Rob Cross launches the defence of his World Matchplay title in Milton Keynes on Sunday, while three former finalists also…
Rob Cross launches the defence of his World Matchplay title in Milton Keynes on Sunday, while three former finalists also take to the stage.
The £700,000 show-piece got off to a pulsating start at the Marshall Arena on Saturday, with the big names coming through unscathed despite some tough examinations.
Former Betfred World Matchplay champions Michael van Gerwen, Gary Anderson and James Wade safely progressed in the unique behind-closed-doors setup which featured artificial crowd noise.
All eyes will be on reigning champion Cross as he bids to avoid a potential First Round scalp at the hands of German ace Gabriel Clemens.
No defending champion has suffered a First Round exit in this competition since Colin Lloyd in 2006, but Cross knows he can ill-afford to be below-par against a player who has beaten him previously on a televised stage.
Cross enjoyed a dream triumph at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool last year, including an epic Semi-Final comeback win over Daryl Gurney, adding to his fairy-tale world title triumph in 2018.
The world number four warmed up for this event in style by hitting a nine-darter in last week’s PDC Summer Series and reaching the final of the penultimate event.
Clemens is one of four debutants in this year’s World Matchplay, having qualified as the sixth highest player on the ProTour Order of Merit.
The silky-smooth German number two defeated Cross en route to the final of last year’s German Masters World Series event and reached the Last 16 of this year’s UK Open.
Reigning World Champion Peter Wright kicks off his latest pursuit of a first Matchplay crown with a clash against Portugal’s Jose De Sousa.
Wright is vying to complete a prestigious World Championship and World Matchplay double in the same year, having also won The Masters back in January.
Winner of the final Summer Series event last week, ‘Snakebite’ wore glasses for the first time and will be aiming to produce a spectacular opening salvo in a bid to avert a potential banana skin.
De Sousa is making history as the first Portuguese player ever to feature in this illustrious event and underlined his calibre by qualifying as the third highest ranked player on the ProTour Order of Merit.
A multiple PDC ranking title winner, ‘The Special One’ has registered ton-plus averages consistently on the tour over the past 18 months but will be keen to carry that form onto the big stage, having struggled to do so thus far.
Glen Durrant enjoyed a sensational debut in Blackpool 12 months ago, beating Michael van Gerwen en route to the Semi-Finals before being edged out by Michael Smith.
The three-time BDO World Champion has stormed into the world’s top 16 in his first 18 months as a PDC Tour Card holder and comes into every event as a key title threat.
The Teessider has reached at least the Quarter-Final stage in four of his last seven televised tournaments but faces a tricky opener against Dutch ace Jeffrey De Zwaan.
De Zwaan embarked on a landmark Semi-Final run of his own two years ago, dumping out MVG in Round One, but like Pipe, heads to Milton Keynes with question marks over his fitness.
The 24-year-old has been hampered by a shoulder injury in recent months, sitting out the PDC Home Tour, and struggled to find his range in the Summer Series.
The opening match of the night sees 2018 runner-up Mensur Suljovic take on Black Country ace Jamie Hughes.
Suljovic was involved in one of the great Matchplay finals against Gary Anderson two years ago and has reached a further two Quarter-Finals, flourishing in the long format.
The Austrian, however, is in the midst of a barren spell, having failed to make it beyond the Last 16 in his last eight televised major appearances.
Hughes is making his second successive appearance in this competition, having narrowly lost out to eventual finalist Michael Smith on debut.
The Czech Open winner was a quarter-finalist in this year’s UK Open and remains one of the most formidable power-scorers on the circuit.
One of the most closely-matched ties of the opening round sees 2019 runner-up Michael Smith take on world number 20 Jonny Clayton.
Smith came agonisingly close to landing his first major title in Blackpool 12 months ago and will be determined to go one better and finally get the monkey off his back.
The Premier League star also finished runner-up in The Masters in January, as well as at the Belgian Championship, and has undergone a fitness regime during lockdown to galvanize himself for the second half of the season.
Smith has dominated this fixture, winning six of his seven previous meetings with Clayton, including a 7-1 rout in the Premier League when the Welshman appeared as a Challenger.
Clayton has dropped out of the world’s top 16 but secured a third consecutive Matchplay appearance courtesy of his consistent floor form.
The Ferret was a semi-finalist in this year’s UK Open and will look to pile the pressure on ‘Bully Boy’ in a match which has the potential to go the distance.
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.
World Matchplay 2020 Match Schedule
Sunday July 19
6.15pm Mensur Suljovic v Jamie Hughes
7.15pm Glen Durrant v Jeffrey de Zwaan
8.15pm Rob Cross v Gabriel Clemens
9.15pm Peter Wright v Jose De Sousa
10.15pm Michael Smith v Jonny Clayton