World Matchplay Darts 2021: Wayne Mardle looks ahead to return to the Winter Gardens

Wayne Mardle looks ahead to the World Matchplay as Michael van Gerwen chases a first title of the year, Gerwyn Price returns to the big stage and several big names face first-round question marks as the crowds prepare for a return to the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.

“What an event to come back to. This is a fabulous event; it is played in the height of summer and that makes people feel good anyway. You are not laden down with scarves, jackets and gloves. The players will feel comfortable to a point, until they get under pressure.

“The Winter Gardens just looks a million dollars, and I am fortunate. I can sit in the presentation area which is upstairs and we look at the way the lighting is situated.

“It is bouncing off the architecture and the painted ceilings in the Winter Gardens. It is incredible. It doesn’t feel like a darts venue at all, but when you fill it with 2,000 people which it will be after the 19th, the place will come alive.

“I just hope that some of the debutants making their debuts before the 19th still get that full experience of it, like the cauldron that it is. I just hope they go away thinking: ‘What an event, I need to play again’.

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World Matchplay 2021: Saturday’s Order of Play

Live World Matchplay Darts

July 17, 2021, 7:00pm

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What about the world champion?

“Gerwyn Price has lost in the first round four times in the last four years. I think he got to the quarter-finals on his debut year. He is a way better player now than he was even two years ago, so he has got that in his favour.

“Price for me is right up there, probably as the main man to beat. He is going to be difficult to beat because he has elevated his game to when he’s off, he can win. There are not many players that can win when they are slightly off.

  • World champ Price all business in Blackpool

“He is the world No 1 and no disrespect to Jermaine Wattimena, Price has got a good draw. It was harder with Mensur, but unfortunately Mensur had to pull out.

“There are those that can play the game of their life and still lose. Price isn’t one of those. He is saying it is business now. He is the world No 1 and world champion – he wants to enjoy the game but he cannot play for fun, there is a difference.

“You want to enjoy it while you are up there but do it right. You are not going to win the Matchplay by having a jolly-up for a week. I know that!

“You need to make it your business and Gerwyn Price has said it for a long time. He doesn’t see himself in this game for a long time, he wants to get in, milk it and get out, because he doesn’t believe it keeps him at his fittest and the way he wants to live, so he’s lucky that he has got so much talent in that rock-hard body of his that he can get away with it.

Can MVG end his title drought?

“I think it was 2016, 2017, 2018 – he was winning 50 per cent of the events he was in. He was winning 25 a year roughly. It was absolutely staggering.

“I will say that while he hasn’t been winning, some of his performances have been excellent.

“Things are not going his way; players are playing well against him because they are seeing someone that isn’t oozing the confidence that he used to.

“You show any weakness in sport and you will be got at. Very slowly, his confidence is being knocked. We saw him in the Premier League – 107 average. ‘Great, do it again’. He couldn’t do it again.

“He is going to have to find a way of pulling something out of the fire but there are a few things that are going for him here though.

“The longer the format, the better player usually wins. That is fact, because it is harder to hang on. He has got what I think is a great quarter. I think it is the easiest quarter and that is not being derogatory to any of the other seven players in it. Nathan Aspinall is in it, Bunting, Gary Anderson.

“They are world-class players, but I really do believe that Michael will see this as maybe, being third seed can work out for him.

“He will come alive, he will play up to the crowd, he will be more vocal and he will get more in return. When he was doing it behind closed doors, he was making a hell of a racket in the Premier League, but what do you get in return? You get nothing.

“It can be quite tiring and what he needs to do – he needs to play well to give them something or go the other way and I used to do this quite a lot. When you are ‘struggling’, he needs to call upon them.

“Michael is very personable anyway. Now he’s not the kingpin, maybe more of the crowd will actually want him to win. I believe whether he comes alive in a positive way, what he cannot do is feel like he needs to feed them with things all the time.

World Matchplay 2021: Sunday’s Order of Play

Live World Matchplay Darts

July 18, 2021, 1:00pm

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Questions for the seeded names?

“Michael van Gerwen is seeded three. What on earth? The world has come off its axis. He’s not playing like the world No 1, that is why he is the world No 3.

“There are so many questions. Michael Smith needs to improve pretty sharpish or he could drop lower than seventh, but while we concentrate on the ranked players, those that have qualified recently like Chris Dobey and Ross Smith, they are showing fabulous form.

“Clearly Glen Durrant is struggling. I feel for him. He is working so hard at his game and he is feeling a little bit more positive, but he just feels that the changes he has made, it has come around a little bit too quickly for him.

“Can I see him beating Callan Rydz? If Rydz is off then yes, but you have got to feel that Rydz has the beating of him right now.

  • Blackpool dreams come true for Rydz & Smith

“I am a great fan of Ratajski and at the start of the year, I actually predicted him as one of those that could challenge. He is kind of gone off the boil and Dolan is playing some of the darts of his life.

“I believe Vincent van der Voort can run Chizzy very close – he beat him last year. I believe that Ryan Searle can do a job on Michael Smith. I’m not saying he will, because every time I look at this draw, I’m literally contradicting my last previous thought.

“I was thinking Cullen will beat Dobey, then I looked at the draw and thought, maybe not. The way Danny Noppert played in one of the last Super Series events, he played magnificently. He has only got to do that for 10 minutes.

“White vs Gurney – Gurney is the seed, and he hasn’t been playing well. Bunting is playing beautifully right now; he is standing more upright. I told him to do this five years ago.

“Mervyn King takes on Aspinall. You know what, I haven’t got a clue. You are asking the wrong man!

Proper tournament, proper crowd – will the dynamic shift?

“A knockout event is incredibly different to a round-robin situation or just playing day in day out which is what the Premier League was. There is an urgency, there’s a different pressure. You know you cannot lose otherwise you are home.

“This is a huge event. Alongside the World Championship, the Premier League and a few others; this is right up there as the most important.

“You get remembered for winning Matchplays – it is something that you are proud to even qualify for and once you have a run, you feel like you are involved in something really special. Again, with that comes pressure, and with that comes importance.”

Predictions?! I can give you a final four….

“I have actually got as far as the semi-finals so far. I like Price’s draw. Clayton for me is not playing as brilliantly as he was just a few months ago. Form is hard to continue, so I’ve gone Price in the top quarter.

“This is going to surprise a lot of people in the second quarter. I have gone Rob Cross. I have gone for Jose de Sousa in the third quarter, I think he could be the man to beat to be honest. Michael van Gerwen to come through the bottom quarter.

All four have the pedigree over longer format. That is 100 per cent why I have picked Van Gerwen, and it’s 100 per cent why I have picked Rob Cross.

“If Rob Cross plays like he did back in 2019, he could win it again, and that’s not playing fantastic darts. That is doing, like Michael would say, the right things at the right time.

“People have got to get it out of their heads that you have to average 100 every game. You do not have to do that.

World Matchplay – Roll of Honour

“You have to be good enough at the right time and the players I’ve picked – Jose is a relentless beast, Price is the world No 1, Van Gerwen can just win at will when it’s all clicking, and Cross can win. We know that.

“I have most definitely gone for the long-format players here. You look at some and I just don’t think they can carry it on for long enough, but there is one person that I want to bring up especially.

“There is always a certain fly in the ointment and always a player to come through that can sometimes go under the radar. How the world No 4 goes under the radar so often, is James Wade.

“This is one of those places – he has reached the final six times, he’s lost in the final five times, he’s won it once.

“Please don’t be surprised if he comes through and makes the semi-final or final, because Wade is going to be difficult to beat. Luke Humphries is his opening game and he’s got the winner of Dolan or Ratajski. It is not simple, but Wade can make it look just regulation.

Darts is back on your Sky Sports screens this month, with nine days of coverage from the iconic Winter Gardens and the World Matchplay – the action gets under way on Saturday July 17.

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