Man of the moment Wright celebrates (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
Three former major champions and two of the fastest players on planet darts are among Monday’s line-up at the 2019 World Matchplay.
The opening weekend witnessed five seeds suffer early exits by the seaside, with two ties already having been settled in sudden death.
Peter Wright, the 2017 runner-up, looks to pick up from where he left off in a week to remember last week when he takes on fellow crowd favourite Vincent van der Voort in one of four tasty ties on Monday.
Wright heads to Blackpool riding the crest of a wave having followed up his recent German Masters triumph with back-to-back Players Championship titles in midweek, stretching his unbeaten run to 18 matches in all competitions.
His ruthless dominance in midweek was underlined by winning 34 of his last 38 legs and posting six consecutive ton-plus averages en route to victory on Wednesday.
Many people’s tip for the title at upwards of 10/1, ‘Snakebite’ is understandably strong favourite to dispatch the rapid Dutchman – who has not managed a win at the Matchplay since 2011.
Van der Voort has shown glimpses of form this season, reaching four ranking Quarter-Finals, but faces a tough ask if he is to be the man to halt Wright’s rampant run.
Two-time major champion Daryl Gurney gets his latest Winter Gardens campaign underway with a clash against Ricky Evans – one of seven exciting debutants in this year’s competition.
Gurney, the number three seed, enjoyed a superb run to the Semi-Finals here two years ago which arguably proved to be the springboard to success as he went on to lift the World Grand Prix title later that year and the Players Championship Finals crown last November.
Gurney was a semi-finalist in this season’s Premier League and also claimed the German Championship title in March – defeating none other than Evans 8-6 in the final.
Prior to that, Evans had won the last three meetings between the pair, but now looks to overcome the nerves and settle quickly into his long-awaited Blackpool bow.
The world number 39 qualified as the second highest ranked player from the ProTour Order of Merit, having reached two finals this year, and will be hoping to finally do his talent justice on one of the sport’s biggest stages.
One of the most closely-matched ties of the opening round kicks off the night’s action as 14th seed Jonny Clayton takes on former World Youth champion Keegan Brown.
Clayton is returning for only his second crack at the Matchplay, having lost out to Michael Smith in Round One last year, and will be keen to put a patchy spell of form behind him.
The Welsh ace has lost his opening match in four of his last five tournaments after earlier claiming a Players Championship title in April and reaching a further three Semi-Finals.
He faces a tricky test against the in-form Isle of Wight thrower, who returns to the Winter Gardens stage three years on from his debut.
Brown has three Semi-Final appearances to his name this term, as well as two notable victories over Michael van Gerwen on the European Tour, underlining his impressive return to form and a rise up to 26th in the Order of Merit.
Another contest in which the bookmakers struggle to separate the two players sees Australian number one Simon Whitlock take on Scottish star John Henderson.
Whitlock has generally fared well in this competition, reaching the Semi-Finals on two occasions (2010 and 2014) as well as a run to the Last Eight on his most recent visit.
Runner-up in last October’s European Championship, ‘The Wizard’ has since struggled to get his season off the ground, with the exception of a run to the final of the German Grand Prix in April.
He will have to be on his guard against a player who is now regularly showing his capabilities on the big stage having previously struggled to handle the heat.
Henderson, the world number 20, enjoyed a dream cameo spell in the Premier League as a ‘Contender’ in Aberdeen, holding MVG to a 6-6 draw on what he described as the ‘greatest night’ of his career.
He was denied by Kim Huybrechts in an epic sudden death leg here 12 months ago and will be determined to finally end his eight-year wait for a win on his iconic stage.
The action gets underway from 7pm BST, with all matches to be contested over the best of 19 legs.
Matches will proceed for a maximum of five additional legs before a tie-break leg is required. For example, in a best of 19 First Round match, if the score reaches 12–12 then the 25th leg will be the decider.
Betfred World Matchplay 2019 Match Schedule
Monday July 22
7.15pm Jonny Clayton v Keegan Brown
8.15pm Simon Whitlock v John Henderson
9.15pm Daryl Gurney v Ricky Evans
10.15pm Peter Wright v Vincent van der Voort