Michael van Gerwen defends World Championship crown as Raymond van Barneveld says goodbye
Written by News on 17/12/2019
On Friday, 96 players from across the globe descend on Alexandra Palace as the PDC World Championship gets under way and, with the usual myriad of drama and stories, it is two Dutchmen who will take centre stage.
Cast your eye over the draw, ponder any one of the 28 sessions and there is tungsten tension to be found but as north London welcomes the darting world, the names of Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Barneveld dominate the build-up.
MVG. The world no 1 and the sport’s dominant force is defending the title he won for a third time in beating Michael Smith on January 1 earlier this year. A fourth will place him behind only three men in the all-time list.
Phil Taylor, on 16 stands clear of everyone but the much-missed Eric Bristow and Van Gerwen’s fellow Dutchman, Van Barneveld, are within striking distance having both claimed five titles.
However, it is not another title that underpins Barney’s campaign, for the great doyen of Dutch darts, this year at Ally Pally will be his final tournament as a professional. While a sixth would represent the stuff of fairy tale and legend combined, it promises to be a memorable goodbye for the 52-year-old.
Two women will again take their place in the field as Japan’s Mikuru Suzuki and Buckinghamshire’s Fallon Sherrock join players from Australia, Brazil, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovenia and ages ranging from 17-year-old Keane Barry to 65-year-old Paul Lim battling to be crowned the first champion of 2020 and lift the prestigious Sid Waddell Trophy.
Barney’s final farewell
Van Barneveld announced last December that 2019 was to be his final year in darts, with the World Championship his final farewell and he has admitted it’s been the hardest 12 months of his career.
The form has stuttered, as it has for the last few years, there was an early retirement (and retirement u-turn) during an emotional Premier League in Rotterdam in March but here he stands on the cusp of his final chapter, and starting in the first round as an unseeded player.
Barney faces experienced American Darin Young in the first round, exactly a year to the day since his announcement, and should he win another Dutchman, Jeffrey de Zwaan looms in the second round.
It is ironic Van Barneveld and his long goodbye has stolen a part of Van Gerwen’s limelight for it is the older man that has inspired MVG’s rise having put darts on the map in the Netherlands.
Five world titles have cemented Barney’s legend, none more so than his spectacular final win over Taylor on his PDC Worlds debut at the Circus Tavern on New Year’s Day in 2007, but it is five years since his last major individual TV title and more than seven since his last major ranking crown – it’s hard to argue that the time is not right.
The Power’s own farewell two years ago, ended in a final and while it’s hard to see Barney getting close to that, the Dutchman is fond of drama and the intrigue of whether he can rouse himself one final time is one of the early stories to watch.
Van Gerwen aims for back-to-back glory
When Van Gerwen lifted the huge Sid Waddell Trophy on the first day of 2019 it was for a third time in six years he was crowned world champion.
Some try to argue he has under performed at Ally Pally. Not in the slightest. Since his first final in 2013 he has won the tournament three times, two semi-finals and a runners-up finish.
His only major disappointment is a third-round defeat to Raymond van Barneveld in 2016 when he lost averaging 105.
This year has been indifferent for MVG, he has been dealing with issues off the oche that have remained private but he has still picked up 15 titles including the Premier League, World Grand Prix, Players Championship and The Masters.
As Sky Sports‘ Wayne Mardle says, if he plays well he is the man to beat and that will be the case again over the next 16 days.
How to follow with Sky Sports?
Sky Sports Darts – a channel dedicated exclusively to the darts – will be returning ahead of the competition with Sky Sports Arena being rebranded from Thursday, December 12 until Friday, January 3 2020.
Sky Sports Main Event & Sky One will also broadcast the live action on certain days to further complement this coverage which will be hosted by Dave Clark, David Croft and Laura Woods.
Sixteen days of live action will feature 12 bumper double sessions of afternoon and evening darts and Sky Sports have assembled a team to keep you informed, entertained and up to speed.
Laura Turner and Devon Petersen will join the usual commentary team at Ally Pally, which includes expert analysis from Wayne Mardle, John Part, Mark Webster and Rod Harrington alongside Rod Studd, Stuart Pyke and Nigel Pearson.
Who emerges from the pack?
So who is best placed to challenge Van Gerwen? The field has arguably never been stronger but as they battle behind the sport’s dominant force the rest of the world’s finest continue to beat each other without a genuine rival emerging.
That was until recently, when the muscle-bound frame of Gerwyn Price put down his claim to be the second- best player in the world at the ideal time.
The Welshman, a former rugby union and rugby league player, beat MVG on the way to defending his Grand Slam of Darts title in Woverhampton and ran him close in the Players Championship final.
Many thought this would be Michael Smith’s year for a major breakthrough, but last year’s runner-up has fallen short again. He keeps giving himself chances but defeat in the World Matchplay final and a semi-final at the UK Open and the European Championship means he continues to knock at the door rather than open it.
World Grand Prix runner-up Dave Chisnall has been in form but like Smith is yet to break his major duck and what to make of Gary Anderson and Peter Wright, who teamed up to win the World Cup for Scotland.
Two-time world champion Anderson has yet to find his feet this year after missing the first half of the season with a back problem while Snakebite, the 2014 runner-up, remarkably still has just the one major televised title and has been a second-round casualty in each of the the last two years at Alexandra Palace.
Nathan Aspinall, semi-finalist last year, has gone on to claim his first major title at the UK Open, while Rob Cross has added the Matchplay and the European Championship to a CV headlined by the 2018 world crown.
Daryl Gurney has never gone beyond the last eight and James Wade never past the last four, but both players are more than capable of slipping through the field while the spotlight lingers elsewhere and Glen Durrant, the reigning BDO world champion, has enjoyed a stellar debut year.
Having won his PDC card in January, Duzza has won two Pro Tour titles and reached three major semi-finals, his double-hitting make him a threat to become the first man to hold both the PDC and BDO titles at the same time.
Can the women finally make their mark?
Once again the reigning women’s world champion will be in attendance at Alexandra Palace. Japan’s Mikuru Suzuki will, for the second time in a matter of months, go up against the very best the PDC have to offer.
The BDO world champion thrilled on her way to the title at the Lakeside last year, and before she defends that title she will look to become the first woman to beat a man at the PDC World Championship.
She faces James Richardson, after running two-time major winner Robert Thornton and eventual champion Gerwyn Price close on her Grand Slam of Darts debut.
Last year’s female representatives Lisa Ashton and Anastasia Dobromyslova didn’t make it through the two qualifiers reflecting the strength of the growing ladies game.
Suzuki is joined in north London by world No 4 Fallon Sherrock, who makes her debut having beaten Ashton and Deta Hedman on her run to victory at the UK & Ireland qualifier last month.
The 25-year-old is a four-time World Championship quarter-finalist, as well as runner-up in 2015 and she will go up against Development Tour Order of Merit winner Ted Evetts as she looks to become the first woman to beat a man in a PDC event since 2009 when Dobromyslova beat Vincent van der Voort at the Grand Slam.
Sadly there is no fairy tale for Barney and it is hard to look beyond Van Gerwen, who has been handed a dream draw through the early rounds, usually the time the world’s best look at their most vulnerable.
The Dutchman looks well placed to reach the last four with either Anderson, Smith or Aspinall likely to emerge from a stacked second quarter. Smith has the edge to set-up a repeat of last year’s final in this year’s last four.
The bottom half of the draw looks the most open section and where a surprise could most likely emerge, and Chris Dobey has the credentials. But a longer format suits the gritty matchplay nature of Durrant, who will see off Price in the last eight and into a showdown with Snakebite in the last four.
A final between Durrant and Van Gerwen would see the sport’s two reigning champions head to head in a showpiece final with the Dutchman lifting the trophy once again on New Year’s Day.
All the action from Ally Pally gets underway on Friday with the first of 16 days of coverage live on Sky Sports Darts & Main Event from 7pm. If you are out and about you can follow with regular updates, clips, features and reports at skysports.com/darts, our app for mobile devices and our Twitter account @SkySportsDarts