Ian White bidding for his first Masters win at the seventh time of asking when he takes on Mensur Suljovic.

World number 12 White is yet to get off the mark in this elite invitational and starts out against the 2018 semi-finalist – who has slipped to 21st in the Order of Merit and was involved in a controversial clash against Gary Anderson at Ally Pally last month.

The action gets underway from 7pm GMT, with First Round matches to be contested over the best of 11 legs.

WATCH LADBROKES MASTERS DARTS STREAMED LIVE HERE (18+)

Ladbrokes Masters 2021 Schedule

Friday January 29

First Round

7.15pm Ian White v Mensur Suljovic
7.45pm Glen Durrant v Mervyn King
8.15pm Dimitri Van den Bergh v Chris Dobey
8.45pm Krzysztof Ratajski v Simon Whitlock
9.15pm Michael Smith v Adrian Lewis
9.45pm Daryl Gurney v Jeffrey de Zwaan
10.15pm Jose de Sousa v Jonny Clayton
10.45pm Joe Cullen v Stephen Bunting