Courtesy of dawson_posts
The wait for darts action is almost over. Christmas saw us binge on food, drink and darts but now the hangover has worn off and we are all craving some more tungsten action. Saturday sees the return of the Masters to Milton Keynes, a relatively new tournament having been established in 2013. The tournament features the top sixteen ranked players in the PDC all battling it out for the trophy and a juicy check of £160,000. Taylor won the inaugural tournament in 2013, and last years winner was James Wade which feels very recent in memory due to the tournament taking place in October.
The current form horse is the newly crowned World Champion Gary Anderson. Taylor and van Gerwen are also looking in good shape to do well in the tournament with both looking for revenge after missing out on the World Championship. Then there’s a group of players under these top three who would like to prove a point. An interview with Peter Wright last week brought about a challenge to other players as he said he would like to dominate the year. Adrian Lewis has been quiet for a while and although he is clearly a talented player, is dropping in my estimations. Jenkins and King have both had good years and would now be looking to push on again this year and should not be underestimated.
Coverage will be on ITV4 thanks to a four year deal when the tournament began. Ex-professional darts players, Chris Mason and Alan Warriner-Little will grace our screens once again. The tournament will be a step down in hype from the World Championships but, with only the top 16 players competing, hopefully the quality of the darts will be superb.
Afternoon Session (12.45pm-5pm)
Peter Wright v Brendan Dolan
It’s two steady and deliberate players kick us off on Saturday afternoon. Ranked 5th in the world, Wright must feel that he’s close to a major win soon and has announced that this year he wants to dominate in similar fashion to his countryman Gary Anderson. However, Dolan is a stern challenge. He’s a slow player yes, but he’s a skilled player who’s getting better and challenging in the latter stages of major tournaments more often. This year he’s had some low profile tournament wins but is yet to win a big one. He lost in the first round last year and only managed to reach the second round in the World Championships after losing to Michael Smith. Could he win this tournament? It’s highly unlikely, Wright is the overriding favourite in this opening match. He’s unlikely to be phased by Dolan’s painfully slow style and will be sure to entertain himself and the crowd with his antics.
Robert Thornton v Dave Chisnall
This should be a cracker. Thornton ranked 8th, Chisnall ranked 9th, both players evenly matched. It should be a high scoring affair with both players being prolific on the treble twenty. Chisnall hit the second highest amount of 180’s last year, only behind van Gerwen. Both players have been knocking on the door for a while now, but haven’t been able to reach the number of finals you would expect. Chisnall suffered an unexpected loss at the World Championship when he was knocked out by Benito van de Pas in round two. Chisnall has struggled this year, having only won 58% of his matches, a figure well below par for a player of his ranking. His confidence must be low with that stat and Chisnall is a player who needs confidence when aiming at doubles. If he doesn’t think it will go in then it just won’t.
Adrian Lewis v Ian White
Adrian hasn’t had a lot to shout about over the past year aside from his nine darter in the World Championship, but even in that match he lost. His year started brightly, beating Terry Jenkins in the final of the UK Open with an impressive 109 average. But then he missed out on the playoffs in the premier league (finishing 6th) and lost in the middle rounds of a number of tournaments throughout the year. His biggest blunder however, was during the Grand Slam of darts in which he lost to youngsters Rowby-John Rodriguez and Keegan Brown. White, although no push over, is a fairly easy opener for a player of Lewis to ease his way back into form. White has improved in the last couple of years, moving into the last 16, with a notable performance in last years World Championship when he narrowly lost out on a place in the semi finals after losing a deciding set. He also beat Gary Anderson in the UK Open quarter finals. White may be a possible trip up for Lewis, but Lewis shouldn’t be too concerned, it’s not as if he’s losers to lower ranked players often.
Simon Whitlock v Raymond van Barneveld
An interesting match up. Whitlock is the higher ranked player at 7, but is in a steady decline. Barney has been up and down over the past few years and it’s hard to predict how he will play. It looks as though he will be in a positive mindset having reached the semi finals of the World Championship, but with Barney it’s hard to say. He has recently abandoned his glasses and it looks as if it is working, for now. Whitlock’s performance in the World Champs is of stark contrast to Barneys. A first round steamrollering from Darren Webster saw him knocked out of the competition. His percentage on doubles was just 17 in that match and it looked as if he was praying that the doubles would go in. Whitlock has also been denied a wildcard entry to the Premier League and it will be the only year he has been excluded since 2009. He needs a run in this tournament for his own self confidence or he could quickly find himself outside the top ten order of merit in no time. I’m expecting a scrappy match between these two and it will all go down to who will be most soldid on the doubles.
Evening Session (7pm-11pm)
James Wade v Mervyn King
A repeat of last years final, this should be a feisty contest as King looks to take revenge on last years victor. Both have a precise throwing style and are fantastic to watch in full flow. Mervyn King had a bitterly disappointing World Championship due to a back injury and he was knocked out in the first round. Now ranked 11th, King has had a stellar year, reaching the final of this event last year, the final of the Dutch darts open, and the semi finals of the UK Open and the Grand Slam. Both these two players are fantastic finishers. Wade’s checkout percentage was just a shade over 46% last year, the second highest, and Mervyn was 7th in the list. There will be a little tension in the air due to their previous meeting with Wade’s victory celebration proving to be to King’s distaste. Wade will be sure to tread lightly, so expect a quiet and professional affair but he seems ready for it.
Phil Taylor v Terry Jenkins
The match of the first round for me. Taylor, ranked 2nd in the order of merit, could have expected an easier match. Terry’s year has been a resurgence in his career. After losing in the first round of the 2014 World Championship, he then hit top form and made the final of the UK Open and European Championship. He has shown throughout the year that he still has the ability to turn on the tungsten heat with constant high averages in the big tournaments. Everyone knows that Terry is a superb player but he’s become the nearly man of darts. Nine major finals, lost them all. That’s not a good stat. Taylor has to hit the ground running if he is to get out of the first round as Terry has been devastating in the early rounds. Taylor’s mothers passing may have an influence due to his close relationship with her and I reckon it will ignite a bit of hunger and passion that’s why Taylor is my bet for the title. This tournament requires good consistent play and Taylor is a sure bet to deliver that.
Gary Anderson v Andy Hamilton
A foregone conclusion as far as I’m concerned. Gary is in superb form and full of confidence at the moment. Complacency may be an issue but with Gary’s experience it’s unlikely. Hamilton on the other hand has zero confidence. His play over the last year has been in decline and whereas in the past you could put your house on him getting out of the first round, in five majors in the last 12 months he has been knocked out in the first round.
Michael van Gerwen v Wes Newton
Again, a fairly easy prediction here. Michael has hit a total of 291 180’s from this point last year in all competitions, which is way more than anyone else including Gary Anderson. It appears as though his scoring and finishing has dropped off in the past year and he seems to have scraped through to victories, but he still won three majors in 2014. It has to be a sign of his brilliance when people can say that his form has dropped and yet he’s still winning. Who’s he playing in this first round again, oh yeah it’s Wes. Sorry Wes, you have no chance.
I can’t wait for this tournament to begin. Can James Wade defend his title?