Author Archives: Charis Mutschler

Column #CM93 The European Championship

Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Column CM93
The European Championship

I will not predict anything this time – not after all those wrong predictions last time! But I have looked at the line up for the European Championship which really can take place despite all the problems the Corona crisis presents. There will even be a crowd though only a small one as only 250 people per session will be allowed into the König-Pilsener Arena in Oberhausen

At first view it looks like the usual European Championship in which the top 32 of the European Tour Order of Merit will take part. Nevertheless, it will be a strange tournament. The European Tour had only four events this year and we have no idea about the real form of some of the participants. The seeds look very different to the usual seeds for the tournament as well – the #1 seed is Joe Cullen. In places three and four we have Jose de Sousa and Devon Petersen. With Ross Smith we even have a player in the mix who only competed one of the four events and with Andy Hamilton we have a player whose tournament average is around the mid-80s.

Consitency seems to be a problem for many players currently. One example is world #1 Michael van Gerwen who rarely turns up at his best and often has big problems with the accuracy on his doubles. Glen Durrant had to withdrew due to his positive Corona test and Peter Wright decided not to turn up for the last two European Tour events due to the Corona crisis – so there to be sure will be some upsets and the winner will be the player who manages to avoid any slump in his performance during the event.

Of course, we have the usual suspects for the win – Gerwyn Price, Peter Wright and Michael van Gerwen (as you never can write him off). There’s reigning champion Rob Cross but, well, he lost second round of the International Darts Open against German Franz Roetzsch. Nothing is predictable now for the former world champion.

The four European events this year were won by Gerwyn Price, Devon Petersen, Jose de Sousa and Joe Cullen but except for Gerwyn Price none of these players are probably favourites to win of the European Championship. Even for Price a win doesn’t look easy as his route is paved with names like Peter Wright, Mensur Suljovic, Krzysztof Ratajski, Jose de Sousa and Michael Smith (though he would not meet Michael van Gerwen until the final). The same applies for Peter Wright – the bottom half of the draw certainly has a lot of high hurdles for the players.

The upper half – in which we find Michael van Gerwen – looks less difficult though it is even more unpredictable as with a few exceptions one can find there several players who might turn out to be the dominant players of the tournament. James Wade for example played quite impressively in the International Darts Open as did of course Joe Cullen. Rob Cross might have been able to get rid of his problems. Nathan Aspinall could be back in top form. David Chisnall might be able to keep up his brilliant performance for more than one match. And Michael van Gerwen could stumble again against Mervyn King in the second round.

To be sure this tournament is very hard to predict, you can’t take anything for granted right now. Although the PDC and the PDC Europe do a great job in offering the players opportunities to play tournaments, some even with a crowd, the Corona pandemic is definitely having an impact on the players. Travelling is far more difficult; players always must be tested (with an uncertain outcome) and everybody is very restricted on-site. Contact with the fans is non-existent. There are far less tournaments than usual, probably far less practice with colleagues and nobody knows what will happen next. And it all might get far before it hopefully will get better.

When a tournament is unpredictable it doesn’t mean it will not be interesting. So, I really look forward to being able to watch another live event and pass some enjoyable hours in front of the TV.

Column #CM92 World Grand Prix – The Debutants

Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Column CM92
World Grand Prix Debutants

This year, in the World Grand Prix – which due to the Corona pandemic will not be played as usual in the City West hotel in Dublin but rather behind closed doors in the Ricoh Arena in Coventry – six debutants will take part who are (with the exception of Dirk van Duijvenbode) very close in the the PDC Order of Merit. As the circumstances differ a lot from the other World Grand Prix it is difficult to assess the advantage players who previously taken part in this double-in event might have over the debutants. And almost as difficult is assessing in what form the participants will present themselves – far from all took part in the last PDC event, the German Darts Championship. I nevertheless will attempt to give an overview of their chances based on this year’s results.

Ryan Joyce

Age: 35
Nickname: Relentless
Best Performance on TV: quarterfinal PDC World Championship 2019
First Round Opponent: Peter Wright
PDC Order of Merit: Rank 40

Ryan Joyce – born in Newcastle-upon-Tyan and now living in Bristol – first played in the BDO and in 2017 won the British Gold Cup. In the same year he took part for the first and only time in the BDO World Championship but was eliminated in the first round by Martin Adams. In 2018, he took part in PDC Qualifying School and got his Tour Card. In his first Players Championship he reached the semi-finals and all in all played a strong first year on the PDC Circuit – which reached its peak when he reached a quarterfinal but lost to Michael van Gerwen. 2019 was not as good for Joyce although he reached his second Players Championship semi-final. But in the World Championship he already lost first round.

Due to the Corona pandemic it is difficult to assess Joyce form in 2020. He won one of the events of the PDC Summer Series and once reached the top 32 of an Autumn Series event. He lost his first round match in the World Matchplay against Simon Whitlock. Probably Peter Wright will be too strong an opponent in the first round of the World Grand Prix. But this only double-in event has a way of following its own rules and first round upsets happen often. Nevertheless Joyce will probably have to surpass himself to beat Peter Wright – who has a lot more match time at the line this year on his side as well.

Ryan Searle

Age: 32
Nickname: Heavy Metal
Best Performance on TV: last 16 PDC World Championship 2019
First Round Opponent: Danny Noppert
PDC Order of Merit: Rank 39

Ryan Searle also started his career in the PDC where he prompted negative headlines in 2013 for not signaling his refusal during the World Masters when the caller saw his winning dart inside the double 20 which was landed outside. But it may well be Searle was not cheating as we now know he has big problems with his eyesight due to astigmatism. Since that time, Searle played on the PDC Challenge Tour and was so successful that he got a 2016 Tour Card thanks to his Challenge Tour ranking place. In his first year on the Pro Tour he reached some good placings – among others the Top 32 of the UK Open. In 2018 his only highlight was the quarterfinal of an European Tour event but Searle qualified by the Qualifier for the Grand Slam of Darts. He didn’t survive the group phase. In the PDC World Championship in 2019 he reached the quarterfinals as well where he lost to Michael Smith. Overall, 2019 was unspectacular though again he showed some good performances.

In 2020, before the lockdown Searle would celebrate his biggest success so far winning the third Players Championship of the year beating Michael van Gerwen in the final. During the Autumn Series Searle stood once in a semi-final and twice among the top 32 – it looks he is still in good form. In the first round of the Grand Prix his opponent will be Danny Noppert who is in good or even top form as well. He just stood in the semi-finals of the German Darts Championship and showed impressive performances throughout the event. So, it will be difficult for Searle – especially as Noppert already has some World Grand Prix experience. Should Searle survive the first round the winner of the Rob Cross/Gary Anderson match will be waiting for him. The form of each is a tough call but to be sure both would be hard to beat by Searle.

Jose de Sousa

Age: 46
Nickname: The Special One
Best Performance on TV: last 32 World Matchplay 2020
First Round Opponent: Devon Petersen
PDC Order of Merit: Rank 45

Portuguese Jose de Sousa qualified for the first time for the PDC World Championship but lost there in the preliminary round to Devon Petersen. After that he didn’t appear for several years in the PDC but was quite successful locally both in soft-darts and in steel-darts. In 2017, he tried his luck in Qualifying School but couldn’t get a Tour Card. In 2019, he again qualified for the PDC World Championship and after it took part in European Qualifying School – this time with success. So, now de Sousa is the first and until now only Portuguese player on the Pro Tour. He improved gradually and won one of the Players Championships 2019.

De Sousa didn’t have a great start to 2020 but qualified before the lockdown for two European Tour events. He impressed in the first PDC Home Tour and reached the final of the third Summer Series event. By this he qualified for the World Matchplay but lost first round. De Sousa played a strong Autumn Series as well placing twice among the Top 32, once among the Top 16, a quarterfinal and a semi-final – it looks as though he improved his form during the Corona lockdown. At his World Grand Prix debut he will meet, as in his World Championship debut, Devon Petersen. As good as Petersen is playing at the moment this match could become one of the highlights of the first round of the tournament. I think the advantage is with Petersen but in the end to be able to hit the doubles clinically is, in this tournament, even more important than in other events. And often enough the double-in has driven many top players to desperation.

Devon Petersen

Age: 34
Nickname: The African Warrior
Best Performance on TV: last 16 PDC World Championship 2019
First Round Opponent: Jose de Sousa
PDC Order of Merit: Rank 42

Devon Petersen has now represented his country South Africa seven times in the PDC World Championship and reached that last 16 in 2014 and 2019. Since 2012, he has taken part several times in the PDC World Cup as well. Once in this time Team South Africa stood in the quarterfinals – the until now best placing. In 2011, Petersen for the first time got a Tour card but he had to put his career on hold due to an injury. In 2015, he won his Tour Card back and travelled back and forth to take part in the tournaments. In 2016, he for the first time stood on the Pro Tour in a quarterfinal and became the first South African in the PDC to throw a nine-darter.

The following years his performances varied and success on the Pro Tour was rare. He joined the Sky Sports commentators team and delighted the crowds from time to time with his stage dance. His performance started to improve in mid-2019 – he played from time to time outstanding averages but still without real success. In February 2020, he for the first time stood in a semi-final of a Pro Tour event and reached in March the semi-finals of the Belgian Darts Championship as well before the lockdown abruptly interrupted his rise.

Petersen reached one semi-final during the Summer Series. During the Autumn Series he stood for the first time in a final. He couldn’t be stopped in the second European Tour event, the German Darts Championship, and showed an impressive performance in the final to defeat Jonny Clayton, folloing which he explained that he’d practiced during the lockdown with Wayne Mardle and Collin Lloyd.

Petersen will meet Ryan Searle in the first round of the World Grand Prix. Searle is a debutant as well and in good from but not as spectacular as Petersen. In round two Petersen wll meet either Michael van Gerwen or Krzysztof Ratajski – a rather difficult task – and should he advance, on his way to a possible final more big names will await. Nevertheless Mark Webster thinks Petersen could be a possible winner though he would tend more to Gerwyn Price or Peter Wright.

Gabriel Clemens

Age: 37
Nickname: German Giant
Best Performance on TV: last 16 UK Open and World Matchplay 2020
First Round Opponent: Nathan Aspinall
PDC Order of Merit: Rank 37

Gabriel Clemens‘ biggest success so far is he semi-final of the World Masters in 2017. Since obtaining his PDC Tour Card in 2018 he’s been a regular n the PDC Circuit. In his first year he stood in a Pro Tour final. He has been the most successful German player on the Pro Tour through the last few years and often convinced on the European Tour as well. In 2019, he qualified by the qualifier for the Grand Slam. Clemens recharged the last 16 where he lost a very close match to Glen Durrant. Clemens started well into the year 2020 and was the first German player to reach the Last 16 of the UK Open. During the Summer Series he reached another semi-final and qualified for the World Matchplay where he was eliminated second round by Krzysztof Ratajski. After that, Clemens form dropped and he had a disappointing Autumn Series. He lost second round in the German Darts Championship – with for him rather low averages. Of course it can happen that his form will be back for the World Grand Prix but he has with Nathan Aspinall a really high-class opponent. Should he be able to win the match Stephen Bunting or Jamie Hughes would be his next opponent – not so difficult as both are in the moment far from their best too. In round three he would probably face Gerwyn Price would wait – at the moment probably too much for the German Giant.

Dirk van Duijvenbode

Age: 28
Nickname: Titan
Best Performance on TV: last 32 UK Open 2020
First Round Opponent: Mensur Suljovic
PDC Order of Merit: Rank 73

The upcoming Dutch player Dirk van Duijvenbode is the youngest and in the PDC Order of Merit lowest ranked World Grand Prix debutant. He‘s played since 2011 again and again on the Development Tour, later on the Challenge Tour as well where he had his most successful year in 2014 reaching four semi-finals and one final. In 2015, he tried Qualifying School without success, afterwards several times played on the Pro Tour and threw a nine-darter on the Development Tour.

By the Order of Merit he got 2016 Tour Card but lost it again at the end of 2017. He got it back in Qualifying School 2018 but again lost it at the end of 2019. He won it back in Qualifying School 2020.

It came as a surprise when van Duijvenbode reached the semi-finals of the Belgian Darts Championship – the first event of the European Tour. A short time later he stood among the Last 32 of the UK Open as well.

His form seems to be quite good – during the Autumn Series he twice reached the Top 32. Whether his form is good enough to survive his World Grand Prix first round match against Mensur Suljovic is questionable – though Suljovic showed no brilliant matches this year so far. Van Duijvenbode would have to be clinical on his double-in and Suljovic rather poor. In round two Michael Smith or Dmitri van Bergh will wait should the Dutchmen get through – and I suppose at least that will be the end of the way.

Column #CM90 Superbly amplified (or World Matchplay – Round #2)

Saturday, July 25, 2020
Column CM90
Superbly Amplified (or World Matchplay – Round #2)

Am I the only one who is curious why the arena in Milton Keynes is called “Marshall Arena”?

Surely others have wondered too but no doubt most don’t care and are just happy that live darts is finally back.  Still, perhaps some will find the answer to the question interesting.

Marshall is the name of a company (it might be it will now click for a few).  At least my husband reacted immediately: “Marshall… of course, that’s the crème de la crème!”

Yes, exactly.  Marshall is the crème de la crème for all who are somehow involved in rock music be it by playing electric guitars or the drums, as a member of a band or just as a fan of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend and many more.

Most amateurs will dream of having one and the professionals will have one – Marshall is the leading manufacturer of amplifiers. And without those amplifiers the typical sound of Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac or even the Rolling Stones would either not exist or would be completely different.

The founder of the company, Jim Marshall, was born in London in 1923 and was an amateur drummer in his youth. He opened a music shop in London which sold instruments. Many young talents who were friends of his son, Terry, were among his customers so the shop soon became a centre for young rock musicians who often lamented that existing amplifiers didn’t produce the sound they wanted.

Jim and Terry decided to help them and after some experimentation constructed their first amplifier, the amp #1, which quickly became successful.  Many more amplifiers followed which were also successful, so the company had to move. In fact, it moved several times before it came to Bletchley, which is a part of Milton Keynes, in 1967.  The headquarters can still be found here 53 years later.

Thanks to a visit by Jimi Hendrix Marshall became internationally known.  It is not quite clear just what happened…

In one version it is claimed Hendrix got interested in the company after a promoter forced him to play with the Marshall equipment at a certain venue (because he didn’t want to remove the equipment that was already there and replace it with Hendrix’s own.

In another version it is said Hendrix’s drummer, Mitch Mitchell, worked for a time in Marshall’s shop in London and introduced them.

The rest is history and still today Marshall amplifiers are in demand around the world. Today, the company also produces speakers and headphones and their newest amplifier is digital and completely programmable.  And, since 2017 there has existed a Marshall record label as well.  Should you want to hear more about the company here two short videos:

Behind the Scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4f9TJ6mFJQ

Marshall Memories: https://youtu.be/rU_DegFF9As

I think one can suppose that in the Marshall Arena Marshall equipment is used.

And so, we are back at the World Matchplay and ready for a look at the astonishing second round.

The second round was played on two evenings and after them the two top favourites to win, world ranked #1 Michael van Gerwen and world champion Peter Wright, were eliminated from the tournament.  So also, among top ten players, were Mensur Suljovic, James Wade and Daryl Gurney.

The first night of the second round started with a thriller.  Michael Smith defeated Mensur Suljovic in overtime 14-12.  Based on averages it was an ordinary match in which Smith just played a little bit better than Suljovic and won deservedly.  Smith threw 10 180s and Suljovic only 2 – probably this plus Smith’s solid finishing made the difference.

This was followed by similarly exciting match between Gary Anderson and James Wade.  Anderson was ahead 9-4 when Wade started one of his feared fightbacks.  In this case it was not enough, and Anderson managed to stay in the match, winning 11-8.

What came next was the biggest upset of the event when of all players Simon Whitlock – whom many had written off – defeated Michael van Gerwen who had a pitch-black night.

Why van Gerwen played as he did is not known.  But he never was in the match at all and at the first break was behind 0-5.  He never managed to really reduce the gap and an unchained Simon Whitlock won 11-4.  van Gerwen couldn’t hit a double and his average was just 90 – almost embarrassing for him.

The last match of the night was the best from an averages standpoint and it was a very close one in which Gabriel Clemens only was once in the lead – at just about the very the end.  But Krzysztof Ratajski managed to win.

And so, Peter Wright moved up into the position as favourite – but only for 24 hours…

The second evening of second round matches was not as thrilling as the first – most matches were a little bit one-sided, but two had surprising results.

First on was Vincent van der Voort vs. Daryl Gurney who looked from the start like he had given in already.  Although he produced a short mini comeback even that seemed half-hearted.  Vincent van der Voort enjoyed a comfortable 11-5 win.

More thrilling was the next contest between Dmitri van den Bergh and Joe Cullen, though it was not a quality match.  But van den Bergh showed he has now learned how to win these matches as well. It was a close call at 11-9 but it was enough.

Of course, this night had its upset as well – Glen Durrant defeated Peter Wright who had been brilliant in the Summer Series.  Wright played the only 100-plus average of the second round, but he couldn’t find a double and even as a spectator I grew desperate.

Probably Wright’s glasses or, more accurately, in this match his missing glasses were the reason.

During the Summer Series Wright played for the first time with glasses and he had everything under control.  In the first round of the World Matchplay he wore them for the first half of the match but took them off as the glare from the lights made it difficult for him to see.  For his second round match he appeared from the start without glasses on stage.

I can imagine it becomes difficult when you switch between wearing glasses or not, especially when it comes to hitting doubles.  With glasses you can see everything clearly – without everything is blurred.

Other players like Gary Anderson and Ian White seem to be able to handle it and should Wright decide to wear them all the time and not constantly switch like he does with his darts he will surely get used to them. But his chance to win the World Matchplay is gone.  We’ll see what happens during the Premier League to be played in Milton Keynes in August.

In the last match of the second round the rejuvenated Adrian Lewis defeated Danny Noppert.  It was another good performance from Lewis.  Noppert just was not strong enough.

And so, after the elimination of van Gerwen and Wright, Glen Durrant was suddenly the favourite to win World Matchplay…

 

Column #CM89 Gary Anderson is to blame!

Friday, July 24, 2020
Column CM89
Gary Anderson is to blame!

My idea was to abstain from accompanying this year’s World Matchplay with columns since I couldn’t watch it live on the spot.  And I’ve never ever been in Milton Keynes either….

But then Gary Anderson came along and was asked in two different interviews how he intended to pass the time between winning his first round match and his second round match.  I was astonished when both times he mentioned that if in a pinch he could go shopping…

Strange, I thought.  I am almost sure he neither could, nor would go shopping.  First, because I just don’t envision Anderson as a passionate shopper – someone who in his spare time trudges around shops searching for a fancy outfit.  And second, because I couldn’t imagine the PDC would be pleased if players involved in the tournament (who had tested negative for Covid-19) would mingle between rounds with the untested shopping crowd. Players would have to be tested again and each positive test would compromise the tournament.

So, Anderson’s shopping had to be some kind of joke – probably a joke only the British can understand.

But I was curious and decided to do some research and, well, when you start with research normally a column is not far away.

So, Gary Anderson is to blame…

Milton Keynes is not really a town worth a visit, except perhaps for an urban planner who intends to have a look at the architectural eyesores of the 1960s.

Milton Keynes is a so-called “New Town.”  New Towns were constructed in Great Britain in the 1960s as kind of relief towns for major cities. That’s not quite true – after World War II many New Towns were already built – then and later in the 1960s because housing space was scarce. Those built after World War II were mostly built around London.

Milton Keynes was built in 1967, half-way between London and Birmingham.  At first these towns were a real success but today the infrastructure is no longer adequate and social problems are huge.

To build Milton Keynes a few small villages which already existed where included.  As all New Towns, the town was planned on the drafting board – laid out in a grid pattern, a lot of streets, many roundabouts.  Today, the roundabouts of Milton Keynes are decorated with concrete cows.

Milton Keyes is proud to have the biggest indoor ski hall in all of Europe and the longest shopping centre stretching – believe it or not – 720 metres.  (Perhaps this was the impetus for Gary Anderson’s allusion.)

But back to this year’s World Matchplay which is different from all World Matchplays before.

No Winter Gardens, no Blackpool Tower, no crowds at the beach or in the venue, no holiday atmosphere.  The players are alone during their walk-on, the noise is canned and fits most match situations quite well.  Somewhere there seems to sit some really alert technician so the “cheer” comes come at the right moment with only a minor delay.

Nevertheless, most players feel the noise is “weird” – and they all use the same word to describe it.  Only Krzysztof Ratajski thought it was deceptively real – likely because he rarely looks at the crowd and only hears it.

On stage are John McDonald, a referee and two writers – as always.

I feel Sky Sports and the PDC came up with quite a good concept.  Commentators Rod Studd and Wayne Mardle are missing (and I really miss them).  Those present, including Nigel Pearson who replaces Dave Clark, do a good job.

And the matches?

There were no really weak matches in the first round – the lowest averages saw Gabriel Clemens and Steve Beaton with just below 90.

Nevertheless, it was Clemens who caused one of the upsets of the first round when he eliminated reigning champion Rob Cross. Cross had the better average but the lower hitting rate on the doubles.

Gerwyn Price was eliminated first round as well by a laser-focused Danny Noppert.

And Nathan Aspinall didn’t survive the final first round match against Dimitri van den Bergh.  It might be van den Bergh learned something during his enforced stay with Peter Wright during the lockdown – at least van den Bergh thinks he learned a lot about the right attitude from Wright.

The first round was a stumbling block for some more top 16 players as well…

Dave Chisnall and Ian White where eliminated but they never were among the top favourites to win the event.

The highest average was recorded by Krzysztof Ratajski who impressed against Jermaine Wattimena.  Almost as high was Glen Durrant’s – who played as Durrant in top form plays.

Though their averages were not as high both Adrian Lewis and Vincent van der Voort impressed as well.  Probably the lockdown break was good for both.

Three matches required overtime and Mensur Suljovic, James Wade and Joe Cullen prevailed – Cullen in a Sudden Death leg.

One player who looked like he really enjoyed himself was Simon Whitlock who joked around with the cameras and the absent crowd and had no problem winning the opening match against Ryan Joyce.

So, all in all it was a satisfying first round (though some of the top favourites disappointed).  It included drama, fun, great performances and upsets – what more could you ask for?

Well, I suppose there could have been one thing… but I never did find out if Gary Anderson went shopping!

Column #CM88 After the Summer Series and before (almost) World Matchplay…

Wednesday, July 18, 2020
Column CM88
After the Summer Series and before (almost) World Matchplay…

Thanks to the PDC Summer Series we were finally able to watch live darts again! But for the players and their managers and the few officials the situation during the five days was far from normal…

All had to arrive on the day before the series began and were tested for Covid-19. Until the test results were known all had to stay in their rooms. It was not until a negative result was announced that the players could take part in the events – but of course, even then they had to follow the sanitary and social distancing regulations. The match losers had to mark the following match as in bygone times, the tables for the players were placed according to the distancing rule, the players were allocated practice boards and there was no handshake before and after matches. And more.

Fortunately, most of the Tour Card holders were able to take part.

Of course, many were anxious to see in what form the players would be after the Corona break (which was only broken by the PDC Home Tour). A few had lost some weight over the months, some had new darts or a new set-up and others had done a lot for their physical fitness (including some garden work, as we heard during the Home Tour). All of this might affect form.

So, when the Summer Series was over it was interesting to see among places 1-14 only the following players could be found among the World Matchplay participants: Peter Wright, Michael van Gerwen, James Wade, Ryan Joyce, Gerwyn Price, Jose de Sousa, Dave Chisnall, Daryl Gurney, Nathan Aspinall, Krzysztof Ratajski, Ian White, Mensur Suljovic and Glen Durrant.

van Gerwen, Wright, Price and Aspinall are the bookmaker’s favourites to win the World Matchplay. The bookmakers also fancy the chances of the reigning champion Rob Cross and even those of Michael Smith who ended on place 20 and of Gary Anderson who couldn’t convince in the Summer Series and only once reached a semi-final.

The Summer Series was kind of a forerunner for the World Matchplay as due to the Corona crisis the tournament also take place behind closed doors – in the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.

How the World Matchplay will look this year we will only know when it gets started. Until now it’s only known it will be televised as always by Sky Sports. I suppose it will be similar for the players to the Summer Series, but I think one will play on a stage with callers and markers and MC. Perhaps there will be a walk-on. Probably there will be commentators…

The presenter will not be Dave Clark any longer as he just announced his withdrawal from his job. It might be Rod Studd will not yet be back commentating – he had a heart attack during the lockdown and it’s not known whether he has completely recovered. But the PDC will surely try to stage this as the major event which it is and not like just another Players Championship.

The TV transmission of football matches without a crowd showed how difficult it is – there was no one there who was electrified. But it might be Sky Sport has found a solution.

Of course, it will be a new experience for the players who are so used to the crowds in big TV tournaments, who interact with the crowds and profit from the support. Often you hear “the crowd was behind me” or “I only won because the crowd supported me.” No one will be able to say this during this year’s World Matchplay.

The Summer Series not only gave the players money for the rankings and qualification for the World Matchplay – it showed players’ current form. It didn’t change much for the field of participants in the World Matchplay – only two players managed to play themselves into the field of participants by the Pro Tour Order of Merit: Ryan Joyce and Ricky Evans who replaced Ryan Searle and Kim Huybrechts. But though those two proved their good form neither Joyce (who was a surprise winner of one of the events) not Evans (who once reached the top 16 and three times lost in the third round) are among the favourites to win the World Matchplay.

Michael van Gerwen, who once again heads the favourites and was ranked second in the Summer Series, was not really in top form in the Summer Series. He won two of the events but was eliminated in early rounds in the other three – once even first round by Joe Murnan. It looked as though he lost his form over the five events.

Much more convincing and consistent was Peter Wright (despite his playing for the first time with glasses) with one win, a final, two quarterfinals and a top 16 place – his win came on the last day of the series.

Gerwyn Price was like van Gerwen: inconsistent – one final, one top 16 place and three times early elimination – but it looked he got stronger throughout the series.

Even more inconsistent was reigning champion Rob Cross who had only one good day with a nine-darter and a place in the final. Nathan Aspinall had some problems on the first day but after that played consistently, though far from outstanding. Glen Durrant and Michael Smith are among the bookmaker’s favourites as well – though Smith’s best placing was a quarter final on day four while Durrant reached the quarterfinals on day one and two and the top 16 on day four – and was eliminated early the other two days.

Gary Anderson was far from his best and perhaps unlucky as well. Only once did he reach the semi-finals. An all four other days he was eliminated in the first or second round even though most of the time he played quite well.

Should consistency during the Summer Series be a determining factor in the outcome of the World Matchplay the final might be Peter Wright vs. James Wade. Wade was one of the most consistent players over the five events with one third round elimination on day one, twice reaching the top 16, a quarter final and one win.

But consistency will not be the only factor. We have the draw and to be sure the Corona situation as well. Besides, I would think for most players it is more important to have success in the World Matchplay than to have success in the Summer Series.

To reach the final, Wade would have to beat Gary Anderson in second round and Michael van Gerwen in the third – only then to run into reigning champion Rob Cross, Gabriel Clemens, Krzysztof Ratajski, Michael Smith or Mensur Suljovic in the semi-finals. Of course, not an impossible task for Wade in top form but definitely a very hard one. So, it is more likely that Michael van Gerwen (who of course could stumble on one of his not so focused days) over a well playing Dolan, Whitlock/Joyce or Wade/Anderson will reach the semi-finals to face one of the above mentioned strong players. So, it will not be easy for van Gerwen as well and he can’t allow himself many errors. Otherwise, he will not win the World Matchplay.

In the lower half of the draw we have first of all got Peter Wright who after his Summer Series achievements is the favourite to reach the final – but his first round match against Jose de Sousa could turn out to be a tough nut to crack as could a second round match against Glen Durrant. Daryl Gurney and Dave Chisnall could be next and who both played a solid Summer Series. And in the semi-finals Gerwyn Price might be waiting – though he would have to get past Nathan Aspinall first…

It could well be we’ll see another Peter Wright vs. Michael van Gerwen final – with an open end. But there are enough strong players among the participants who could and want to hinder such a final and who might cope better with the closed doors situation.

So, might be we’ll celebrate a surprise winner!

 

 

Column #CM86 And Now for Something Completely Different…

Tuesday, March 25, 2020
Column CM86
UK Open Day 3 – And Now for Something Completely Different…

…namely about another famous person born in Weston who had nothing at all to with darts – John Cleese, one of the founders of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

In darts language there exists the phrase “Not old” for a score of 37 points with single 20, single 5 and single 12, which can be found in a Monty Python sketch. The last Monty Python stage show appeared 2014 in the O2 Arena in London…

But John Cleese didn’t make himself a name as an outstanding darts player, but rather as actor, comedian, screen writer and producer. Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare in 1939 and his sports – at least at school – were cricket and boxing. As one can read, he is a big fan of the Wolverhampton Wanderers. He also liked science classes. He studied in Cambridge and there joined the Cambridge Footlights – an amateur theatre group – even though he couldn’t sign or dance. His only talent was (as he says himself) an ability to make people laugh. There he got to know Graham Chapman with whom he later would write the texts of Monty Python.

He wrote texts for the Footlights and stood on stage as well. A real success was the Footlight revue “Cambridge Circus” which even toured New Zealand and was played on Broadway as well. In America Cleese met Terry Gilham who later became another Monty Python.

Back in England, Cleese started to write for BBC Radio. From 1965 Cleese wrote together with Chapman the “Frost Report” in which several others of the later Monty Python were involved as well. From 1969 to 1974 Monty Python’s Flying Circus was shown on BBC. Cleese only stayed for three series as he had growing problems with Chapman’s alcoholism and the scripts were not as good as at the start. But all stayed friends and together produced the three well known Monty Python’s films “Monty Phyton and the Holy Grail, Monty Phyton’s Live of Brian and Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.”

From 1970 Cleese was for a few years vice chancellor of the University of St. Andrews – he has always been interested in knowledge transfer. So, it is not really astonishing that beside all his other activities he produced some witty-ironical instruction videos for managers.

Possibly Cleese’s biggest success was the film A Fish called Wanda for which he wrote the screen play and produced it as well. And as so often before he appeared in it as a slightly inhibited Englishman. Some may have also seen him in the Harry Potter films as Nearly Headless Nick or as “R” in two James Bond films.

Today, Cleese lives with his fourth wife on Nevis in the Caribbean – he was not happy about the developments in his home country. For him Britain today is a corrupt, without any culture and citizens have even lost their humour, serenity and tolerance.

But back to the darts and to the UK Open…

To be sure the lyrics of the Monty Phyton song “Always look on the bright side of life” from the Life of Brian is a good advice for all those players who lost matches during the three days of the UK Open.

I almost couldn’t believe that we had already reached the last day of the tournament and only seven matches were left to play, which took all place on the main stage. By now it was almost a certainty that Michael van Gerwen would win the event – so in some ways, finals day was a kind of routine. After all the performances over the first two days I couldn’t imagine there would be another finalist other than Gerwyn Price (unless Rob Cross should suddenly find top form and defeat van Gerwen in the quarterfinals). It wouldn’t have been is first win over the Dutchman.

The quarterfinals didn’t produce another upset – Dimitri van den Bergh and Rob Cross had no chance at all against Michael van Gerwen and Gerwyn Price. The other two quarterfinals were much more thrilling and both rather close. Jelle Klaasen made it very hard work for Daryl Gurney and even was in the lead before Gurney finally won 10-9. The averages were much lower than the averages of van Gerwen, Price and van den Bergh.

The last quarterfinal had been the one hardest to predict and it was the least high-class. Nevertheless, it was thrilling, especially because Jamie Hughes somehow lost his range on the doubles. Better – he started slow, had a strong phase in the middle of the match and faded again. He missed eight match darts and Clayton won. Hughes really should work hard at his doubles…

For both Gurney and Clayton to reach the semi-finals certainly was an achievement, but you could see very quickly in both matches they had no chance to reach the final. Price, in his all Welsh semi-finals was as dominant as van Gerwen against Gurney. And so, we had in the end the final I had expected.

What I hadn’t expected was that Price would put in such an outstanding performance. He didn’t lose the final because van Gerwen played so strong; he lost only because he couldn’t hit his doubles and passed over too many chances. Were it me, I probably would have been very annoyed with myself; perhaps Price felt the same – the interview with him sounded like it but he didn’t really show it.

And so, the tournament was already over and the PDC staff was busy dismantling. The screens disappeared from the press room, all that the PDC owned disappeared into boxes, including the cables and the power boards.

I hurried to finish my updates and walked back to my accommodation. It was still early, dry and mild, so I had time to look over to Weston-super-Mare…

Column #CM85 – UK Open Day 2 – Ritchie Blackmore

Tuesday, March 25, 2020
Column CM85
UK Open Day 2 – Ritchie Blackmore

One of the best-known people from Weston-super-Mare is Ritchie Blackmore, the lead guitarist from Deep Purple (although he only lived for his first two years in Weston). His family then moved to Heston, a suburb of London. When Blackmore was eleven, he got his first guitar with the condition to learn how to play it properly. So, for one year he took guitar lessons. As he says today, that’s the reason he knows how to use his little finger – something not many E-guitarists are able to do.

It is quite possible that as a youth he played the famous guitar introduction to Jonny Clayton’s walk-on song “Johnny B. Goode,” especially as one of his role models was the English rock and roll star Tommy Steele who to be sure had that piece in his program. School didn’t really interest Blackmore – except for sports. He was a good javelin thrower – another link to the sport of darts, as after all the legend Bob Anderson had been in his youth an outstanding javelin thrower.

But Blackmore didn’t take the step from javelin to darts; he was much more interested in music. Early in the 1960s, he was co-founder of the band Outlaws and for many pop, rock and beat singers he was the guitar accompanist in the studio and on stage. How he got into contact with Deep Purple I don’t know but in 1968 he was invited.

At this time the band still played psychedelic and progressive rock music, but they didn’t consider themselves good enough for the latest pop songs. In the 1970s, the band changed to hard rock and in the mid 70s Blackmore left the band and founded Rainbow.

In those years Blackmore started to take cello lessons as well which influenced his compositions. It influenced Deep Purple as well when Blackmore returned to the band from 1984 to 1989.

In 1992 they again reunited and returned to the traditional Deep Purple sound. In 1993 Blackmore left again – this time for good. He changed “Rainbow” and a new hard rock singer was added to the band. In 1997 Rainbow disbanded and together with his girlfriend, Candace Night, Blackmore founded the folk duo Blackmore’s Night. Now, the voice took centre stage in his composition and medieval influences can be found. Blackmore’s Night is not really touring in big halls – the concerts take place in more intimate surroundings. In 2016 a short Rainbow revival did happen.

Blackmore’s first two wives were German, and Blackmore talks the language fluently; he has a lot of German friends and loves German television. He also loves alcohol and his Fender Stratocaster which he thinks sounds more aggressive then the Gibson he played at the start of his career.

His advice for people who would like to become good rock guitarists is: “When you really want to get good – and are not a genius – you first should copy other guitarists.”

Might this be a good advice for darters as well? At least you find something quite similar in John Part’s practice advice: “Watch what the pros do. When a dozen players do the same the chances are high that it will work for you as well.”

How many players who were still in the tournament on the second day of the UK Open follow this or other advice I’ve no idea. But it looks to me as if more and more players work with a mental coach.

The second day of the tournament started with four boards and the fifth round and ended with only two boards – one on the main stage and one on the second stage – and the sixth round. It was much more relaxed than on the first day and from time to time I found the time to watch matches over a longer period.

There were many close matches like the first fifth round match between Michael van Gerwen and Jason Lowe on the main stage, which van Gerwen only just won with 10-9, or the Irish drama between Daryl Gurney and William O’Connor on the second stage in which O’Connor missed his match darts and Gurney managed to win.

At one time boards three and four had some problems with the lightning so the players had to break off their matches until it was fixed. It was admirable how Mensur Suljovic, who was caught in the middle of a leg, managed to stay composed enough to win first the leg and then the match.

Martin Schindler was eliminated by the still clinical finishing Kyle McKinstry. Gabriel Clemens defeated Andy Boulton and progressed. James Wade and Kim Huybrechts were too early for the TV at the second stage and Wade disappeared again and had to be searched when the match finally should begin and Huybrechts had already walked on stage. Wade won 10-1 as did Jelle Klaasen against Steve West.

And then we had in round five the first real upset when Rob Cross won another of those close matches against Michael Smith. Somewhere among all those matches Jonny Clayton defeated Joe Cullen – go, go, Jonny, go.

After the usual draw everybody went into the break. No idea what the players do, a lot go to their accommodations to take a rest.

The sixth round started on the main stage with Gabriel Clemens playing against Gerwyn Price and he showed a great performance. As there were more and longer breaks on the main stage matches, I walked, despite my tired legs, to the second stage to have a view of Clayton vs. Dobey.

Well – I would be glad if could I tell I saw the nine-darter, but I left too early to walk back to the main stage (when I arrived, they started to show Clayton’s perfect leg). He had needed less time to throw a nine-darter than I needed to walk from the second stage to the main stage!

Back at the main stage Gabriel still was in the lead but by now it was very close. When Price went 9-9 I knew there would be no “happy ending” for Clemens and to be sure Price performed magic and produced his best leg of the match while Clemens showed nerves for the first time.

In the next match Michael van Gerwen eliminated James Wade from the event who played one of his weaker matches. Or was van Gerwen so good? Meanwhile, in the second match Jamie Hughes eliminated Mensur Suljovic.

Back on the main stage we had the next upset – Jelle Klaasen defeated Gary Anderson. Until that time I hadn’t really watched Klaasen and was a little bit surprised he was still in the event. But his win against Anderson to be sure was a deserved win as Anderson is still searching for his top form so he played solid in his two matches.

One last time I marched to the second stage and saw how Dimitri van den Bergh supported by a lot of fans won against Kyle McKinstry. I missed the match between Rob Cross and Stephen Bunting as on the main stage Peter Wright vs. Daryl Gurney was on next.

Peter Wright surprised by losing to Daryl Gurney.

Now, only eight players were still in the tournament. And to be sure Jamie Hughes and Jonny Clayton were two players I never thought would reach the quarterfinals.

This time I had no interest to watch the lights of Weston-super-Mare as seemingly from nowhere a strong wind had appeared and it poured down. So, despite my tired legs I moved up a gear and turned my back on the lights.