The annual BetVictor World Matchplay darts begins in Blackpool tonight, with Phil Taylor bidding to win the event for an incredible 16th time at the Winter Gardens .
The Stoke legend has equalled his tally of World Championship victories at Blackpool, where he bids to continue his 35-match unbeaten run by taking the title for an eighth year in succession.
There’s something a bit special, magical even, about the Winter Gardens.Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor
‘The Power’ doesn’t take to the Blackpool oche until Monday evening, when his first opponent will be Scotland’s John Henderson, but the 54-year-old is in confident mood following last month’s Japan Darts Masters win.
Taylor said: “The World Matchplay’s a great tournament and a venue I love to play at. There’s something a bit special, magical even, about the Winter Gardens.
“It’s been a really successful venue for me and it’s my favourite. The atmosphere is superb and the fans are really special. I love the World Matchplay and hopefully this can be another great year for me.”
World number one Michael van Gerwen, who lost out to Taylor in last year’s final, is among the opening-night star attractions as he takes on fellow Dutchman Benito van de Pas.
Van Gerwen said: “I think that experience last year has made me stronger. I’m even more focused and desperate to win the World Matchplay this year. It’s a huge target.
“Three years ago I reached the quarter-finals, two years ago the semi-finals and last year the final, so I’m determined to go one step further.”
Tonight’s action also features a clash between two stars of this year’s Premier League – the flamboyant Peter Wright and Belgium’s Kim Huybrechts, who has reached two finals on the circuit in the past month.
“It’s evenly matched and has the makings of a great game,” said Huybrechts, who lost 10-4 to Wright in Blackpool two years ago.
“Although I’ve been just outside the top 16 of the world, I was the number one qualifier in the ProTour rankings, so whoever drew me would probably say it’s a tough match.”
Australian Simon Whitlock kicks off the nine-day event against Holland’s Jelle Klaasen, who won his first ranking title since 2007 at a Players Championship in Wigan two weeks ago.