Watch coverage of the World Matchplay on Sky Sports – all nine days from the Marshall Arena live, starting on Saturday, July 18
By Sky Sports Darts
Last Updated: 08/07/20 2:27pm
Competitive darts returns with the start of the PDC Summer Series on Wednesday, which will see five Players Championship events held over consecutive days in Milton Keynes.
This will be followed by the prestigious World Matchplay, live on Sky Sports from July 18-26, which will take place behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.
The sport has embraced the ‘new normal’ during lockdown but as we welcome the return of the sport in its purest form, the Sky Sports Darts team have picked out 10 things to look forward to ahead of the resumption…
Need we say more? Steve Beaton is part of the darting furniture and as the sport makes its competitive return, the former world champion is bidding to make a remarkable 20th consecutive appearance at the World Matchplay.
The 56-year-old has been an ever-present in the summer spectacular since 2001 when he progressed to the semi-finals, but his qualification for this year’s showpiece is by no means assured.
Beaton currently occupies 13th spot on the Pro Tour Order of Merit, therefore it’s essential he hits the ground running at this week’s Summer Series, because it would be darting treason to host a Matchplay without ‘The Bronzed Adonis’.
Hit the Ground Running
While the competitive edge may be missing for one or two, most of the 117 players who will take to the (socially distanced) oches in Milton Keynes over the next five days, have kept themselves sharp and with good reason.
Rankings points for the three-month hiatus have been removed, it’s had a benefit for some – Krzysztof Ratajski and Glen Durrant are into the top 16 – but not for others.
Mervyn King, Chris Dobey and Stephen Bunting would widely be regarded among the best 32 players in the world but as things stage they won’t be at the World Matchplay in just over a week.
They need to deliver and quickly but with £75,000 prize money on offer each day there will be plenty of opportunity to hoover up the required sums to get themselves into the one-year Order of Merit.
There’s also the added bonus of a place at Grand Slam of Darts for the person who tops a five-day Order of Merit, there’s no time to ease yourself in, it’s time to get to work.
There will be surprising results in the Summer Series and the Matchplay. Peter Wright, Michael van Gerwen and Rob Cross may lose to players they’ve never lost to before, but that won’t continue, because that rustiness and edginess does not continue.
You are going to get some who are chomping at the bit, some that want to compete and want to feel that adrenaline surge that they haven’t felt in months. Some will be able to control it, and some won’t control it, as nerves will get the better of them.
Those that control the nerves will be the same people that controlled it before the break and I think those winning during the Summer Series will be the same winners we normally see, with the odd surprise result here and there.
I’m going to say that there will be a few semi-finalists that have maybe never reached the semi-finals of a Tour event before.
MVG back with a bang?
Whether it is by design or not, I think it’s genius by Michael that we’ve not seen him. Everyone else has been showing their wears if you like. Is he going to be sharp? What is he going to be like?
We have got no reference to any form whatsoever apart from him winning the UK Open and sitting second in the Premier League. We haven’t seen him since mid-March so nobody knows and I like that.
I like that he’s kept himself away. That is what real champions do. Keep the others guessing, keep them thinking: ‘What has he been doing with himself?’
He will come out talking up his chances. He certainly won’t be playing them down and he’ll probably win the Matchplay. He will probably win one or two days of the Summer Series, because that is what he does.
Rhythm is the answer
The ‘new normal’ is a phrase being used throughout the sporting sphere and as darts returns, players will be forced to adapt to new guidelines and a different type of playing environment.
In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, there will be clearly marked areas where players are permitted to stand whilst their opponent is throwing, and they’ll have to wait for players to leave these zones before approaching the board.
This will inevitably disrupt the rhythm of quicker-paced players, including the Premier League trio of Michael van Gerwen, Gerwyn Price and Michael Smith, who may need to adopt new routines to maintain their fluidity.
By contrast, it should suit those with a more methodical approach, which could have a major bearing on results in the early stages of the Summer Series.
Matchplay will find people out
I know there are five events in the Summer Series the week before, but I still think when you come to a huge concern which is what the Matchplay is, it will find people out.
I don’t expect a random winner. I still believe as the saying goes, the cream will rise to the top. I still think that will happen, but I think it will be different for them to get there.
You know how excited I get in the commentary box. I am telling myself now: ‘Don’t let the lack of atmosphere quell your enthusiasm Wayne’.
I am there to do what I normally do, if it seems a little over the top for the situation, just imagine there are 2,000 people in the arena watching.
Scoring You Own Games
Cries of ‘One Hundred and Eighty, ‘Michael you require’ and ‘Game On’ will be in short supply, for the five days of the Summer Series at least.
Only two of the 16 boards will have a referee calling their game, the rest will be ‘loser scores’ so the added consequence of losing your match means you have to stay on the board and score the next match.
Not only are players going to need to be sharp in their own game, but the maths might need to be even more on point than usual!
Referees will be in attendance at the World Matchplay but in a world where new normal is the regular phrase, for the rest of the season darts’ new normal is going to require players to be referees as well.
Rustiness is inevitable
When I was off with mumps in 2009 I was playing quite a lot before and then I didn’t play for a while. When I came back, I noticed that there was the odd mistake creeping in, that I don’t think I would normally have made.
Then it was the nervousness, the edginess. What I hadn’t felt for a while, it really hits you. It’s just another throw, just another dart, but because you haven’t been in that position a lot recently, it becomes bigger than it actually is.
It’s important that the players really that they’re going to feel like that. They’re going to feel edgy, there’s going to be rustiness, they are going to make errors through not being mentally as match-fit as they were before the break.
The Global Game
Milton Keynes may not seem to be the epicentre of the world, but it will be for darts as players from across the globe descend on the Marshall Arena to get their working life back on track.
Kai-Fan Leung has arrived from Hong Kong, Jeff Smith has jetted in from Canada, while the usual raft of players from Germany, Belgium and Holland are on site in the UK to return to action.
We saw during the Home Tour that the game continues to reach all parts of the world, the World Cup showcases that too and the fact that so many have made the trip for the resumption underlines the sport’s appeal and talent base.
Michael Smith stories
I’m looking forward to seeing Michael Smith type stories. Those that have seen this time as an opportunity to maybe get themselves and their lives in order, because when you are on the road, and I say this with experience – you live poorly.
You try to live right but unfortunately living out of a suitcase. As a darts player you want to protect yourself, you don’t want to exert yourself too much physically just in case a muscle does go, as that would be unprofessional.
You don’t do what you would normally do for exercise so the likes of Gerwyn Price, I know for a fact he is trying to lose weight. Devon Petersen I know is trying to lose weight, Michael Smith has done a brilliant job. There will be a few that look svelte.
The Diamond to Shine?
Ian White has been one of the most prolific winners on the Pro Tour throughout the last decade, but success in a major televised tournament has so far proven elusive.
The Stoke-on-Trent star won the last competitive ranking event in March – his 12th PDC title. However, he will sense a major opportunity to flourish in this year’s World Matchplay.
White featured in multiple major quarter-finals before reaching his first TV semi-final at November’s Players Championship Finals, but the Matchplay could present the most viable opportunity to break his major duck.
The world No 11 is a proven winner on the floor and with this year’s Matchplay set to be held in a more subdued Pro Tour style environment, it could be a blessing in disguise for White.
Watch out For…..
It’s not just those at the top of the rankings we should be looking out for. Players further down the rankings will be out to prove a point, many have been keeping sharp in various online tournaments and will be keen to take that into the competitive arena.
A place at the Grand Slam is the richest of rewards for players who might not usually get such an opportunity, but good performances over the rest of the week may also give a leg up to those targeting the World Grand Prix, the Players Championship and the remainder of the big tournaments.
The Home Tour gave an opportunity to many and the likes of Luke Woodhouse, Geert Nentjes, Nick Kenny and Jose De Sousa all impressed and will look to keep that going.
Darts is back on Sky Sports in July, with nine days of coverage from the World Matchplay getting underway on Saturday, July 18, and every day until the final on Sunday, July 26.