Organisers are predicting a wide-open battle for the BetVictor World Matchplay tournament at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens after the draw for the tournament was made.
The competition gets under way a week tomorrow, with all eyes on finding out which players Phil Taylor and reigning champion Michael van Gerwen would meet.
Taylor has made the Blackpool tournament something akin to his own private fiefdom over the years, having won the Matchplay 15 times. He had triumphed seven years in a row until van Gerwen took the title for the first time 12 months ago, beating James Wade in the final.
Taylor’s opponent in round one will be Robbie Green, from Wallasey, who is ranked number 56 in the world and rejoices in the nickname ‘Kong’.
Green made darts history for the wrong reasons a decade ago, when he tested positive for marijuana and was banned for eight weeks.
Green was a semi-finalist in the British Darts Organisation’s version of the world championship in 2014.
Reigning Matchplay champion van Gerwen, from Holland, has been drawn with Jamie Caven.
One of the ties of the first round pits former Blackpool finalist Adrian Lewis against Mark Webster, an ex-BDO world champion, while Simon Whitlock versus Michael Smith is also packed with interest.
World champion Gary Anderson comes up against Alan Norris, who is one of three Blackpool debutants this year, alongside fellow qualifiers Josh Payne and Daryl Gurney.
Besides Taylor and van Gerwen, sixth seed Wade is the only other former winner in the field. He triumphed in 2007 and has been runner-up in Blackpool on five occasions.
He plays former semi-finalist Mervyn King, with the winner of their tie set to meet either Raymond van Barneveld or Brendan Dolan.
Wade has a special affinity with Blackpool. His model wife Sammi is from the town and the couple met when she was working as one of the walk-on girls at the tournament.
Two-time Blackool finalist Terry Jenkins has been drawn against Justin Pipe, while Jelle Klaasen meets Steve Beaton.
Stephen Bunting will take on Austria’s Mensur Suljovic, with the winner going on to face either Taylor or Green in the second round.
The World Matchplay takes place in the resort over nine days until July 24.
The top 16 in the rankings automatically qualify, while the other 16 have come through a qualification process.
Sadly there is no local hero this year, with Fleetwood’s Wes Newton and Mereside’s Ronnie Baxter both failing to qualify.
Professional Darts Corporation chairman Barry Hearn predicts that the 24th World Matchplay in Blackpool will be one of the best.
He said: “The Matchplay is right up there as the second- biggest tournament (after the World Championships). This year it’s tougher than ever to predict.”
Matchplay first round draw (seeds in brackets):
Michael van Gerwen (1) v Jamie Caven
Vincent van der Voort (16) v Kyle Anderson
Robert Thornton (8) v Josh Payne
Dave Chisnall (9) v Benito van de Pas
Peter Wright (5) v Joe Cullen
Ian White (12) v Daryl Gurney
Adrian Lewis (4) v Mark Webster
Kim Huybrechts (13) v Gerwyn Price
Gary Anderson (2) v Alan Norris
Terry Jenkins (15) v Justin Pipe
Michael Smith (7) v Simon Whitlock
Jelle Klaasen (10) v Steve Beaton
James Wade (6) v Mervyn King
Raymond van Barneveld (11) v Brendan Dolan
Phil Taylor (3) v Robbie Green
Stephen Bunting (14) v Mensur Suljovic