We’re just creeping into that time of the year where children (and big kids) start to get a bit giddy: Halloween, Bonfire Night and then, the big one, Christmas are all on the horizon. For darts fans, those feelings of excitement and anticipation also start to ramp up at what is a vintage time of the year for tungsten enthusiasts.
The European Championship kicks off in Hasselt, Germany on Thursday night, and from there it’s goodness all the way with the World Series and Players’ Championship finals plus the Grand Slam of Darts and, of course, the World Championships. It’s a hectic couple of months for the top flingers on the planet.
As for the European Championship, the door has crept slightly ajar for the field with the news that Michael van Gerwen is suffering from bursitis in his ankle. The discomfort made him withdraw from the World Series event last weekend, and you can imagine the other players in the draw are rubbing their hands together with glee at the demise of the world number one.
The Wizard Hoping for More Euro Magic
MVG is in the top half of the draw that also features Mensur Suljovic – the man he beat in last year’s final, Simon Whitlock, Mervyn King, Ian White and Darren Webster, and in truth a fully fit Van Gerwen would steamroller his way through to yet another final in Hasselt. It’s a tournament he has won for three years in a row, and you don’t doubt for one minute he wats to make it four.
If MVG isn’t at his best then Simon Whitlock becomes a very interesting proposition in the top half at 40/1. The European Championship is his sole PDC title – he beat Wes Newton in the 2012 final, and the Wizard almost retained his title before going down to Aidy Lewis in the final the following year.
There have been signs of life from Whitlock of late after he reached the final of the World Grand Prix and the last four of the European Darts Trophy, and the suspicion is that the Aussie is starting to recapture the form which took him to a World Championship final a few years ago.
But with Van Gerwen lurking, the best bet for punters is to explore the bottom half of the draw and try to land an each way return that way. In that vein, there are a couple of fancies that really catch the eye:
Peter Wright (9/2)
Wright was struggling at the World Series last week, facing match darts against both Suljovic and Dragutin Horvat before getting over the line, and so he did what Wright tends to do in such situations: he changed his darts.
From that point on the old swagger returned, and he beat Raymond van Barneveld 11-9 and Phil Taylor 11-4 to claim yet another title in 2017.
The Scot has been hoovering up this kind of event all year in the absence of MVG, and the beauty of being the number two seed is that he affords himself a handy route to the final.
Well, that’s the logic anyway, but first he must overcome the talented Polish thrower, Krzysztof Ratajski, who recently won the BDO World Masters. That is as slippery as banana-skins get….
But get through that and a path to the semi-finals, which would be littered with the likes of Jonny Clayton, Joe Cullen and Daryl Gurney – who hasn’t quite come down from the high of winning the World Grand Prix in front of his home Irish fans – is agreeable enough.
In the last four he could meet a real up-and-comer….
Rob Cross (18/1)
‘Voltage’ may have one of the worst nicknames in darts, but his game has come on leaps and bounds since claiming his PDC tour card earlier in the year.
Cross is a shining example of why every player should be taking part in the various Players’ Championship events, as it helps to build confidence against high quality opposition week in, week out. The likes of Adrian Lewis and James Wade, notable for their absence from such events, don’t have to look too far to know why their world rankings are tumbling.
The world number 33 is now a four-time winner of Players’ Championship events, and as soon as he starts to transfer that form onto the big stage then here’s another player who will be desperate to break into the top ten in the world.
A run to the last 16 of the World Matchplay may just have given him the belief required to take his game to the next level.