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When Peter Wright lifted the Sid Waddell trophy on New Year’s Day, who would have believed the twelve months that would follow? At one point it looked like we might not have a World Championship. Here we are on Day 1 with the tournament about to kick off at the venue of all venues. We’re back at the Palace!
I for one can’t wait to get up on stage. The PDC have done a wonderful job to get everything in place. Sadly, with the announcement yesterday that London will be moved to the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions from tomorrow, fans will now not be able to attend. The fans are an interesting dynamic. I think it’s true that playing in front of them is easier for the more experienced TV players. It’s like anything – the more you are used to it, the more comfortable you become.Having no fans in attendance will perhaps give an advantage to players who are used to having success in floor events, I’m certain there are players who will fancy their chances more without the crowd noise.
Everybody will have been working hard for this tournament. My own practice has been going well – it’s known that I had some difficulties with injury about a month ago at the Winter Series and even though I topped my group at the Grand Slam, I was never quite right. I felt good against Luke Humphries in the Players Championship, but Luke was brilliant for four or five legs and put me away. Whilst I wouldn’t have wanted the extra time off that it brought me, it’s given me more time on the practice board. Some players have chosen to get practice on the PDC Home Tour, but that just isn’t for me and I prefer practicing alone and working on specific aspects of my game.
For the last two weeks I’ve mainly been focussing on my rhythm. I study my technique a lot and it can play havoc with you at times but I’m happy. I can’t wait to play the winner of Steve Lennon and Daniel Larsson. The standard is so deep these days that every match is a challenge. Phil Taylor said it in an interview recently when asked about a comeback – if you’re not on your game, you can get beaten in any round. It’s a relentless battle.
Michael van Gerwen will have the most pressure and expectation on him once again. By his own very high standards, it has been an up-and-down year. He bounced back recently with his Players Championship win and probably will have felt he should have gone all the way at the Grand Slam before that. He’ll be desperate to get his hands back on the trophy, especially with Peter Wright and Gerwyn Price breathing down his neck for the World Number One spot. That three-way battle adds even more spice to the season finale.
Peter and Gerwyn have both had a fantastic year. Gerwyn is the only player in recent memory other than Phil Taylor and Michael to have won the most tournaments in a year, reaching eight already. That is an extraordinary achievement when you consider all the names that have played in the PDC. He is sound under pressure and has bundles of confidence and passion. Even when he doesn’t play well, he’s hard to beat because he rarely misses doubles and is so solid on his throw.
The other intriguing aspect of this tournament for me, and for many, is to see how Deta Hedman and Lisa Ashton get on. After Fallon Sherrock’s fireworks last year, they will attract a lot of attention as those flying the flag for the women’s game. Two really good players, and two great stories behind them.
The field is so competitive, the only shock to me would be if there are no shocks! Averages have soared in the last few tournaments – a sign that lots of players are peaking. Six players lost with an average of over a hundred in the first round of the Players Championship, including me unfortunately! A few years ago, that would have been unheard of. There has already been a brand-new winner at most of the TV majors this year and various other players have been knocking on the door. You’ve only got to look at the first-round draw for a flavour of how competitive it is. Take Rob Cross against Dirk Van Duijvenbode – a few months ago some darts fans might not have known Dirk but he’s a fine player and now he’s a TV major finalist too. A seriously dangerous opponent and a big personality.
So here we are, at the most exciting time of the year for anybody connected with darts. We have a World Championship at the Palace. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!