PDC Darts World Championship 2019 Preview: The favourites, contenders and dark horses at Alexandra Palace
The 2019 PDC World Darts Championship gets underway on Thursday and we are set for three weeks of drama on the oche as the worlds best battle it out for the biggest prize in the sport.
The winner will pocket a cheque for half a million quid on New Years Day, the biggest prize ever handed out for a darts tournament and a sign of how far the game has come in recent years.
Dreams will be crushed, hopes dashed and tears shed on the Alexandra Palace stage before one man or woman emerges victorious with the enormous Sid Waddell Trophy on the first day of 2019.
Debutante Rob Cross proved last year that anyone can win this tournament, but here are some names to look out for this time around.
Michael van Gerwen
The world number one, top seed and two-time former champion has supposedly had a bit of an off year, and yet Michael van Gerwen has won 19 tournaments in 2018.
Such are the ridiculously high standards that MVG has set for himself, darts fans have started to question his brilliance because he hasnt won every major title going this season. The Dutchman has picked up the Premier League, World Grand Prix and Masters trophies (and 16 others) but for some, that is a sign of decline.
Mighty Mike is the favourite with the bookmakers ahead of a dart being thrown at Alexandra Palace and that is exactly how it should be. His A-game is almost impossible to live with and, as long as he is firing somewhere near his best, it will take a sensational performance to beat him.
Much has been made about his tough quarter of the draw, which could see him face Max Hopp, Raymond van Barneveld and James Wade before the semi-finals. But even on this murderers row, Van Gerwen is the deadliest killer of the lot and would be heavy favourite in any of those contests.
Yes, MVG is beatable, but that is easier said than done.
The only man that Van Gerwen has deemed a serious challenge to him at the World Championship, Gary Anderson is one of the few players in the sport who can live with MVG when he is firing on all cylinders.
The Flying Scotsman has won the Worlds twice before and has picked up the UK Open, World Matchplay and Champions League titles this year. He doesnt compete in as many tournaments as some, which is why he is seeded fourth at Ally Pally, but in most observers eyes he and MVG are battling it out for best player on the planet.
Anderson was not at his best at Ally Pally last year, losing in the quarter-finals to Phil Taylor, but his previous three visits showed how incredibly tough to beat he is on the biggest stage. Gary won the World Championship in 2015 and 16 then bludgeoned his way to the final in 2017. His tournament average was an enormous 103.45 and it took an other-worldly performance from MVG to beat him in the final (averaging 107.79!).
Anderson will go into any game as favourite, except against Mighty Mike. They are set for a semi-final clash and that is one not to be missed.
It has not been a great year for the world number three, but write off Peter Wright at your peril because he has been a very reliable performer on the Ally Pally stage in recent years.
Since reaching the final in 2014, Wright made back-to-back quarter-final appearances, then lost out in the semis in 2014. Last years Worlds was a poor result for Snakebite, dropping out in the second round, but he did average 103.44 against an inspired Jamie Lewis that day, so it was hardly an aberration on his part.
Last 16 exits in his last four big tournaments suggest his form is not what it needs to be to win this tournament, and that is why he is largely being ignored by the tipsters. However, he is lurking in the bottom half of the draw, away from Van Gerwen and Anderson, and all it takes is a couple of good early performances and he will find himself back on-song after Christmas as we reach the business end of the tournament.
Wrights lacklustre loss in the Grand Prix final to MVG made many question if he had the eye of the tiger required to reach the very top of the sport. He could prove his mettle at Ally Pally.
All eyes are going to be on the Welshman this year after Gerwyn Price made a name for himself at the Grand Slam of Darts in November. Price won that tournament, his first major title, and upset quite a few people in doing so – including beaten finalist Gary Anderson.
The Iceman is an intense presence on the oche and is not afraid to ruffle a few feathers with his big celebrations and by mixing up the pace of the game. Against Anderson it worked a treat as the Flying Scotsman was badly affected by the antics and crumbled to defeat.
Price has a cracking bit of mental warfare in his arsenal, but he is also a brilliant player and we still dont know just how good he is going to be. He only became a pro in 2014 after finishing a career on the rugby field, he reached the UK Open final in 2017 and is now a major champion after his Grand Slam triumph. Continue this trajectory and we could be looking at a top three player in no time at all.
The Iceman is box office entertainment and has the arrows to match. It will take an exceptional performance to beat him on the big stage and he will not be leaving the Ally Pally stage without a serious scrap.
Thanks to his favourable draw at the World Championship, Michael Smith is going into the tournament as the fourth favourite, behind MVG, Anderson and Wright. He is yet to win a major title and has never been beyond the last eight at the Worlds, so this might seem odd, but Smith has the game to capitalise on his seemingly easier run towards the final.
Bully Boy has shown what he can do at the Alexandra Palace in recent years and has been unlucky not to progress further than he has. His last three defeats at Ally Pally were by a single set to Rob Cross, James Wade and Raymond van Barneveld. Smith will compete with anyone he is put up against, he just needs to prove he can get over the line.
Reaching the Premier League final this year showed how Smiths game is improving and if he builds some momentum in the early rounds then he will be a real handful in the quarter-finals onwards.
Long talked about as a future world champion, this could finally be when Smith lives up to the hype.
The Dark Horse
Dimitri van den Bergh
Undoubtedly a star of the future, Dimitri van den Bergh is well worth watching at the World Championship, even if it is just for his dancing en route to the oche.
The Belgian has not found the consistency to make strides up the world rankings yet, but he has shown in flashes that he has the game to compete with anyone. At the German Darts Masters this year he knocked out Van Gerwen and Anderson on the way to the final. He has won World Youth Championships and reached the quarter-finals here last year, losing 5-4 in a nail-biter to eventual champion Rob Cross.
The Dreammaker loves the big stage, and if he can navigate a tricky second round tie against Jonny Clayton then he can compete with absolutely anyone put in front of him. Van Den Bergh is in the third quarter of the draw, which appears to be the easiest and anyones for the taking. Play like he did at Ally Pally last year and he will take it all for himself.
The PDC World Darts Championship begins on Thursday 13 December.