Tipton ace Hughes makes his Matchplay debut (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
Part one of a mouth-watering double-session at the World Matchplay on Sunday sees a quartet of dangerous qualifiers bid to topple their seeded opposition in Blackpool.
Super Sunday at the Winter Gardens kicks off with four closely-matched contests, featuring two exciting debutants and a host of power scorers.
One of the stand-out ties of the opening round sees World Championship finalist Michael Smith take on former World Masters runner-up Jamie Hughes.
Historically, the Winter Gardens has not been a happy hunting ground for Smith, who has failed to surpass the Second Round stage in six previous attempts, and ‘Bully Boy’ is once again housed in a formidable section of the draw.
Smith has featured in four finals so far this year, including the recent US Masters in Las Vegas, but endured a frustrating warm-up with back-to-back First Round exits in the midweek Players Championship events.
He faces an immediate test in what promises to be a power-scoring masterclass against a player enjoying a dream start to life as a PDC Tour Card holder.
After plying his trade on the Challenge Tour for much of last season, ‘Yozza’ stormed through Qualifying School in January to earn a place on the main tour and has not looked back since.
A Semi-Final run the European Grand Prix was soon followed up by a fairy-tale triumph at the Czech Open in June which secured a last-gasp qualification for the World Matchplay.
Hughes has registered a plethora of ton-plus averages on both floor and stage this season and will look to draw upon his clinical scoring power against the 2018 Premier League finalist – who defeated Michael van Gerwen in Vegas a fortnight ago.
Another eye-catching contest sees world number ten Ian White take on last year’s beaten quarter-finalist – Joe Cullen.
White has preserved his best form for the European Tour this season, picking up two titles from four final appearances, and will be determined to transfer that blistering form onto one of the sport’s most iconic stages.
Incredibly, the 48-year-old has still not progressed beyond the Quarter-Final stage of a PDC major and knows he can ill-afford to look past his first hurdle here.
Cullen enjoyed one of his most memorable major campaigns to date in last year’s World Matchplay, thrashing Gerwyn Price and Daryl Gurney for the loss of just six legs before eventually being edged out in an epic tie break by eventual champion Gary Anderson.
The Bradford ace landed a 170 checkout and witnessed a nine-darter from Anderson in that classic contest, but will be out to banish the two match darts he missed when he returns to the Winter Gardens stage.
Dave Chisnall looks to continue his consistent form in Blackpool by overcoming German number one Max Hopp.
Chisnall is a player whose impressive form has perhaps fallen under the radar so far this season, with two ProTour titles and the Danish Open already under his belt.
Five times a Matchplay quarter-finalist, ‘Chizzy’ has not lost in the opening round here since 2012 and convincingly won his last two televised matches against Hopp in 2018.
Hopp has suffered successive First Round exits in Blackpool and has had a quiet season so far with the exception of a run to the final of Players Championship 16 in May.
Germany’s sole representative in the competition and the youngest of the 32-man field, the 22-year-old will look to rise to the occasion and punish any missed opportunities from the St Helens scoring machine.
The opening match of the afternoon sees world number 16 Darren Webster look to avoid an early exit at the hands of Polish newcomer Krzysztof Ratajski.
Webster is one of only two seeds to be priced as an outsider by the bookmakers in Round One and the respective form of the two players would suggest the Englishman may have his work cut out.
Webster’s season has been hampered by an elbow problem but his reputation as one of the most tenacious characters on the circuit means he will not be fazed by the prospect of facing the top ranked ProTour qualifier.
Ratajski claimed back-to-back ProTour titles last October and added to that tally in Wigan a month ago, having also reached the Last 16 of the UK Open.
He is the Polish player ever to qualify for the World Matchplay and will look to put ‘The Demolition Man’ under immediate pressure with his clinical all-round game.
The action gets underway from 1pm 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
Sunday July 21
1.15pm Darren Webster v Krzysztof Ratajski
2.15pm Dave Chisnall v Max Hopp
3.15pm Ian White v Joe Cullen
4.15pm Michael Smith v Jamie Hughes