Author Archives: Charis Mutschler

Column #CM116 Out of Darkness Cometh Light…

Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Column CM116
Out of Darkness Cometh Light…

I am sure everybody reading this immediately will realize that Global Darts this year returned to Wolverhampton as this is the official motto of the town, not a religious one by the way – it has nothing to do with the Bible at all. But you can use it for many situations.

I couldn’t help remembering it when during the evening after I had arrived here suddenly everything went pitch black. I sat in my apartment reading a crime story, in which many strange things happened in the dark and it felt slightly creep – outside only the mobile light still lit the night. Then a siren started to wail, and it felt even creepier. Well, it took around three quarters of an hour until electricity was restored and the siren stopped.

Welcome to the Black Country, though it is not called Black Country because – it’s always dark here!

Not too much has changed in town since my last visit here. The Grand Slam tournament still takes part in the Aldersleigh Leisure Village as the Civic Hall is still being renovated. It’s quite a big project now as this entire area will be remodelled as attractive town centre. I heard rumours that next year the Grand Slam will return to the Civic Hall but that’s not an official PDC statement.

The tournament didn’t change much either though several many-year participants failed to qualify or didn’t even try to qualify – Gary Anderson and James Wade for example. But I didn’t really miss them on the first day of the tournament…

It was an interesting day with a few minor upsets, some impressive debutants, and a good mixture of experienced and upcoming players. There were some very close matches which needed a deciding leg and some which were very one-sided. 

The tournament started with the match between Simon Whitlock and Mensur Suljovic in the afternoon session, both very experienced players. Suljovic looked rather nervous, nothing seemed to work for him, and he began to get frustrated. So, Whitlock got a clear win.

In the second match German Martin Schindler came on stage and played a good match though he was beaten by Dirk van Duijvenbode who played a very strong deciding match – too strong for Schindler.

Joe Cullen was next, and he gave Ritchie Edhouse no chances at all in a one-sided affair and a good win for Cullen.

Dave Chisnall – who showed some great performances recently – was strangely weak against Raymond van Barneveld, a strange match from him which ended in a defeat.

Rob Cross had a weak start in his match and Adam Gawlas won the first two legs – but Cross suddenly turned up the heat and Gawlas couldn’t keep up any longer.

The game between Danny Noppert and Christian Perez was rather evenly matched, but Perez missed with his match dart while Noppert hit the winning double – a pity for Perez at his debut.

Gerwyn Price had no problem with Youth World Champion Ted Evetts who still has his problems on the big stage.

In the last match of the afternoon session Lisa Ashton managed to keep Michael Smith under pressure for the first six legs but then Smith left her behind.

In the evening-session the Groups E-H played their first group matches and there were some defeats I hadn’t expected… for example, in the very first match Luke Woodhouse defeated Ross Smith.

This followed the match between Ryan Searle and the up-and-coming Josh Rock – a very close match on equal footing. These young players like Josh Rock breathe new life into old tournaments.

Damon Heta looked somewhat scatter-brained and was almost steamrolled by Jermaine Wattimena.

Another very close match between Nathan Aspinall and a spirited Alan Soutar followed – which was won by Soutar.

Luke Humphries showed a strong performance and ran rings around his opponent, Scott Williams, who scored with his shining bright yellow shoes which delighted the press room.

Michael van Gerwen showed a strong performance as well in the penultimate match of the night and defeated Nathan Rafferty who played courageous but was just not good enough.

The tournament day ended with the match between Jonny Clayton and Leonard Gates, another debutant. To be sure it was a far from outstanding match from Clayton, but he dominated nonetheless and won with the only whitewash of the day.

Column #CM115 It is November and time for the Grand Slam!

Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Column CM115
It is November and time for the Grand Slam!

After a really astonishing and interesting European Championship with Ross Smith as the surprise winner (and the no longer surprisingly losing finalist, Michael Smith)  it is time for the next big PDC TV event – the Grand Slam of Darts in Wolverhampton.

The Grand Slam of Darts started as a tournament in which tournament winners from both the PDC and the BDO took part – but the BDO is history and so far the WDF not really picked up pace. While the World Masters are still firmly established (and currently played) it is not known whether another WDF World Championship will take place at all.

So, the Grand Slam now-a-days is an all PDC tournament including all winners and finalists of the big PDC TV events and some other winners like the first of the Development Tour ranking or the first two of the Women’s Series ranking.  This year (with Christian Perez and Leonard Gates) two international players were added who won PDC-associated Championships. And of course we have some Tour Card holder qualifiers.

There were already two big upsets in the runup to the tournament as neither Gary Anderson nor James Wade will be in the field of participants.  While Anderson chose not to play the qualifier, Wade just missed out qualifying – as did Dimitri van den Bergh and Kim Huybrechts, and Jose des Sousa who won the event in 2020.

Instead – surprise, surprise – we’ll see Raymond van Barneveld who managed to qualify via the qualifier (though, besides one win on the Pro Tour in the very first event he played after winning back his Tour Card, he hasn’t really impressed in the last two years.

As always, there are a few debutants in the mix like already mentioned international players Perez and Gates or the upcoming Josh Rock – but I tend doubt they will be the players who will dominate the tournament.

The Grand Slam is the only PDC tournament which starts in a Round Robin format played in eight groups of four players – which means the first round is a little bit more relaxed for the players as you can lose one match without being eliminated.  Sometimes a player can even lose two matches and still progress into the next round.

In some years we had some “easy” groups in which it was quite clear from the start which players would progress into the second round (the top two players of the group). This year it doesn’t look so clear.  In each group it could be at least three of the players who’ll battle for the top two places.

At the moment, we don’t see the one outstanding player who dominates all tournaments – we see instead a lot of players who are capable of playing on the same level.  More than ever the key to winning a tournament is consistency in hitting doubles, as scoring power often is very much the same.  Hitting a lot of 180s is not enough – you need some highfinishes as well.

Again Lisa Ashton and Fallon Sherrock qualified for the event.  Ashton hasn’t won a single match against the men in the big tournaments though she in parts dominated the Women’s Series (at least before Beau Greaves turned up).  She didn’t look as good on the Women’s Series recently while Fallon Sherrock seemed to get stronger again.  She was far from convincing in the World Series events but she won the Women’s World Matchplay in July.  She was great in last year’s Grand Slam so maybe she can build on it this year.

We’ve got seven debutants in this year’s Grand Slam beginning with Perez and Gates – the two international players for whom the tournament is a great preparation for the World Championship but who probably will not survive the Round Robin phase.

Then there are Ritchie Edhouse, Alan Soutar and Luke Woodhouse who all qualified by the qualifier.  They are all capable of winning a match or two against the big names but will play no part in the battle to win the event.

And we have Josh Rock and Scott Williams. Williams dominated the Challenge Tour and celebrated one win on the Pro Tour. In the same way, Josh Rock dominated the Development Tour and recently won his first Pro Tour event.  Both were drawn in the same group – Group H – and each could turn out to be too much for Luke Humphries and Ryan Searle.

Of course, we have the Top 3 in the world who as usual are the top favourites to win – Gerwyn Price, Peter Wright and Michael van Gerwen.  None of the three are in really top form – Price just won a Players Championship but it seems he likes the big TV events better and he can improve when under pressure.  Michael van Gerwen is sometimes quite sloppy on his doubles which can have dire consequences – as he is not the only player with power scoring abilities.  Peter Wright is an enigma for me and a player I just can’t assess.

So, who might win?

Perhaps it will be Michael Smith’s chance.  It should be possible for him to win the tournament – if he can somehow leave all his problems behind.

It could be Jonny Clayton’s comeback to the winners circle or Rob Cross could surprise – it could even be that Raymond van Barneveld has a good run (though I doubt it).

And it could be we’ll see again an outsider win – someone who uses his chances well, is tenacious and consistent and, of course. clinical on his doubles throughout.

Column #CM114 “Double In” in Leicester

Friday, September 30, 2022
Column CM114
“Double In” in Leicester

“Double In” in Dublin was for many years the motto when October drew near and the City West Hotel just outside the city offered accomodation for players, officials and fans as well as being the host venue for the PDC World Grand Prix – a really splendid setting for the tournament.  Many players looked forward to participation in a tournament as well as being able to use the hotel‘s golf course.   And perhaps as well to eat the outstanding breakfast surrounded by nobility.

For many years there were always two places for Irish players in the tournament  to make it a real Irish event.

For me – fan and media – of course, Dublin always was a special destination – Ireland somehow is different, it feels different.  I suppose other people have experienced the same.

But last year, Corona prevented the Dublin event and this year the City West Hotel was not available for the PDC’s tournament date – so for the second time in a row it will be “Double In” in Leicester.

The town of the infamous King Richard III offers a good environment for a dart tournament – here the popular Jamie “Jabba” Caven was born and Jim Walker calls it home now-a-days.  And with Daryl Gurney and Brendan Dolan we find in this year’s World Grand Prix two Irishman in the mix of participants to add a small Irish touch.

Beside being one of the oldest cities in England with a lot of history today‘s Leicester is a town which hosted Cricket World Cups and Rugby – Union World Championships.  It is the hometown of several snooker players – among them four-time world champion Mark Selby and football player Gary Lineker and many more or less notable people.

Thirty-two more or less notable dart players will participate in this year’s World Grand Prix – the top 16 on the PDC Order of Merit plus the top 16 from the PDC Pro Tour Order of Merit not otherwise qualified.  Among them we have this year three debutants – Martin Schindler, Martin Lukeman and Madars Razma – all qualified by the Pro Tour Order of Merit.

The players come from an astonishing twelve different countries though still the most are English (17).  Among them are five former and the reigning world champion – but nevertheless I have no clue who will win the tournament.

Sponsor betting company Boyle Sports sees Gerwyn Price as favourite to win followed by Peter Wright and Michael van Gerwen, both on second place.  Reigning champion Jonny Clayton is fourth in the betting rankings.

When you look at the tournament bracket it is easy to understand this betting ranking – Price’s quarter of the draw offers seven other players most fans will not think capable of presenting real danger for Price – Martin Schindler, Joe Cullen, Damon Heta, Rob Cross, Daryl Gurney, Madars Razma and Ryan Searle.  But this could be a little bit deceptive.  Yes, it is true that Gurney and Searle lost most of the matches they played again Price but Price does not always win.  Heta lost to him at the Queensland Darts Masters – but sometimes Price is not up for the win.  The same applies to the other players – Cullen for example lost once and won once against the Welshman in this year’s Premier League.

Nevertheless I, in principle, agree with the assessment that Price is the strongest player of that quarter of the draw and his record in the World Grand Prix is really good as he has once won it and was last year’s runner up.  He he receently won the World Series of Darts final where he proved to be quite accurate on his doubles.

In the second quarter of the draw Michael Smith is highest up in the betting odds – he is fifth. This quarter I personally think is the most evenly matched quarter and the most difficult to predict.  Michael Smith, Nathan Aspinall, Danny Noppert, Gabriel Clemens, James Wade, Martin Lukeman, Ross Smith and Andrew Gilding can be found in this part of the draw. Martin Lukeman might be the weakest player – though he was quite a threat to all players at the beginning of the year but has been far less strong recently.  Michael Smith should be the favourite looking at his talent.  But we all know he often doesn’t perform up to it.  And of course one never should underestimate James Wade who usually is very sure on his doubles.  Andrew Gilding might once again turn out to be the dark horse in this quarter – he certainly was the surprise player in the Belgian Darts Open last weekend where he reached the final.

The third quarter is headlined by Peter Wright who to me has been a little bit baffling recently.  His averages improved a lot after his gall surgery but until now the results often don’t match.  It might be it just takes some time to fully recover.  Peter Wright was drawn into a difficult quarter – with Jonny Clayton, Dirk van Duijvenbode, Dimitri van den Bergh and Dave Chisnall as his stongest opponents and Kim Huybrechts, Krzysztof Ratajski and Callan Rydz as the outsiders.  The three outsiders are always good for an outstanding match but I think they at least at the moment are not consistent enough to go all the way.

Dirk van  Duijvenbode only just lost to Price in the final of the World Series of Darts and he looked dangerous in the Belgian Darts Open as well though his doubles let him down against Clayton in the third round.  Well, Clayton is the reigning champion but he hasn’t played as commandingly this year as he did last year.  Rather he showed he is really pugnacious and he is most of the time clinical on his doubles which of course could be an advantage in this Double In contest.  Dimitri van den Bergh at the moment still still to get used to his new equipment – he won two of the World Series events this year.  But his performances often resemble a rollercoaster ride.  It might be he has settled now and, if so, he could turn out to  be another hurdle for Wright.  Dave Chisnall is always some kind of a surprise bag – sometimes he throws unbelievable scores in one match and in his next match they are gone.  Perhaps his problem is his throwing technique.  In the Belgian Darts Open he showed what he can do when he is able to stay steady.

Which leaves the fourth quarter – the van Gerwen quarter or perhaps the quarter of players in search of their “A” game.  Were it to be the van Gerwen of his prime years there would be no doubt at all who would be the favourite in this part of the draw.  But now-a-days one is allowed to doubt especially as his big problem, often enough, are his doubles.  With Jose de Sousa we have at least one player in the same quarter for whom, beside his 180s, the doubles often enough are the strength of his game.  Besides, one can’t say any longer that the Dutchman is unbeatable – probably most of the other players (Gary Anderson, Brendan Dolan, Stephen Bunting, de Sousa, Adrian Lewis, Chris Dobey and Luke Humphries) have already beaten him and and no longer are struck by awe when they play against him.  I am not so sure whether other than van Gerwen and  the “Special One” there is another player in this part of draw who could win the tournament.  Should we see the Gary Anderson of bygone days it would be a little bit different but it is by now questionable we’ll ever see this Anderson again.  Adrian Lewis looks stronger again but he’s still inconsistent as is Stephen Bunting.  And Luke Humphries has been in better form than he is at the moment as well.

There are people out there who think this year’s World Grand Prix winner could well be one of the unseeded players – I am not so sure.  I think it will be one of the seeds but for me it is quite open as to which one.

Colmn #CM113 The Women’s World Matchplay

Sunday, July 24, 2022
Column CM113
The Women’s World Matchplay

While the men’s event get’s closer to the end the women’s event is about to begin.

Only two men are still in the tournament – Gerwen Price and Michael van Gerwen.  Tonight, we will know who is the 2022 World Matchplay champion.  But first, we’ll know the women’s champion as the women’s event will be played this afternoon while the men’s final will take place this evening.

The men’s event so far has been a highclass, thrilling and entertaining event – hopefully the women’s event will be similar. As the women’s event is a completely new tournament, played for the first time this year, all eight participants are debutants though being a debutant in this case doesn’t mean inexperienced…

Eight women qualified by the PDC Women’s Series and it looks like an interesting mix of age and experience.

Lisa Ashton, the four time women’s World Champion and three times World Masters winner is, at 51 years of age, the oldest participant and probably the most experienced – and the one with the most tournament wins under her belt. She‘s dominated this year’s Women’s Series so far with seven wins, she’s had a PDC Tour Card for two year’s and she is capable of playing high averages. Interestingly, she is not that successful when playing against the men – I’ve no idea why, but it just seems she is not able to produce as well as she can against other women.  It doesn’t seem her problem is the big stage or the TV camera as she’s had no problem winning on the Lakeside stage in televised finals several times.  As this event is an all-women’s event Ashton,  the Lancashire Rose is be sure one of the favorites to win the event.

Next in age and with a lot of experience and several wins as well is Lorraine Winstanley. She so far has only once reached the final of the women’s World Championship but she in 2017 she won the World Masters. In some way Winstanley is often in the mix in the later rounds of the tournaments but she is not as much a winner as Lisa Ashton.  I wouldn’t rule out that she could win the Women’s World Matchplay but she is not my first choice for the title.

Next we have Welsh Rhian Griffiths who has rarely won a tournament though she twice qualified for the women’s World Championship and reached one final of the Women’s Series. She has played in tournaments since 2013 so to be sure has some experience but it would be a surprise sould she win the Women’s World Matchplay.

Then we have Laura Turner whom we know as well as part of the Sky Sports darts commentating team. She’s won a few events – the last was the Slovak Masters in February. She took part twice in the Women’s World Championship and reached two finals of the Women’s Series this year – nevertheless, I don’t see her as the winner in Blackpool.

More probable is Aileen de Graaf who at 31 years of age has won quite a lot including the World Masters in 2015 and twice reached the semi-finals of the Women’s World Championship.  She didn’t take part as often as the others in the Women’s Series but reached two finals in 2022 and managed to qualify for this tournamet in Blackpool. She certainly is a possible winner – it might be we’ll see a Dutch winner in both the men’s and the women’s World Matchplay this year.

A little bit younger then Aileen de Graaf is Fallon Sherrock.  The Queen of the Palace is well known. She was a successful youth player though so far she neither won the World Masters as senior nor the Women’s World Championship – nor did she manage to get a PDC Tour Card. But she celebrated two wins against the men in the PDC World Championship and reached the final of the Nordic Darts Masters 2021 and – not to forget – she stood among the Last 16 of the Grand Slam 2021. Like Ashton, she is capable of throwing high averages. In 2022, she has not been as strong as in 2021 but, along with Lisa Ashton, is the favourite to win the event.

Last but not least, two very young players managed to qualify for the Women’s World Matchplay – Chloe O’Brien from Scotland, 19 years of age, and Katie Sheldon, Republic of Ireland, 18 years old. Both were very succesful youth players and both are very talented. Sheldon started to play when she was 9 and won her first tournament when she was 12 while O’Brien started to play when she was 14. Sheldon plays in a men’s league and plays on the Development Tour. Both were a little bit unlucky with their draw – O’Brien was drawn against Lisa Ashton, Sheldon against Fallon Sherrock –  so their chances to progress are not really good. But both are prospects for the future of women’s darts and they might be outsiders in this tournament though not without a chance.

So, hopefully the tournament will be a good one. The PDC already announced there will be another women’s World Matchplay next year.

 

Column #CM112 World Matchplay – The Favourites

Friday, July 15, 2022
Column CM112
World Matchplay 2022 – The Favourites

Well, it’s summer, isn’t it?  Summer means high temperatures, sunshine, the sea and beach, seagulls, fish and chips, the Blackpool Tower and – at least for some people – THE WORLD MATCHPLAY. 

I started with the easier part of a tournament preview – the debutants – and now will try my best at the more difficult part – the favourites.

To  be sure, it is very difficult as the only thing I feel safe to predict is that none of the four debutants is among the favourites to win the event. The favourites, as usual, can be found among the seeded players, the top 16 of the world.

And as usual that means Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright and Gerwyn Price. There are a few “might be‘s” in the mix as well like Michael Smith, Danny Noppert, Luke Humphries or James Wade –  while the rest of the seeds look more unlikely but certainly have an outside chance .  One should never write off Gary Anderson, for example, even though in his rare appearances this year he was rather disappointing.  It might be he thinks the World Matchplay is a tournament worth his best effort.  Dimitri van den Bergh and Rob Cross are former winners which of course could help their campaign.

For me it looks like a very open tournament – those mentioned as top favourites all have far from convincing recently, in fact most of the seeded players have only showed glimpses of their best form over recent months.  Each time, when I thought “well, now he’s finally back“ another disappointing performance followed.

Perhaps this year will be the year a non-seeded player will be the winner. as some of them have really managed to impress – Andrew Gilding, for example, has shown some stunning performances on the Pro Tour or even (here I contradict myself) Rowby-John Rodriguez who hsd sometimes looked unstoppable and seems to have nerves of steel.  And one can’t forget Adrian Lewis who out of nowhere won a Players Championship last weekend and has proclaimed to everybody that there is no reason why he should not win some more major tournaments.

Perhaps a look at the tournament bracket will shed some light on how tournament might pan out…

Should Michael van Gerwen win his first round  match against Adrian Lewis – which is likely, but will not be easy – his next opponent would be either Joe Cullen or Damon Heta (neither of whom will be easy either).  Waiting for MvG the next round would be probably James Wade or the winner of Humphries vs. Aspinall – one pitfall chases the next…

van Gerwen’s possible semi-final opponents could be Wright or Clayton or van den Bergh and, then in the final it could be Price, Smith, Anderson, Noppert or van Duijvenbode and any of them could turn out to be a hurdle too high to leap over.

The route for Price into the semis could be a little bit easier with German Martin Schindler as a first round opponent  After that would come the winner of Chisnall/Huybrechts and in the quarterfinals de Sousa, Clemens, Cross or Dobey.

Peter Wright – the defending champion – has to first to defeat Madars Razma and then the winner of Ratajski/Bunting.  Should he be back in form he should be really up to this.  The next step could turn out to be more difficult as Jonny Clayton or Dimitri van den Bergh could be waiting for him before in the semi-finals he could run into van Gerwen.

Thinking about this I can only emphasize the near platitude “there are no easy matches.“  For us fans the tournaments are a treat when so many players on a similar level are involved and, to use another platitude, “each one can beat everybody else on his day.“  I can imagine the players involved would sometimes prefer an “easy” match here or there, at least in the first round. to be able to settle into the tournament.

Looking again in on the bracket I feel that the players in the lower half of the draw – like Michael Smith, Gary Anderson and Gerwyn Price – might have the easier route, at least to the semi-finals, that their hurdles might be a little bit lower then in the upper half – but the outcome of the matches is written in the stars nevertheless.

Will Chisnall win against Huybrechts?  Will Noppert beat Dolan?  Will de Sousa progress or Clemens?  I certainly have no clue.  Those were good times for the pundits when Phil Taylor was still around…

So, I can only recommend that the fans follow the action and see for themselves.  It might be a favourite will emerge in the course of the tournament – or it might remain wide open until the end.

I am sure it will be great entertainment for hot summer nights.  And (at least I feel safe

Column #CM111 World Matchplay 2022 – The Debutants

Thursday, July 14, 2022
Column CM111
World Matchplay 2022 – The Debutants

This year we will see at the World Matchplay four debutants. Three of them are already experienced players even though none of them so far could celebrate a major tournament win. One of the debutants – with 37 years of age the oldest – has more or less no experience on the big stage.

Martin Schindler

Age: 26
Nickname: The Wall
Best TV performance: World Cup of Darts Quarterfinals 2017, 1018 and 2022
First round opponent: Gerwyn Price

Martin Schindler is the youngest of the debutants but nevertheless already has a lot of experience on the big stage. Since 2017 he has a Tour Card and in the same year he together with Max Hopp was the Team Germany in the PDC World Cup. The team was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Team Netherlands. 2018 he qualified for the first time for the PDC World Championship and he returned in 2019 and 2022. He lost everytime in the first round. 2018 he reached the final of the PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship and was defeated by Dimitri van den Bergh.

While Schindler stayed under the radar in his first years on the Pro Tour and had to get back his Tour card in Qualifying School 2021 he since that time often played himself under the last 16 or last 8 on the Pro Tour and was ranked 25 in the Pro Tour Order of Merit end of 2021. 2022 was so far a similar good year for Schindler who improved and got even stronger now reaching Pro Tour semi-finals and finals. He’s at the moment the strongest German player on the tour though Gabriel Clemens is ranked 22 in the Order of Merit and Schindler only 43.

It is difficult to assess the chances of Schindler at his Winter Gardens debut which in part is down to his opponent Gerwyn Price. It looks Price is far from his best at the moment but he loves the big stage and to be sure will not easily give in. Schindler reached a semi-final during the recenty played Players Championships in Barnsley and showed some good performances. Nevertheless I think Price will have the advantage in Blackpool.

Rowby-John Rodriguez

Age: 28
Nickname: Little John
Best performance on TV: Final PDC World Cup 2021 together with Mensur Suljovic
First round opponent: Jonny Clayton

Rowby-John Rodriguez already won the national Austrian Championship when he was 16 and after that played a few years on the BDO circuit. He appeared 2013 on the PDC Challenge Tour and won the first event he took part in. 2014 he for the first time got a Tour Card via the Qualifying School ranking and then played beside the Pro Tour the Development Tour as well. As Schindler Rodriguez once stood in the final of the PDC Unicorn World Youth Championship and there lost in 2014 to Keegan Brown. 2015 Rodriguez for the first time took part in the PDC World Championship and lost first round. In the following years Rodriguez several times qualified for European Tour events, stood on the big stage at the Grand Slam of Darts and the European Championship and managed to keep his Tour Card.

Starting in 2018 he lost his form and due to this lost his Tour Card end of 2020. He couldn’t win it back in Qualifying School 2021 and played on the Challenge Tour but often moved up as replacement in Pro Tour events. Together with Mensur Suljovic Team Austria reached the final of the PDC World Cup and Rodriguez by this qualified for the Grand Slam 2021 where he lost in the Last 16. He qualified for the PDC World Championship 2021/22 as well. In January 2022 he again took part in Q School and this time got a Tour Card via the ranking. Now Rodriguez again plays with some success on the Pro Tour and European Tour where he already reached a final. At the moment Rodriguez is the strongest Austrian player in the PDC.

Rodriguez is in good form and seems to have nerves of steel. It looks he is not easily impressed – neither by his surroundings nor by his opponents. This are bad news for Jonny Clayton who is not at his best at the moment. But Clayton reached the final of Players Championship 21 in Barnsley last Monday and played consistently well over the day. Against a Clayton in good form Rodriguez will have a difficult time. Similar to Martin Schindler the result of the first round match will depend a lot on in which form the opponent will turn up.

Madars Razma

Age: 34
Nickname: Razmatazz
Best performance on TV: UK Open fifth round 2017, 2021
First round opponent: Peter Wright

Madars Razma is the only professional darts player from Latvia and by this alone a well know face in the sport of darts. He first played BDO/WDF events, celebrated his first win at the national Latvia Championship 2010 and took part in the BDO World Championship 2014, 2015 and 2016 but never got further than the second round.

2017 Razma took part in the PDC Qualifying School and got a Tour Card. But it took him a long time to settle – 2018 he for the first time reached a Players Championship final. Clearly more successful Razma is at the PDC Nordic an Baltic Tour which he dominates together with Darius Labanauskas. By now it looks better on the Pro Tour as well. Razma already qualified three times for the PDC World Championship. From time to time he surprises with a highlight – 2021 he threw a nine-darter in two consecutive Players Championships, often he impresses with high averages. He by now reached several Pro Tour finals and in 2022 he reached the semi-final of an European Tour event where he only just was defeated by Rowby-John Rodriguez.

So it looks Razma gets more and more consistent. Peter Wright, his first round opponent in the World Matchplay, is one of those Top players who at the moment struggle with their form. Wright didn’t play in Barnsley recently, it could well be the break did him good and will help him to get back in form for the World Matchplay – he is the reigning champion. I would say it will be advantage Wright and Razma chances to win are only small.

Martin Lukeman

Age: 37
Nickname: Smash
Best performance on TV: Final German Darts Grand Prix 2022
First round opponent: James Wade

Martin Lukeman is the oldest and most surprising of this year’s World Matchplay debutants and the one with more or less no experience on the big stage. Lukeman first played BDO/WDF events and the PDC Challenge Tour. 2016 he played for the first time and without success the PDC Qualifying School but qualified for the UK Open where he reached the Last 16. After that one didn’t hear much from Lukeman who even took a break from darts. 2021 he again took part in Qualifying School and this time got a Tour Card by the ranking.

Lukeman’s first year on the Pro Tour was very much affected by Corona, he only once reached a Pro Tour semi-final. 2022 he for the first time qualified for a European Tour event and reached the third round at his debut. A few months later he reached an European Tour final where he lost to Luke Humphries. That was so far Lukeman’s biggest success though he reached the Last 16 in some more events often defeating top players – among them Michael van Gerwen – on the way. Thanks to his achievements he qualified for the World Matchplay

Even though it is obviuos Lukeman is not afraid of big names and capable to beat them he doesn’t enter the match against James Wade as the favourite. So far he never played on a stage like the one in Blackpool and beside Wade is not a player who is easily impressed . It will be difficult for Lukeman to cause an upset.

Column #CM110 Snowdrops and crocuses – the UK Open

Friday, March 4, 2022
Column CM110
Snowdrops and crocuses – the UK Open

It is the beginning of March, snowdrops and crocuses are in full bloom, the sun is shining (from time to time) and the birds are singing – it is obvious: not only is spring coming, so is the UK Open!

Despite the still booming Omicron variant and the war in the Ukraine, for us darts fans our main interest the next few days will be the UK Open in Minehead.  Often called the FA Cup of Darts as this is the tournament without seeds, with amateurs and without a tournament bracket – as after each round a new draw will take place (with the exception of the first to third rounds which are always drawn before the tournament starts). 

The crowd will be back in Minehead but I decided to stay at home – again.

The war has a teeny-weeny impact on the tournament as well on the only Russian participant – who is in fact not even Russian but Georgian/Greek but lives in Moskau Russia.  Boris Koltsov had to withdraw.  Due to this his opponent, Brian Raman, has a bye in the second round. Why the German Michael Unterbuchner withdrew is not known but his opponen Scott Waites gets a bye as well, in the first round.

So far, no other cancellations are known – all other 158 participants seem to be determined to take part.

The first day: today, Friday 4, is always the most stressfull and thrilling day – it starts with an afternoon session in which three rounds are played. This means, should you enter the tournament first round it may be that you’ve already played three matches on three different boards before the afternoon is over.  This of course is great as you will have won your matches but also confusing as there often is not much time between the matches and you have to stay well informed about what is going on on the boards you are supposed to play.  If a player is late to their next board they are out of the tournament.  This occurs quite often – last year, it happened to Steve Brown who got so engrossed in his son’s match that he was too late for his own.

All Tour Card holders – with the exception of Boris Koltsov and Michael Unterbuchner – will be in Minehead plus some players who qualified by the Development and the Challenge Tour and 16 players who qualified via Riley’s amateur qualifying events.

This year, an astonishing number of players who one knows already from PDC events but who don’t have a Tour Card or just lost their Tour Card used the Riley’s qualifiers to earn a place in the tournament. I am not quite sure that really is part of the intention for the amateur qualifiers – and of those who qualified by this way there are only five who never before played the UK Open: Paul Marsh, Danny Lauby, Steve Clayson, Matt Good and Adam Warner.

Marsh played a few BDO/WDF events and years ago in the PDC Qualifying School.  American Danny Lauby probably is known to most of us from the World Cup of Darts and the last PDC World Championship.  Steve Clayson, well, he seems to be a real amateur.  He is a kitchen fitter, 59 years of age and has never before played on TV.  Matt Good threw a nine-darter during the qualifier – no more is known about his darting skills. As to Adam Warner not much is known except that years ago played darts at the University of Sheffield and there won a competition…

There are many more debutants among the Tour Card holders and the qualifiers from the Challenge Tour and the Development Tour. More astonishing is that among the Tour Card Qualifiers, with James Wade and Steve Beaton we find two players who have been involved in each UK Open since its inception in 2003. In addition, Wade is the reigning champion and a three times title winner. And he’s still not even 40 years of age.

With Wade we‘ve already arrived at the favourites to win this year’s tournament…

As the UK Open often turns out to be a kind of surprise bag it is a difficult tournament for prediction. But despite all the upsets we have seen over the years and despite all the surprising and not to be expected runs some players have had in the event the winners often came from the group of in form players. We have had only two suprise winners, so far – Robert Thornton in 2012 and Nathan Aspinall in 2019. The other surprise players usually failed in the final should if they got that fare – as did Barrie Bates in 2006, Gary Mawson in 2008 and Corey Cadby in 2018.

The in form players this year are definitely Peter Wright and Gerwyn Price – without any doubt at all. Around those two we find a group of players who are in good form or who are always in the mix such as Wade, Jonny Clayton, Michael van Gerwen, Michael Smith and Gary Anderson. And there are a few could be’s as well who recently showed a return to form, such as Dimitri van den Bergh, Nathan Aspinall and perhaps Rob Cross.

It to be sure will be interesting to see how all these players will fare in the event. I am certain we will see upsets and some astonishing runs – perhaps from of some of the younger players like Callan Rydz or Josh Rock. The rather small group of favourites to win the title will leave room enough for stunning performances of other players.

The age range of the players extends from seventeen year old German Fabian Schmutzler (born in  2005) to almost sixty year old Ross Montgomery (born in 1962).

We will see players from 24 different countries – an amazing number, though still by far the most participants come from England followed by the Netherlands.  But the numbers of participants from other countries is rising – for example there will be seven German players and five players from North America among the participants.

As it is a tournament which is first played on eight different boards we will not see every single match on TV – the the broadcaster concentrates on the main stage and on stage 2.  That is a pity and I would think that now-a-days there would be a way to stream all the boards so fans would be able to pick the matches they really want to see (the matches on the main stage or the second stage are not necessarily the most thrilling or entertaining contests).

To be sure that’s moaning on a high level.  I am sure it will be a good tournament as always and that we’ll see a lot of great darts over the next three days and, I for one, I wouldn’t mind should we see a surprise winner on Sunday evening.