THE Betfair World Matchplay will see Phil Taylor aiming to win a record-equalling fifth successive title at the Winter Gardens next week, but World Champion Adrian Lewis will take centre stage when the £400,000 event begins on Saturday.
Reigning champion Taylor is looking to match his own previous record unbeaten run from 2000-2004 in Blackpool as well as win an incredible 13th World Matchplay title at this year’s tournament.
The Stoke legend is unbeaten in Blackpool since 2007 – when he lost in the semi-finals to Terry Jenkins – and overcame James Wade 18-8 in last summer’s final to claim a fourth straight title.
“It’s a wonderful tournament and it holds so many special memories for me,” said Taylor, the 7/4 favourite with sponsors Betfair. “It would be amazing to win the title again and I’ll be giving everything I have to do that. “I’m feeling great and have been practising hard to make sure that I’m ready for Blackpool. I can’t wait.” Taylor will take on Mervyn King in his first round clash on Monday night, and added: “I know I’m in for a battle because Mervyn’s a great competitor, and it will be a great game. “If I get through that it will set me up for the tournament because it’s always tough when you play Mervyn.”
Taylor is facing an additional challenge in this year’s event, with World Champion Adrian Lewis knowing that he could take over the mantle of world number one should he take the Betfair World Matchplay title from his Stoke rival’s grasp.
“If I can win the World Matchplay I’ll go to world number one, so it’s a big incentive for me,” said the 27-year-old. “I set myself goals all the time and this is a goal for me this week.
“To be the World Champion and world number one in the same year would be a dream come true.”
Lewis – the 10/1 joint-second favourite with James Wade – headlines the opening night of the nine-day event on Saturday, when he meets recent Speedy Services UK Open champion Robert Thornton in Blackpool.
“Robert’s a big threat and he’s going to be full of confidence,” said Lewis. “I’ve got a good record against him but that doesn’t mean anything when you get up on stage.
“It’s always good to have a tough opponent in the first round because to win that sets you up for the rest of the tournament.
“I had it last year with Kevin Painter, who missed a couple of darts at tops to beat me – hopefully I won’t give Robert the opportunity on Saturday!”
The opening night also sees five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld in action against St Helens’ emerging star Michael Smith, two-time runner-up Jenkins playing Belgian debutant Kim Huybrechts and Paul Nicholson playing Andy Smith.
Nicholson, the 2010 Players Championship Finals winner, has been battling a shoulder problem this year and is bidding for a good run in Blackpool to keep his place in the world’s top 16.
“Saturday night is the most important game of the year so far for me,” said Nicholson. “It’s all about winning that first match and that’s all I’m thinking about at the moment.
“You have to look at events like this in a different way, with massive emphasis on the first round. The first game is like a final and then, if you win, you look at the rest of the tournament like a completely different event because of the few days’ gap until you play again.”
Nicholson had courted controversy last summer with his rivalry with Taylor, after knocking the Stoke great out of the UK Open, but admitted: “What I’ve tried to do this year is keep a lower profile and just play darts.”
Sunday’s four games include 2007 champion Wade taking on resurgent Welshman Richie Burnett, the 2001 runner-up.
Wade has won 22 out of 27 games on the Winter Gardens stage since making his debut there in 2006, and has reached the final in four of the last six years.
“I have some fantastic memories of the place and I love the tournament,” he said. “It was the first major I won so it is a special place for me.
“I’m sure that I can do very well in this tournament and there is no reason why I can’t go all the way if I’m at the top of my game, but I have to win the first match first and foremost.
“Richie is a very good player who has shown a bit of form recently, so I’m expecting a good battle, but I’m used to that and I have shown time and time again that I can win these battles. I know that when I’m playing well, I can beat anyone.”
Sunday night’s games also feature number six seed Simon Whitlock, who has reached the World Championship semi-finals, the World Cup of Darts and Premier League Darts finals and hit two nine-darters already this year, and is aiming to finally lift major silverware in Blackpool.
The Australian – a 12/1 chance in Blackpool – plays in-form Dutchman Michael van Gerwen, and said: “I think I am at the stage where I can win something now.
“I’ve always had the belief, but you need the form to go with it. I believe that I have got that at the moment.
“I’m pretty confident but Michael has been playing a lot better this year. It should be a good game and it’s the only one I’m thinking about.
“I think that there will be a lot of shocks in Blackpool, so I have to be at my best to make sure that I’m not one of them.”
Sunday’s play begins when former UK Open finalists Mark Walsh and Colin Osborne clash, while reigning Players Championship Finals winner Kevin Painter takes on Steve Beaton.
“We’re good friends and we go back a long way and it’s probably a draw that the pair of us would have rather avoided,” said Painter.
“I like to see him do well in tournaments and I’m pretty sure he’d like to see me do well, but once we get up there we’re going to treat each other as enemies.”
World Championship finalist Andy Hamilton opens Monday’s first round games when he plays World Grand Prix runner-up Brendan Dolan, with Holland’s Vincent van der Voort facing Stoke debutant Ian White and Mark Webster playing 2005 champion Colin Lloyd.
Tuesday’s final four first round games include number four seed Gary Anderson – who has been sidelined for a month with an eye problem – up against debutant Dean Winstanley, who has impressed since joining the PDC circuit in January.
“Gary’s a fantastic player,” said the Yorkshireman. “I know he’s had an eye problem recently but he’s going to be giving 110 percent up there so I’ve got to be on top of my game and try to give him a good match.
“Two years ago I went to watch the World Matchplay – funnily enough I was watching one of Gary’s games while I was there – and I really enjoyed it. It feels great and I’m just glad to be part of it this year.”
Blackpool’s Ronnie Baxter, the 1998 runner-up, plays in-form Dave Chisnall, Justin Pipe takes on youngster Joe Cullen and Fleetwood’s Wes Newton takes on World Youth Champion James Hubbard.
The second round will be played on Wednesday evening and Thursday evening, with the quarter-finals then split across two sessions on Friday.
The semi-finals will be held on Saturday evening, with the final on Sunday July 29 as the champion collects a £100,000 first prize and the prestigious title.
This year’s event marks the ten-year anniversary of Taylor’s achievement in hitting the first live televised nine-dart finish in a PDC event during the 2002 quarter-finals, with van Barneveld and John Part having also hit perfect legs in the past two years.
Betfair offer odds of Evens on the achievement being repeated during this event, with a £5,000 bonus on offer should a nine-darter be hit at the Winter Gardens during the nine days, which are screened live on Sky Sports HD.
Betfair World Matchplay – Event Information
SCHEDULE OF PLAY
Saturday July 21 (7pm)
Paul Nicholson v Andy Smith
Terry Jenkins v Kim Huybrechts
Adrian Lewis v Robert Thornton
Raymond van Barneveld v Michael Smith
Sunday July 22 (7pm)
Mark Walsh v Colin Osborne
Kevin Painter v Steve Beaton
James Wade v Richie Burnett
Simon Whitlock v Michael van Gerwen
Monday July 23 (7pm)
Andy Hamilton v Brendan Dolan
Vincent van der Voort v Ian White
Phil Taylor v Mervyn King
Mark Webster v Colin Lloyd
Tuesday July 24 (7pm)
Justin Pipe v Joe Cullen
Wes Newton v James Hubbard
Gary Anderson v Dean Winstanley
Dave Chisnall v Ronnie Baxter
Wednesday July 25 (7pm)
Whitlock/van Gerwen v Painter/Beaton
Wade/Burnett v Walsh/Osborne
van Barneveld/M Smith v Jenkins/Huybrechts
Lewis/Thornton v Nicholson/A Smith
Thursday July 26 (7pm)
Hamilton/Dolan v Webster/Lloyd
Newton/Hubbard v Pipe/Cullen
Taylor/King v van der Voort/White
Anderson/Winstanley v Chisnall/Baxter
Friday July 27
Afternoon Session (1pm)
Evening Session (7pm)
Saturday July 28 (7pm)
Sunday July 29 (7pm)
The order of play for the Quarter-Finals & Semi-Finals will be confirmed during the event. Check the Betfair World Matchplay NetZone at www.pdc.tv to see the latest schedule of play.
Adrian Lewis (2) v Robert Thornton
Paul Nicholson (15) v Andy Smith
Raymond van Barneveld (7) v Michael Smith
Terry Jenkins (10) v Kim Huybrechts
Simon Whitlock (6) v Michael van Gerwen
Kevin Painter (11) v Steve Beaton
James Wade (3) v Richie Burnett
Mark Walsh (14) v Colin Osborne
Phil Taylor (1) v Mervyn King
Vincent van der Voort (16) v Ian White
Andy Hamilton (8) v Brendan Dolan
Mark Webster (9) v Colin Lloyd
Wes Newton (5) v James Hubbard
Justin Pipe (12) v Joe Cullen
Gary Anderson (4) v Dean Winstanley
Dave Chisnall (13) v Ronnie Baxter
First Round: Best of 19 legs
Second Round: Best of 25 legs
Quarter-Finals: Best of 31 legs
Semi-Finals: Best of 33 legs
Final: Best of 35 legs
Each game must be won by two clear legs. There will be no tie-break, and the match will continue until one player achieves a two-leg lead.
Second Round Losers: £7,500
First Round Losers: £5,000
In addition, should any player achieve a nine-dart finish, they would receive a £5,000 bonus. In the event of more than one player hitting a nine-dart finish, the bonus would be shared on a pro-rata basis