Column #CM47 The Grand Slam of Darts – a new venue

Friday, November 23, 2018
Column CM47
The Grand Slam of Darts – a new venue

This year the Grand Slam was again played in Wolverhampton but not, as in former years, in the Civic Hall (which is being renovated) but in Aldersleigh Leisure Village. This “village” is not a small town but a big sporting complex with a soccer venue, hockey fields, a shooting range for national tournaments, a cycle velodrome, a track and field stadium, the sports hall and a gym.

As on the first day of the tournament I first had to find the venue and the press room and then had to learn where I was allowed to stand taking pictures. I can’t really tell you where in the village the venue is situated but I can tell you the press room is on the first floor and normally is used as a boardroom with one big table and leather office chairs around it. Luckily, there were not a lot of us so all fit in. The so-called function rooms are on the first floor too, among them the players’ room in which I was not allowed. The venue itself looks like a sports hall and is not really big but the Civic Hall is not really big either. The tournament was not completely sold out on the first few days but the atmosphere was great and it appeared people had no problem finding the site. There is a huge parking place and probably the PDC organized a shuttle which starts near the Civic Hall. Since there is no accomadation at all near the venue I was among the passengers on the shuttle.

This year three Germans managed to qualify for the Grand Slam and one of them – Max Hopp – opened the tournament against Josh Payne. In the first two legs Hopp had problems getting into the match but then he lost his nervousness and Payne was no longer as strong. Hopp was just that little bit better that made the difference and won the match 5-3. Nervous as well, in the second match, was the newly married Gerwyn Price who played far better then Andrew Gilding, but at first was not able to get results – and Gilding managed to win two legs. But finally Price arrived in the match and won 5-2.

After that the not really well-known Ryan Searle and the still reigning youth world champion Dimitri van den Bergh came on stage. Both players were rather clinical on their doubles, but van den Bergh – who always looks as if it is hard for him to keep his nerve on stage – was the better player and won the match.

Similar was the following match in which Stephen Bunting just showed a better performance than the second German, Martin Schindler, and won deservedly 5-3. As Schindler told me, it was not the visiting fly which was responsible for his loss; he felt he lost the match much earlier. Of course, the bright yellow board surround helped the fly to show off. The fly still spread itself unimpressed out throughout the hall.

Those were the matches with the probably weaker players. Next on were the seeded players against the BDO players of the groups E-H.

First up were Simon Whitlock and Glen Durrant. It was a high-class match from Durrant who impressed again, and he gave Whitlock no chances. With a 99.20 Durrant played the highest average of the afternoon. In the following match it was the BDO player Scott Mitchell who had no chance at all against Mensur Suljovic. Mensur played solid, Mitchell weaker then usually.

Next came a curious and not really good match between Rob Cross and Mark McGeeney. McGeeney had started the first leg with great scores but couldn’t hit his doubles so in the end Cross who had been far behind won the leg. Double trouble intimidated the BDO player who didn’t recover in the short format.

The last match of the afternoon was hard fought beween Peter Wright and young Welshman Jim Williams. It was not an outstanding match – Wright is usually much better then an 88.65 average. All legs went with the throw. The throw in the last leg saw Wright managed to cross the finish line after Williams missed a matchdart.

After the break the evening-session started in which, besides reigning champion Michael van Gerwen and some other favorites, the third German, Michael Unterbuchner, would stand on stage. But the evening session opened with the match between Keegan Brown and Mark Webster. It was not a high-class match, but very close. Somewhere in the match Brown started to get stronger and won in the end – at least a small surprise.

The following match between Jonny Clayton and Joe Murnan was certainly not a highlight of the tournament. Joe Murnan played weaker then Jonny Clayton who in the end won 5-2. Should they both not be able to raise their game Michael van Gerwen who is in group A as well will have an easy passage into the next round.

The first group D match followed, and Ian White met Steve Hine who is very popular as he spreads muffins in the crowd during his walk-on. Ian White finally played a great stage match again, a very good one and had the first over 100 average of the day. It had been clear from the start Hine would have no chance… but at least the muffinman won a leg.

Next on were Michael Smith and Adam Smith-Neale – the first match in group B. Michael Smith stormed through the first legs and was 4-1 in the lead. Suddenly he couldn’t find a double any longer. In the following two legs his scores were gone too. So Smith-Neale managed to win two more legs. In the last leg doubles and scores were back again and Smith won 5-3.

In the second match of Group C James Wade and Wesley Harms stood at the oche. Wade raised his performance still further compared to his last two tournament wins and steamrolled Wesley Harms who didn’t play one of his best matches. The first and only whitewash of the first day.

The second match of Group B brought the biggest upset of the day when Krzysztof Ratajski won against a listless and a little bit too nonchalant playing Raymond van Barneveld. Ratajski looked very determined and won 5-3.

In the second match of Group D Gary Anderson played against Michael Unterbuchner. Anderson was far from his best – probably because he had taken a break from darts recently. But he nevertheless was too much for Michael Unterbuchner in his Grand Slam of Darts debut who never found a foothold in the match. But he still has two more matches to settle in the tournament.

The final match of the evening finally brought the reigning champion Michael van Gerwen on stage to play against BDO player Gary Robson. Robson was not really a match for van Gerwen and lost 1-5. But against a van Gerwen with an 112.66 average a lot of players wouldn’t have had a chance. And despite his defeat Robson seems to be the second strongest player in Group A.

And so the first day of the tournament was history already. There wass no time to feel bored with this short format and there had been a lot of interesting matches – although we didn’t see a lot of upsets and only two of the seeded players lost their matches. But all the players still have two more chances and I hope of course Martin Schindler and Michael Unterbuchner will use them.

I left the venue as fast as possible to reach an already well-filled shuttle whith a great athmosphere and shutteled back into town. The fans in the shuttled first sang for Phil Taylor and than for Michael van Gerwen before they agreed on James Wade. I felt content with that…

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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.