The first round concludes today with four matches, including second seed Peter Wright in action, despite his recent diagnosis with gallstones.
Last night, Michael Smith landed both 19/20 and 6/5 in his game against Steve Lennon with a 3-2 win where he hit 10 maximums.
Simon Whitlock overcome ‘The Wall’ Martin Schindler and double trouble to book his place in the second round, while Justin Pipe had a scare against Bernie Smith.
The Kiwi, who won his Preliminary Round game, was 2-0 down but rallied to take it to a deciding set before Pipe put his foot down and hit the winning double without playing anywhere near his best.
Cristo Reyes vs Toni Alcinas
Cristo Reyes has come on leaps and bounds in the last 18 months and is one of the most improved players on the circuit. He’s climbed up to 26th in the PDC Order of Merit and has shown form on the European Tour this year after reaching semi-finals in the European Matchplay and Austrian Darts Open.
The Spartan beat Dimitri van den Bergh 3-2 in last year’s first round before being beaten by MvG in the second round. Against van den Bergh he averaged 95.54, hit four 180s and a high checkout of 130. A performance to that sort of standard should be good enough for a comfortable success.
Toni Alcinas hasn’t played at a World Championship since 2012. He departed in the first round of that event when losing 3-2 to Andy Hamilton and a similar fate is expected for El Dartador.
He’s been searching for some form of late and hasn’t really found much. A run to a semi-final of a tour event in Ireland is his best result this season but he did beat some useful players along the way in the shape of Benito van de Pas and Darren Webster.
Webster got his revenge in the first round of the Players Championship Finals at Minehead last month with Alcinas averaging just under 88 and finishing with a lowly 30% on the doubles.
I do like Reyes as a player and when his action flows he can be a heavy scorer and average highly. He has won both previous meetings against his fellow Spaniard and there will be plenty of mutual respect with them both representing Spain at the World Cup.
Reyes -1.5 Set Handicap (8/13) looks the most solid play because I can’t see a way Alcinas wins two sets.
The Reyes Match Treble of him to Win, Hit Most 180s and Highest Checkout (9/4 - Sky Bet) looks fair given his ability to hit 180s, unlike his opponent, while he’s also capable on the finishes. Last year he took out 130 in the first round and in his Players Championship Finals first round defeat last month he ended the game with most 180s and the highest checkout by taking out a 126.
Kim Huybrechts vs James Richardson
Kim Huybrechts had his best run at a World Championship last year when reaching the Last 16 and the Belgian has a kind draw with this first round tie.
In last year’s first round he beat James Wilson 3-0 with a 98.66 average, five 180s, and a 138 checkout, so that would have landed the Match Treble for this one.
When on-song, Huybrechts is good to watch because of his rhythm and regularity of finding the Treble 20 bed.
‘The Hurricane’ reached the European Darts Trophy Semi-Final back in October and finds some of his best darts at the back end of the calendar year.
James Richardson hasn’t found much form on the tour this year and when featuring events he’s rarely got past the first round.
It doesn’t make good reading for the bricklayer and it seems that ‘Ruthless’ has lost his killer instinct.
There’s not much to shout about from a form perspective for Richardson and this is his first World Championship appearance since losing to Andy Hamilton of the first round in 2013.
I can’t see Richardson averaging up in the 90s and that’s something he’ll have to do to have any chance of putting pressure on Huybrechts whether that’s on his own throw or against the throw.
Huybrechts has won all five previous meetings, including a 4-1 win in the 2011 World Championship, so you have to be looking at the Belgian here.
The enhanced odds on the Match Treble has been boosted to 5/2 with William Hill and has a great chance of landing but I’m playing the 3-0 Huybrechts Correct Score (9/4) because I can’t see Richardson laying a glove on the Belgian.
Darren Webster vs Devon Petersen
Darren Webster sits in 23rd in the PDC Order of Merit and is one of the more solid players on tour without being too spectacular.
The 49-year-old was a winner on the tour in a Players Championship floor event earlier in the year, so has that battling quality to endure a long slog of a day. If pressured here and taken the distance, he’s one that should be able to cope!
I was disappointed by his performance in the Grand Slam of Darts. I thought he’d be in contention to win his group, however, he won just one of his three games but managed to make the next round after a nine-dart shootout against Mark Webster.
In his first game of the group he played his namesake but his performance was rather loose by his standards with too many darts finding there way into the 1 and 5 beds – that showed with his 86 average.
He’ll have needed to iron out those issues that crept into his throw there because he faces a tricky opponent.
Devon Petersen has had a lacklustre year but when firing he’s a particularly high scorer and can cause problems to the very best.
However, the only recent thing to rave about entering this tournament for ‘The African Warrior’ is his dance moves.
You always see players going through a lean spell and it’s still early days for the South African. It’s this sort of occasion that can rev a player up and that can energise them to return to a bit of form and that’s something to bear in mind with Petersen.
He reached the Last 16 of the World Championships back in 2014, so we know he handles the stage and occasion, so you can’t discount him for the match equation, especially if Webster throws some stray arrows.
If you’ve read my pieces before you’ll know I’m a fan of Webster on the combination finishes and that’s one of his strengths.
It’s those three-dart combinations that can help beat your opponent, not only on the scoreboard but also mentally and that’s why ‘Demolition Man’ has been successful.
He’s a man confident in his own ability and I do have to be looking at him to hit a high finish here, so Webster Highest Checkout Over 108.5 (5/6 - Betfair) is something to back.
Back in last month’s Players Championship Finals, he defeated Mervyn King in the second round taking out two 100+ checkouts, including a high of 120, and thinking back to last year’s World Championship he took out a number of 100+ finishes, including a tidy 157.
I do feel the man from Norwich should have enough to beat Petersen here, so with me liking the prospects of him on the checkouts, it could be worth delving into the Webster Win & Hit Highest Checkout (10/11 – Betfair). It’s short enough at a shade of odds-on but it is something I rate highly, despite it sounding I’m putting all my eggs in one basket.
Peter Wright vs Diogo Portela
There was plenty of expectation on Peter Wright entering this World Championship after he claimed his first major in the shape of the UK Open back in March.
However, those expectations may have been slightly lowered after his spell in hospital and his recent diagnosis of gallstones.
‘Snakebite’ is a dedicated player, who puts plenty of time in on the practice board, so with him having to scale back exhibitions due to his ill-health means we don’t how much he’s put into his preparations.
The biggest problem I have with the Scot is how often he changes his darts. It has worked for him so far but when you arrive at a venue with a few sets then it will see him question his own game.
In one recent event, he actually switched darts in an intermission. In his defence, he played better after the change of equipment but that niggling thought plus chopping and changing must distract him from the job at hand.
Diogo Portela becomes the first player to represent Brazil on the stage of a World Championship when he toes the oche against the second seed.
He’s got his work cut on in beating Wright but he can enter this with the ‘nothing to lose’ mentality and we’ve seen that from a few players this week with great success.
The man from Rio beat Martin Schindler in the German Darts Championship becoming the first Brazilian to win on the European Tour and we saw Schindler give Whitlock a run for his money last night.
There’s an interesting backstory with Portela having worked for L’Oreal, taught maths part-time in a school and appeared on Sky One TV show ‘One Hundred And Eighty’ before moving to Richmond in Surrey a couple of years ago to focus on professional darts.
The Botafogo supporter was part of a pairing that saw Brazil reach the second round of the World Cup of Darts before being beaten by hosts Germany.
Whatever the outcome for Portela, at 29-years-old there is time on his side and in the larger picture, this will be an excellent learning curve. Not only for his game but the PDC’s ambition of growing the game in South America.
He’ll have to adapt to the pressure of the big crowd and stage plus this is a different format to the one he’s used to.
Add to the mix that if he takes a set off Wright the potential for this game being a long on meaning coping with that time on stage and not wasting energy too early – that’s if he is able to match a typical Wright performance, of course.
For me, this isn’t a game for betting purposes. Wright is a heavy odds-on favourite and I don’t know how much of a toll the illness and weight loss will have on his game. Portela +2.5 Set Handicap is odds-against and that does need him to take a set but if Wright does have a wobble, the Brazilian can pounce.
A solid 13/8 double is backing both Cristo Reyes and Kim Huybrechts on the -1.5 Set Handicap with William Hill.
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