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Wade battles through Brown tie break as Ratajski lays down a marker at the World Matchplay

World Matchplay Darts 2020 Day One preview and order of play: Former champions eyeing winning starts

Jamie Shaw in World Matchplay 18 Jul 2020
2018 champion Gary Anderson celebrates (Photo by Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

Three former World Matchplay champions kick off their campaigns on an unmissable opening night in Milton Keynes on Saturday.

A new-look Betfred World Matchplay will take place behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena as a result of restrictions relating to Covid-19.

It will be the first time the prestigious major has not been staged at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool since the tournament began in 1994.

The qualifying criteria and format remain unchanged, while a full stage-set, canned crowd noise and a virtual fan wall provide some sense of normality inside the arena.

Number one seed Michael van Gerwen starts his quest for a third World Matchplay title and a first since 2016 when he faces Northern Ireland’s Brendan Dolan.

Van Gerwen, who claimed this title consecutively in 2015 and 2016, has claimed the only other major ranked silverware so far this season – the UK Open back in March.

He returned to competitive action with a bang, picking up two PDC Summer Series events last week, and is hungry to get his hands back on the Phil Taylor Trophy – named after his former rival who dominated the event throughout his career.

The long format undoubtedly plays into the hands of MVG, arguably the sport’s most prolific front-runner, and he will be confident of making it 19 wins against Dolan from their 24 meetings.

Two-time champion Van Gerwen faces Dolan (Photo by PDC Europe)

Former Grand Prix finalist Dolan is making his first appearance in this tournament since 2016, having claimed two ranking titles within the last 12 months.

Gary Anderson tasted success in this competition for the first time in 2018 and will look to send out a message to his rivals with a strong opening salvo.

The free-flowing Flying Scotsman opens up against methodical Taunton thrower Justin Pipe in a clash which presents a distinct clash of styles.

Pipe returns to Milton Keynes bidding to shrug off the arm injury which forced him to withdraw from the final two Summer Series events last week and left question marks over his involvement in this competition.

Anderson suffered a series of frustrating early exits a week ago but will look to hit the ground running and inflict further pain on his fellow South-West based star.

James Wade is one of only four World Matchplay winners in this year’s line-up and has so often revelled in the long-haul format.

Six times a Matchplay finalist, ‘The Machine’ enjoyed a timely return to the winner’s circle during the recent Summer Series and starts his campaign against former World Youth Champion Keegan Brown.

Brown, a semi-finalist on the Euro Tour last year, reached the Last 16 in Blackpool 12 months ago – the first time he had made that stage of a televised tournament since December 2017.

World number 16 Simon Whitlock kicks off his latest campaign against rank outsider Ryan Joyce – one of four debutants in this year’s World Matchplay.

Whitlock is a two-time World Matchplay semi-finalist and a veteran of this tournament, having made his debut a decade ago.

The Australian number one reached the Last 16 of the most recent World Championship and remains a player who rises to the big occasion.

Newcastle’s Joyce claimed his first PDC ranking title during last week’s Summer Series and will be determined to replicate that inspired form on the big stage.

He reached the Quarter-Finals of the World Championship in 2018, defeating Whitlock en route, but has struggled in front of the TV cameras since, failing to progress beyond the Last 64 in his other major appearances.

Elsewhere, Polish ace Krzysztof Ratajski takes on quick-fire Dutchman Jermaine Wattimena in another intriguing encounter.

Ratajski has stormed into the world’s top 16, meaning he is seeded in only his second World Matchplay appearance, having claimed four ranking titles since securing his Tour Card in January 2019.

The world number 13 and former World Masters champion, however, has never been beyond the Last 16 stage of a PDC major in 13 previous attempts.

Wattimena is vying for his first win in the World Matchplay at the third attempt and is also enjoying a career-high ranking position of 23rd.

The Machine Gun was a runner-up in a ProTour event last season and has since reached a further five ranking Quarter-Finals, including the World Grand Prix.

The action gets underway from 6pm BST, with First Round matches to be contested over the best of 19 legs.

All matches must be won by two clear legs, with a match being extended if necessary for a maximum of six extra legs before a sudden death leg is required.

WATCH WORLD MATCHPLAY DARTS STREAMED LIVE HERE (18+)

World Matchplay 2020 Match Schedule

Saturday July 18

First Round

6.15pm Simon Whitlock v Ryan Joyce
7.15pm Krzysztof Ratajski v Jermaine Wattimena
8.15pm James Wade v Keegan Brown
9.15pm Michael van Gerwen v Brendan Dolan
10.15pm Gary Anderson v Justin Pipe