Who will win the final? Who will be the player to watch? Which seeds are most in danger of going out in the first round? A host of darts journalists, pundits and commentators tackle these and other questions on the eve of the 2021 PDC World Matchplay.
Who will reach the final – and who will win it?
Dan Dawson: Gerwyn Price is the man to beat, in my opinion, and I think he beats Jose De Sousa in the final.
Chris Murphy: I think the top two seeds will reach the final, with Gerwyn Price beating Peter Wright.
Laura Turner: Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright – Price to win.
Jay Shaw: Gerwyn Price will be desperate to make up for lost time after being forced to sit out the Premier League, and though his quarter of the draw is stacked with star names, I expect the world champion to stamp his authority over the long format and finally bring his ‘A’ game to the Winter Gardens. You could make a serious case for half a dozen players from the bottom half of the draw, but the stand-out on current form has to be Jose De Sousa. The man has been simply relentless on both floor and stage this season and reaching the final, in his debut Premier League campaign, backed up the Grand Slam triumph to prove he is here to stay among the sport’s elite. A Price vs De Sousa final would be something very special and I’m going to stick my neck out and say I’d fancy Jose just to edge it. His scoring power is on another planet at the moment and he’d certainly have the crowd on his side.
Christopher Kempf: The final will feature Peter Wright defeating Rob Cross.
Lendel Faria (FDI): Gerwyn Price will win the final against José De Sousa.
Paul Woodage: Tricky to call! So many good shouts and we have seen a lot of first time winners over the past 18 months. I tend to look at form and José De Sousa is certainly bang at it right now. If he can reproduce the performances we know he is capable of then he won’t be far away. In the top half, I am expecting a huge resurgence from Gerwyn Price. He will still be incredibly disappointed with what happened in the Premier League and, despite his poor Winter Gardens record, will go deep. If it is those two in the final – well! It will be an amazing match. I will lean towards the Portuguese, but it really would be a coin flip.
Kevin Barth: In my opinion there will be a final between Jonny Clayton and Peter Wright. Clayton has shown us in the last months, how much he has developed and Wright will get so much more energy from the crowd than other players. Clayton has a tough draw, but I think he can manage that. It won’t be enough to stop Peter Wright in the final, he will win his first Matchplay title.
Josh Green: The tournament is so open this year and you can make cases for so many of the players involved, but I believe ProTour form is the best barometer for their chances. So despite a tough draw I’d back Gerwyn Price to emerge from the top half, and an in-form Peter Wright to overcome Michael van Gerwen to win the bottom half. As for a winner, I’d back Peter Wright, he looks good over these longer formats and the lack of match practice may be a slight hindrance to Price… we shall see!
Jack Langston (The Darts Referee): My picks for the final would be Gerwyn Price vs Michael van Gerwen, with Price winning.
Who will be the player to watch?
Chris Murphy: I’m torn between Luke Humphries and Brendan Dolan. I think they will both win their first-round ties and meet in round two. Whoever wins that could be at least a semi-finalist.
Laura Turner: Away from the top seeds, I think Brendan Dolan has been in great form. He said previously he’d been really working on his throw and his rhythm and it’s really been paying off as seen with some top performances in the Players Championships.
Jay Shaw: Again, I would have to say Jose De Sousa for the aforementioned reasons. He’s embracing his reputation as a darting maverick and a crowd favourite. He has his own way of doing things and however crazy, it just seems to work. He is spectacular to watch. That said, he is placed in a formidable quarter of the draw that also houses the likes of Peter Wright, Joe Cullen and Michael Smith – all of whom know what it takes to go deep in this tournament, so Jose will have to be at the top of his game.
Christopher Kempf: The player to watch is Ian White, on the cusp of falling out of the top 16 for the first time in nearly a decade. Needs some good results in the next few months to secure qualification for TV events.
Lendel Faria (FDI): Luke Humphries. He is a very good stage player and if he can get past James Wade in round one he should be able to make the semi-finals. Other unseeded players to look out for are Brendan Dolan and Ross Smith. They are in the ‘easier’ part of the draw and both have been in top form recently.
Paul Woodage: I think Wade is always a dark horse, especially on this stage. Six time finalist and previous winner – those are great stats. Tough opener against Luke Humphries, but his section of the draw is favourable – if he can get past Cool Hand, I expect him to reach the semi-finals.
Kevin Barth: My player to watch is Mervyn King. He still has the game to beat nearly anybody. I also think that the form from Rob Cross is coming back, so he could also do some damage.
Jack Langston (The Darts Referee): Ryan Searle, he’s been playing well on the ProTour and he’s brought his A game to the table a few times over the last two Super Series weeks. He has the toughest quarter of the draw in my opinion and something is telling me that he makes it out and reaches the semi-finals. That means beating Michael Smith, and then probably Jose De Sousa, then Peter Wright. A very, very difficult run but I think if he plays well, he can do it, very tall ask though.
How far will the defending champion Dimitri Van den Bergh go?
Dan Dawson: I think Dimitri might well look like the best player in the tournament right up until the point he meets Price in the quarter-finals, where we will get an absolute barnstormer of a game… but one I think Price will just about nick.
Chris Murphy: I think he’ll make the quarter-finals.
Laura Turner: There’s no doubt Dimitri is playing some of his best darts at the moment, but he finds himself in a tough quarter. Having picked Price to win, I think Dimitri makes the quarters.
Jay Shaw: I’m looking forward to the dance-off between Dimitri and Devon in the first round as much as the match itself, but when it comes to the real business I think the Belgian will have a bit too much for Devon on current form. I would then fancy him to have the edge over Chizzy or Vincent in round two, but I think Gerwyn Price could ultimately be the man to end his reign in the quarter-finals.
Christopher Kempf: Van den Bergh will lose to Chisnall in a second round match decided by the ‘two-clear legs’ rule.
Lendel Faria (FDI): After winning against Petersen and van der Voort, Van den Bergh will lose his quarter-final match to eventual winner Gerwyn Price.
Paul Woodage: Yes, this is an interesting one. Despite the fact he is the champ, he has never stepped foot on the Winter Gardens stage! I don’t think for one second that will phase him as he arguably performs better on the TV than the floor events. He does have a very tough section with Clayton and Price both in there. He opens with Devon and he is struggling a little of late, so you’d fancy the Belgian there. I am going to say quarter-finals definitely. There’s absolutely no reason why he can’t retain it – he has the game and will be a danger to any opponent.
Kevin Barth: Dimitri will come through his first round with Devon Petersen, who has dropped down as fast as he came up last year. The second hurdle against possibly Chizzy will be the first big test for the Belgian. I don’t see him getting past the quarter-finals this year.
Josh Green: I think Dimitri will make it to the quarter-finals. He should have enough to see off Devon in round one, but the winner of Vincent and Chizzy could cause problems. He could face a whole host of players in the quarter-finals, but I personally don’t think he will have enough to retain his title.
Jack Langston (The Darts Referee): Second round, loses to Chizzy.
Which first round match are you most looking forward to?
Dan Dawson: Ferret v Dirk and Michael Smith v Ryan Searle are the ones that really get my juices going, but I could pick at least half a dozen more.
Chris Murphy: Michael Smith v Ryan Searle will be the most pleasing on the eye – especially if they both hit somewhere near their A game.
Laura Turner: Looking forward to the Clayton v van Duijvenbode match. Jonny’s had a great 2021 winning both the Masters, the Premier League and two ProTour events, but we have also seen how dangerous the Aubergenius can be, reaching the final of the World Grand Prix and the last eight of the World Championship. Should be a closely run match!
Jay Shaw: It’s difficult to pick out just one because, as every year, there’s so much quality on show, but Jonny Clayton vs Dirk van Duijvenbode certainly leaps off the page. Jonny has been the player of the season so far, but has never won a match at the Winter Gardens and Dirk is sure to revel in the big occasion on his debut. I also think Michael Smith vs Ryan Searle could be an absolute belter. Smith made the final last time out in Blackpool and we all know he can turn it on like switch, while Searle comes into it in superb form on the back of a final and semi-final on the ProTour within the last month.
Christopher Kempf: Looking forward to the Wade vs Humphries match. A rematch of the UK Open final and a test of Humphries’ superb TV form against the most efficient and experienced player on tour.
Lendel Faria (FDI): For me that has to be Jonny vs Dirk. Both have had a terrific first half of 2021 and both can be unplayable at times. They also have a nice rhythm to their game. I’m just wondering what would happen if they both were unplayable. Could become an instant classic this one, I feel.
Paul Woodage: Clayton v Dirk will be a belter. And I think José v Clemens will produce some ridiculous scoring. The MVG v Heta one is fascinating too.
Kevin Barth: Talking about seeds in danger my first thought goes to Glen Durrant. If he doesn’t find something at the start of his match, Callan Rydz could win that with a big scoreline. But I also think that Nathan Aspinall and Michael Smith really have to be careful.
Josh Green: Can I pick three? Clayton vs Dirk is bound to be a high scoring encounter, Anderson vs Bunting is completely unpredictable, but for me it’s Michael Smith vs Ryan Searle. Both players are a joy to watch in full flow and I don’t see any reason why that won’t happen over the best of 19 legs.
Jack Langston (The Darts Referee): Michael Smith vs Ryan Searle is my number one pick. I think MVG vs Damon Heta could be a very good game and also I’m looking forward to Glen Durrant vs Callan Rydz and Dminitri Van Den Bergh vs Devon Petersen (I hope we get a dance off!)
Which seeds are most in danger of going out in the first round?
Dan Dawson: I genuinely think half the seeds could go in round one – maybe more. I fear for Durrant, Wade, Ratajski, Gurney and Anderson in particular.
Chris Murphy: All in the same section of the draw! Wade, Ratajski, Cross and Durrant.
Laura Turner: Like a lot of the events these past 18 months, it feels quite open but Glen Durrant still seems to be struggling with form and confidence and faces a tough opponent in Callan Rydz. Rob Cross, who is defending the prize money from his 2019 win, also has his hands full with Ross Smith, who comes into the event off the back of a maiden ProTour win and should be brimming with confidence.
Jay Shaw: Current form obviously points towards Glen Durrant, but I would not be surprised if he found something again on this stage. He’s struggled to average 90+ for most of this year during a crisis of confidence and is going to have to raise his game against the fearless Callan Rydz, but the two know each other very well from the North East circuit, which I think could actually help Glen to relax and find his range, so write him off at your peril. Ross Smith comes into the event having won a first ProTour title just over a week ago and Rob Cross can certainly ill-afford to be off the top of his game in that one. Krzysztof Ratajski has been surprisingly below-par this season with seven first round exits on the ProTour and Brendan Dolan will fancy the job having made a final during the last Super Series.
Lendel Faria (FDI): It’s tough to say, but that has to be Glen Durrant. He has been out of sorts lately and I think this Matchplay comes a bit early for him to really turn it around in Blackpool. Other than Glen I see Ratajski struggling against Dolan.
Paul Woodage: Sadly, on form you have to say Duzza. He is up against Callan Rydz, a very handy player and unless Glen finds some form, he will find it tough. But the Boro man loves Blackpool and where better to rediscover his mojo. I just hope he plays well then what happens, happens. Ryan Seale will cause Michael Smith problems. I also think Chizzy could struggle against VVDV. A lot of the opening round games are hard to call such is the talent pool.
Kevin Barth: There is one match which stands out completely for me: Jonny Clayton against Dirk van Duijvenbode. I expect great quality and high entertainment. As someone who lives in Germany I’m also excited to see how Gabriel Clemens can put José De Sousa under pressure.
Josh Green: Glen Durrant is the obvious answer, but I fully expect Brendan Dolan to have a run in Blackpool this year, so I’ll say Krzysztof Ratajski. I think it’s also worth keeping an eye on Dobey vs Cullen, with the latter struggling in the last ProTours.
Jack Langston (The Darts Referee): Glen Durrant, Michael Smith, James Wade in that order.
As things stand, the Winter Gardens will have a full capacity from the third day onwards. How much of an impact will the return of a full crowd have?
Dan Dawson: I think the crowds returning will be a huge boost for everyone involved. I don’t entirely subscribe to the view that we will suddenly see some players return to form while others fade away, simply because there is a room full of punters – but there’s no question that it will make it more exciting viewing.
Chris Murphy: I think it will help the more experienced players who are used to it. It will suddenly feel like a much bigger event again. I also think there is an opportunity for someone to become a real fans favourite if they engage with the crowd.
Laura Turner: I can’t wait for the crowds to be back in full force next week. For some of the players, the transition from playing in front of crowds to behind closed doors took a while, whilst others seem to thrive, and I have no reason to doubt this may be the case for players again in the reverse, but for the majority, the crowds being back should be a huge boost!
Jay Shaw: Massive. It’s one of the most intimate venues on the circuit, so having a packed crowd will raise not only the volume, but the heat as well. It’s an extra incentive for those in action on the opening weekend to get back in front of a sell-out crowd and that’s where I think the experience will tell.
Lendel Faria (FDI): I think in round one it could be a slight advantage for the Premier League players who already had played in front of a crowd. After that I don’t see a lot of players having to adjust to the new circumstances. They’ve all been there and I see no reason why they can’t produce their best once the fans are back.
Paul Woodage: It’s very exciting to have full crowds back – even limited numbers on the first three sessions will make quite a noise I expect. Most of the players thrive when playing in front of a live crowd – and especially at the Winter Gardens. Some more than others absolutely love it – particularly Aspinall, Van den Bergh, Wright, Price and MVG. But by the time the match starts, they will be fully focussed on the job in hand and all experienced enough to not let the crowd impact their game. Apart from the Premier League lads (with the exception of Cross and Durrant), they have played in front of a crowd recently. But it’s probably like riding a bike for the rest, it will feel like it was yesterday they were up on that stage with fans singing away.
Kevin Barth: I think that many players will look forward to play in front of fans again. The difficulty is now to put not too much in it. Gerwyn Price could be someone who overacts and let’s not forget his bad record at this tournament. Peter Wright will profit, but there is no other player who hasn’t played infront of a crowd before. So I think there will be some impact, but not that much. I think the last nights at the Premier League have shown that already.
Josh Green: I don’t think it will have a massive impact on the performance of the players, maybe a few extra nerves but nothing we haven’t seen before. But for TV viewers and those creating the atmosphere inside the Winter Gardens will be vastly superior to what we saw at the Marshall Arena 12 months ago.
Jack Langston (The Darts Referee): I think we see MVG back to 90-95% with the crowd being back, I don’t think he’s going to win the tournament, but I do think that he will get everyone talking about him as one of the top 2/3 players in the world again. Also, I fancy an MVG nine darter during the competition at some point.