Column #CM39 World Matchplay 2018 – Preview, Part 1 – The Debutants

Monday, July 16, 2018
Column CM39
World Matchplay 2018 – Preview, Part 1 – The Debutants

This year, six debutants qualified for Blackpool and will stand for the first time on the stage at the Winter Gardens. Two of them are Dutch, one is from England, one from Ireland, one from Wales and one from Germany.

Dutchman Jeffrey de Zwaan and German Max Hopp are the youngest debutants, born in the same year. While de Zwaan celebrated his 22nd birthday in March, Hopp was born in August. de Zwaan and Hopp have clashed several times over the years – Hopp has the advantage with five wins and four defeats. The first defeat for de Zwaan was in 2011 in the final of the Winmau Youth World Masters. While Hopp changed early to the PDC – he played with in 2013 in his first PDC World Championship – de Zwaan stayed a few more years on the BDO/WDF circuit and in 2012 he won the Winmau Youth World Masters title. In 2015, de Zwaan took part in the PDC Qualifying School and on the first day won a Tour Card. During his first year in the PDC de Zwaan defeated Phil Taylor in an UKO Qualifier and threw a nine-darter on the Pro Tour. In 2016, he took part for the first time in the PDC World Championship where he lost in a sudden death leg to Michael Smith. His career stagnated after that and he lost his Tour Card at end of 2017. So, in 2018 de Zwaan again took part in Q School and regained his Tour Card. It looks as he is in much better form this year – he even won his first Players Championship and managed to qualify by the PDC Pro Tour Order of Merit for the World Matchplay. He will play in the first round against the number one seed Michael van Gerwen who will look for revenge as de Zwaan eliminated him for this year’s memorable UK Open. Should de Zwaan manage to defeat van Gerwen again he could meet in round two Adrian Lewis or James Wilson – to be sure not an easy task as well. In round three one of the possible opponents could be another debutant – Jonny Clayton.

Max Hopp for more years than de Zwaan has competed on the PDC Tour and he has always managed to get a Tour Card without having to take part in the Qualifying School. His biggest success was his win of the PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship in 2015 which helped him gain an invitation for the Grand Slam in the same year. But especially in 2017, to the disappointment of his German fans, his career stagnated, and he missed out for the first time since 2013 the World Championship. The start into 2018 was a little bit rough as well but some good placing followed on the Pro Tour and, a little bit surprising, was his win in the German Open, an European Tour Event. He was not as successful in the following events, so it is difficult to assess in which form he will turn up for the World Matchplay. But to be sure even to qualify for the tournament is an enormous achievement – he is the first German who ever managed it. Hopp will play in the first round against Ian White – a player he often defeated in the past, though White managed to win their last clash. Should Hopp defeat White he could meet in the second round Mensur Suljovic and in round three World Champion Rob Cross.

Not much older than de Zwaan and Hopp is the 25 years old Irishman Steve Lennon. Lennon started to play darts in 2011 – the same year in which de Zwaan and Hopp played in the final of the Winmau Youth World Masters. Lennon first played on the BDO Circuit and joined the Development Tour. In 2017, he took part in Q School and got a Tour Card. In the same year he managed to qualify for the Grand Slam, survived the group phase but lost in the KO phase to Michael van Gerwen. Lennon qualified for the 2018 PDC World Championship as well but was defeated in the first round by Michael Smith. This year he reached the final of the Dutch Darts Masters – an European Tour event – and lost again to Michael van Gerwen. But he qualified for the World Matchplay where his first round opponent will be Darren Webster. Webster doesn’t look to be in top form at the moment so it might be Lennon has a chance to progress into the second round where he would meet Rob Cross or Mervyn King. One of his possible third round opponents could be Hopp.

Also with some experience on the Development Tour is Richard North, 28 years of age – the only English debutant. He joined the Development Tour in 2011 after he had taken part without success in the qualifier for the BDO World Championship. North tried three times to win in the past to get a Tour Card but only was successful on his fourth attempt in 2017. In his first year he managed to qualify for the World Grand Prix in Dublin, the Players Championships Final and the PDC World Championship 2018 but lost to Raymond van Barneveld. This year, North qualified for several European Tour events and reached the semifinals of the European Darts Open. North practices a lot with the PDC players Johnny Haines and Dennis Smith who live like North in Swindon. Simon Whitlock supports him as well and they have practiced together. And it will be Simon Whitlock against whom North will play in the first round – to be sure not an easy match for either of them. Should North win he could meet in second round either James Wade or Jermaine Wattimena – another debutant.

Jermaine Wattimena is at 30 years of age already a well-known face on the PDC circuit though until now consistency has not been his strength. He often surprises with a great match which is followed by a weak performance. As Wattimena relates, he won the first tournament he entered – the Malta Open in 2008. His next win came on the BDO/WDF Circuit as well – he won the 2014 German Open. Since 2015, he has had a Tour Card and he qualified in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 for the PDC World Championship but only once survived the first round. He took part in several UK Open finals where he once won against Jonny Clayton. In 2018, Wattimena has twice reached the semi-finals on the Pro Tour and reached the last 16 of the UK Open. Wattimena’s first round opponent will be James Wade who is in rising form – it will not be easy for Wattimena to survive the first round.

The oldest of the year’s debutants is Jonny Clayton who was born in 1974. Clayton played from 2008 to 2015 on the BDO Circuit and was a 2014 member or the winning Welsh team in the WDF Europe Cup. In 2015 he got a Tour Card and qualified in the same year for the Grand Slam but didn’t survive the group phase. His PDC World Championship debut was in 2017 in which he defeated his Welsh fellow countryman Gerwyn Price in the first round. In the same year he celebrated his first win on the Pro Tour and stood in the final of the Players Championships final but lost to Michael van Gerwen. He qualified for the 2018 PDC World Championship but this time lost first round against Jamie Lewis. Clayton reached the fourth round of the UK Open 2018 and later in the year won the Austria Darts Open – an event on the European Tour. In addition he had some good results on the Pro Tour though his PDC World Cup debut with Gerwyn Price was disappointing. Like Gerwyn Price, Clayton is a former rugby player. His World Matchplay first round opponent will be Michael Smith whom he hasn’t yet been able to defeat.

To me it looks as though it will be quite difficult for the debutants to survive the first round and cause an upset. With the best chances would appear to be Steve Lennon and Max Hopp. But I would think at the latest the quarterfinals will be end of the line for the debutants.

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Charis Mutschler
The founder of Global Darts, darts journalist Charis Mutschler hails from Marbach, near Stuttgart, Germany. A regular at most major PDC tournaments, a lover of literature, dance and music and cats, Charis' popular writings about darts and its players often transcend the usual. She brings something unique to the chroniclers of the sport we all love.