The most unpredictable PDC World Darts Championship has contenders at every turn
We are set to a wild end to a unique year in darts and going into the most unpredictable World Darts Championship ever, any number of players could be lifting the Sid Waddell Trophy on 3 January.
2020 has been a bizarre time on almost every level and darts has not been immune from the chaos of the pandemic. The calendar has chopped and changed, crowds have come and gone and some results have come to pass that no one would have predicted at the start of the year.
We head into the 2021 World Darts Championship with a small crowd on the opening day, before fans are dragged away by Tier 3 restrictions until at least 23 December, but likely for the rest of the event.
We also head to Alexandra Palace with the widest array of reigning major champions imaginable. Never before has a PDC World Darts Championship began with six different holders of the World Championship, Matchplay, Grand Prix, UK Open, Premier League and Grand Slam, but that is the situation we find ourselves in this time round.
Michael van Gerwen or Phil Taylor have always held at least two of those titles going into the World Championship since they were all on the calendar. This time around, no one has managed to dominate the silverware on offer. No one has even come close.
Is the varied list of champions down to the lack of fans, the change to the routine, everything that has come with the pandemic? Multiple-major winner James Wade certainly thinks so, saying last month: ‘I don’t think that those players would have won under normal circumstances.
‘That’s just my opinion. It might put certain peoples’ noses out of joint. I don’t think that some of those tournaments won this year would have been won by those players under normal circumstances in a room with a crowd putting pressure on people.’
Peter Wright is the defending champion at Alexandra Palace, while Michael van Gerwen is the UK Open champ and Gerwyn Price the Grand Prix winner. Wade is certainly not referring to that trio, who occupy the top three spots in the world rankings and are all fancied to do well over the coming month.
Premier League champion Glen Durrant, World Matchplay winner Dimitri van den Bergh and Grand Slam champ Jose de Sousa are all first-time major winners this year. These players are the poster boys for the unpredictability of 2020 on the oche.
Did they lift those trophies because of the empty arenas and the level playing field that creates? We will never know. They are all superb players, Durrant certainly was not a big shock, but neither Van den Bergh nor De Sousa had been to a major semi-final before their maiden wins. It is easy to come to the conclusion that the 2020 darting landscape has been favourable to them.
Does this mean a brand new world champion will be crowned at the start of 2021 in an empty Ally Pally? There is every chance. Of the nine shortest priced players at the bookmakers, only Van Gerwen and Wright have won the big one before. Price, De Sousa and Van den Bergh are in that mix, but as are the ever-threatening Michael Smith, world number six Nathan Aspinall, Wade and another man who has emerged as a legitimate contender this year, Devon Petersen.
The pandemic, and how players have adapted to it, has shaken up the contenders for the richest prize in the game. While the bookmakers respect the chances of the rising stars, they are dismissive of the more established names. Gary Anderson, Rob Cross and Durrant are lagging behind in the odds, while the likes of Adrian Lewis and Daryl Gurney are barely given a hope.
Some of these men have been hit by the virus, some have opted not to travel because of it, others have just struggled for form, but whatever the reason, plenty of big hitters are expected to struggle.
Where the big names could really suffer is early in the event. The 32 seeded players arrive in round two, facing a lesser light, but one who has won a game and picked up some momentum in the opening round. This is nothing new, but the empty Alexandra Palace may take some getting used to for the big names, while the pressure of the giant crowd will not be weighing heavy on the lesser-known players.
There is some serious talent among the round one qualifiers and this year may well be the perfect scenario for them to properly showcase their talents on the biggest stage of all. Expect seeds to tumble at the last 64.
The top three four players in the world rankings are the four favourites with the bookies, so the oddsmakers are not straying far from the obvious, but they have been proved wrong multiple times over the strangest of years.
Van den Bergh was a 95/1 shot to win the Matchplay, De Sousa at 20/1 for the Grand Slam and Durrant 18/1 for the Premier League. Duzza the shortest priced of those three upsets, but he was eighth out of the nine players going into that event, with only Gurney at longer odds.
These men are all possible champions, while the likes of Mervyn King, Krzysztof Ratajski and the aforementioned Petersen could all stun the world and lift the trophy under these conditions, while Damon Heta and Dirk van Duivenbode are also threatening to be the next breakout stars.
MVG flexed his muscles by winning the Players Championship Finals, the last event before Ally Pally, cementing his place as the favourite for a fourth World Championship title, but in a shocking year, expect more upsets and 2021 to begin with a surprise.
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