The World Matchplay event is one of the blue-riband competitions on the darts calendar. The Winter Gardens in Blackpool is always a wonderful venue for the showpiece, and the crowds in attendance make for an unyieldingly vociferous backdrop as the biggest names in the sport take to the oche.
The first-round matchups have been revealed ahead of the event, as the 32 players involved look to plot their way toward one of the most coveted titles in the sport.
Here are the opening fixtures in full as well as a look at a couple of the standout ties in Round 1, courtesy of the Blackpool Gazette:
|World Matchplay Darts 2014 Draw: First-Round Fixtures|
|Michael van Gerwen (1)||vs.||Steve Beaton|
|Phil Taylor (2)||vs.||Darren Webster|
|Adrian Lewis (3)||vs.||Andrew Gilding|
|Simon Whitlock (4)||vs.||Kevin Painter|
|James Wade (5)||vs.||Andy Smith|
|Peter Wright (6)||vs.||Stephen Bunting|
|Robert Thornton (7)||vs.||Paul Nicholson|
|Andy Hamilton (8)||vs.||Wayne Jones|
|Dave Chisnall (9)||vs.||Dean Winstanley|
|Wes Newton (10)||vs.||Ronnie Baxter|
|Gary Anderson (11)||vs.||Jamie Caven|
|Brendan Dolan (12)||vs.||Richie Burnett|
|Raymond van Barneveld (13)||vs.||Vincent van der Voort|
|Mervyn King (14)||vs.||Kim Huybrechts|
|Justin Pipe (15)||vs.||Michael Smith|
|Ian White (16)||vs.||Terry Jenkins|
Phil Taylor vs. Darren Webster
Despite having to relinquish some of the darting spotlight to a certain Michael van Gerwen of late, Phil Taylor remains the man to beat in matchplay format.
Remarkably, the man dubbed "The Power" hasn't lost on the Blackpool stage for six years, securing a stunning six consecutive titles. Here he is celebrating the winning shot last year, as tweeted by the Official PDC account:
Taylor will start his quest for a record seventh consecutive—15th overall—title in this competition with a clash against qualifier Darren Webster, who will compete in this tournament for the first time in nine years.
Nonetheless, the 15-time world champion is expecting a difficult game and insists he needs to improve after a disappointing 2014, per the Blackpool Gazette:
I know Darren really well and it will be a tough game. I've got three weeks until the tournament now and I'll be putting in a lot of hard work, because I know I need to.
I've got to improve my game if I'm going to keep this title because it's such a strong field this year, and if you're not at your best you'll be going home.
But I love the World Matchplay and Blackpool and I've got some great memories there. Hopefully I'll have some more at the end of this event!
Despite being seeded second for this tournament, Taylor remains a real force in this particular format. He should have far too much for Webster in Round 1, and this tournament represents a real opportunity for The Power to establish some much-needed momentum at a venue where he typically flourishes.
Michael van Gerwen vs. Steve Beaton
As the world champion, world No. 1 and the top seed heading into this tournament, things are going pretty well for "Mighty Mike" at the moment. He's the player best placed to end Taylor's stunning record at the Winter Gardens and gets his tournament underway with a clash against Steve Beaton.
Here's how the world rankings look ahead of the tournament, as noted by Pro Darts Events, with the mercurial Dutchman leading the way:
Van Gerwen's ascension to the peak of the darting hierarchy has been nothing short of sensational—his frenzied style and exuberant demeanour making him a wonderful player to watch. His stratospheric scoring and incisiveness finishing on doubles have naturally made him an extremely difficult man to beat, meaning his opening opponent could be in for a tough time.
You suspect Beaton won't be a walkover, though, and the man from Coventry comes into this tournament in fine form. The 50-year-old should have won the Gibraltar Darts Trophy at the Victoria Stadium after racing into a 4-1 lead over James Wade in the final, but Wade eventually rallied to triumph 6-4.
It'll be a big test for Van Gerwen first up but one he should have more than enough to triumph in. The Dutchman is used to being under pressure to perform in these big televised tournaments, and expect him to get off to a typically fast start in Blackpool as he seeks to deny Taylor a seventh consecutive matchplay title.