Smith and Whitlock face off in one of eight tasty ties (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
The curtain is raised on the 2019 World Grand Prix on Sunday with the opening eight First Round ties at the Citywest Hotel in Dublin.
The prestigious double-start tournament sees 32 players competing for a record £450,000 prize fund, with only seven different names having lifted the trophy since the event began back in 1998.
Michael van Gerwen, whose tally of four Grand Prix titles is second only to Phil Taylor’s eleven, begins the defence of his crown on opening night with a tricky clash against debutant Jamie Hughes.
Van Gerwen has an impressive return of five final appearances in eight attempts despite the unconventional format, but fell foul two years ago when he was dumped out by John Henderson at the first hurdle.
The world number one will be determined to avoid a similar blip as he looks to mount a challenge for a sixth televised title of 2019 and affirm his reputation as the sport’s hottest property.
Hughes has enjoyed a superb first season as a PDC Tour Card holder, winning the Czech Open in June and reaching a further two ranking Semi-Finals, though this will be his first taste of the double-start format.
Gary Anderson, runner-up here in 2016, launches his latest quest for a maiden Grand Prix crown with a show-down against former World Youth Champion Keegan Brown.
Anderson’s season is yet to catch fire after a delayed start through injury, though he did partner Peter Wright to World Cup glory for Scotland in June.
The two-time World Champion has not lost in Round One here since 2012 and has won all five of his previous meetings with Brown – who is making his first Grand Prix appearance for four years.
A closely-matched curtain-raiser sees two European Tour finalists collide as Ricky Evans takes on debutant Chris Dobey.
Dobey, who featured as a Contender on the first night of this year’s Premier League, has failed to kick on from his run to the final of June’s Danish Open as yet but will be determined to mount a charge at the first time of asking in Dublin.
Evans, runner-up in the German Championship, went down 2-1 to Raymond van Barneveld on debut here last year and is without a win in his last three televised tournaments.
Mervyn King, who saw victory slip through his grasp against MVG in the 2012 final, faces a tricky opener against reigning World Youth Champion Dimitri van den Bergh.
King forfeited his match against Zoran Lerchbacher in Saturday’s ProTour event at 5-3 down but will look to start afresh and utilise his vast experience against the Belgian debutant – who has reached two ProTour finals this term.
Joe Cullen aims to avenge his humiliating 10-0 whitewash at the hands of Ian White in the World Matchplay when the pair face off once again.
Cullen has since gone on to win his first European Tour title and return to the world’s top 16, while White has two Euro Tour triumphs to his name this year but has suffered First Round exits in four of his seven previous Grand Prix appearances.
Dutch sensation Jeffrey de Zwaan looks to remain on a potential collision course with MVG in the Last 16 by overcoming the evergreen Steve Beaton – making his 16th appearance in this prestigious competition.
Doubles specialist James Wade, the 2007 and 2010 champion, looks to avert a potential banana skin by dispatching John Henderson – whose finest hour came here in 2017 when he reached the Semi-Finals.
Two World Championship finalists collide in another mouth-watering encounter as Michael Smith meets Simon Whitlock.
Despite struggling on the floor and European Tour this season, Smith has preserved his best form for the big occasion, reaching the world final, Matchplay final and UK Open Semi-Finals.
An under pressure Whitlock is defending his runner-up prize money from two years ago and has failed to beat Smith in any of their four previous televised encounters.
The action gets underway from 7pm BST, with First Round matches to be contested over the best of three sets (best of five legs per set).
World Grand Prix 2019 Match Schedule
Sunday October 6
7.15pm Ricky Evans v Chris Dobey
7.45pm Mervyn King v Dimitri Van den Bergh
8.15pm Joe Cullen v Ian White
8.45pm Jeffrey de Zwaan v Steve Beaton
9.15pm James Wade v John Henderson
9.45pm Michael Smith v Simon Whitlock
10.15pm Michael van Gerwen v Jamie Hughes
10.45pm Gary Anderson v Keegan Brown