World Matchplay king Taylor faces Big Bad John up first
The draw for the World Matchplay, one of darts’ premier events, has been announced just under two weeks before the tournament begins, so Coral writers give an early preview of the first round fixtures.
Phil Taylor (10/3 competition second-favourite), the 15-time champion here and winner of 13 of the last 15, is looking for his eighth-straight title at Blackpool and begins his defence against Scotland’s John Henderson.
Highlander, who walks on to the intro of Big Bad John by country singer Jimmy Dean, has the potential to cause an upset, after taking Michael van Gerwen all the way at the German Darts Masters final in April.
Henderson lost 6-5, but defeated the likes of Adrian Lewis, Brendan Dolan and Simon Whitlock along the way. He is 8/1 to somehow beat Taylor (1/16) here, but the Power is back in great form after recently winning the World Cup of Darts and Japan Masters.
World number one Van Gerwen (7/4 title favourite), meanwhile, has also been given a potentially tricky tie against Dutch compatriot Benito van de Pas.
The two Netherlands youngsters have already met this year, at the International Darts Open in Germany, with Big Ben (13/2) upsetting Mighty Mike (1/12) 6-4 in the third round on his way to reaching the final.
On the bigger stage, though, it will be difficult to back against Van Gerwen, who is hoping to go one step further at this event after reaching the quarters, then semis, then final in the last three years here. This is one of the very few tournaments that he’s yet to get his hands on.
In fact only one player, other than Taylor, has triumphed here before. James Wade is the last person to win in Blackpool, besides The Power, way back in 2007, when he convincingly beat Terry Jenkins in the final.
Title chance The Machine is 25/1 to go all the way again, and has a favourable first round match against Australian Kyle Anderson (11/4 for victory), who he is odds-on at 2/7 to defeat.
Perhaps the crunch clash of the draw, though, is between relegated Premier League Darts duo Peter Wright (4/7) and Kim Huybrechts (11/8), who has lost nine of their last 11 meetings.
Snakebite is certainly overdue a major title, after finishing runner-up now at the World Championship, Coral’s UK Open, the World Cup and, most recently, the Japan Masters, and is 25/1 to win here.
Other intriguing battles include Dolan (evens for victory) against Vincent van der Voort (4/5), and Robert Thornton’s (8/11) match with rising star Keegan Brown (11/10).
Raymond van Barneveld (2/9), runner-up here in 2010, meanwhile, will be hoping to put a troublesome past couple of months behind him, as he takes on 2012 World Championship finalist Andy Hamilton (10/3).
Unfortunately for Barney (40/1 title shout), who has beaten The Hammer in 20 of their 24 head-to-heads, though, he is set to meet old foe and in-form Taylor next.
Elsewhere in the draw, world champion and Premier League title holder Gary Anderson (9/2 to win the trophy) faces Steve Beaton, Lewis (14/1) duels with Joe Murnan and Dave Chisnall (14/1) is up against Jamie Caven.
Full first round (last 32) draw here:
Michael van Gerwen (1) v Benito van de Pas
Justin Pipe (16) v Jamie Lewis
Simon Whitlock (8) v Jelle Klaasen
Ian White (9) v Stephen Bunting
Peter Wright (5) v Kim Huybrechts
Mervyn King (12) v Andrew Gilding
Adrian Lewis (4) v Joe Murnan
Michael Smith (13) v Gerwyn Price
Gary Anderson (3) v Steve Beaton
Terry Jenkins (14) v Mensur Suljovic
Brendan Dolan (11) v Vincent van der Voort
James Wade (6) v Kyle Anderson
Dave Chisnall (7) v Jamie Caven
Robert Thornton (10) v Keegan Brown
Raymond van Barneveld (15) v Andy Hamilton
Phil Taylor (2) v John Henderson
Coral’s betting tip – Keegan Brown beats Robert Thornton @ 11/10