Just one step from the final and two cracking matches to decide who will take their place on the prestigious stage.
Three names could have been predicted,and one unlikely name has fought his way through.
First match is Michael Smith(pic) against Nathan Aspinall (pic). On paper it looks appears Smith very much has the upper hand. Although this tournament has seen the emergence of some fresh talent, and Aspinall is definitely one of those talents. You do not get the the semi final of the World Darts Championship by chance. You have to be an exceptional player and have the will to win. Aspinall has shown his passion on the stage, whilst keeping a cool head when in a losing position. He hit a 100 average (rounded up) in his quarter final victory over Brendan Dolan, which he won quite comfortably. He will need to be playing at that standard again, and there is no reason why he can't repeat that performance. He certainly has the hunger to perform well, although he really needs to get off to a good start as Smith will come out with all guns blazing. Michael Smith played near to the top of his game as he defeated the impressive Luke Humphries in the quarter final, averaging 103. He will need to play around that level in order to keep Aspinall at bay, but assuming he does that, he may be able to establish a decent lead. Smith seems to perform better when leading, so it will be interesting to see how he performs if Aspinall takes the first set. Smith has been in excellent form this year and has got to this stage with less 'trouble' than the other semi finalists, so he will need to keep fully focused, as this is his toughest match yet. Smith is full of confidence and is mentored by Gary Anderson, so he will be given some very good Champion's advice of what it takes to reach the final. I predict a Smith win, but Aspinall will give him a tough match. Perhaps 6-4?
The second semi final, is perhaps the most mouth watering match of the tournament as Michael van Gerwen (pic) takes on Gary Anderson (pic). These are the number one and two players in the world at the moment, and have both won multiple World Championships. Both are big scorers and will both average over 100. It is very difficult to call a winner here. The bookmakers think van Gerwen will win, but I'm not sure what that is based on. Prior to the quarter finals, I would have agreed, but the way Anderson played against Dave Chisnall, showed that Anderson wants this title and it will take an excellent performance to defeat him. And maybe the only person that can stop him is van Gerwen. Van Gerwen said he put a lot of pressure on himself to play unbelieveable darts against Ryan Joyce in the quarter final and this lead to a mid-game 'slump', where Joyce won a set back and Michael's average dipped somewhat. Van Gerwen needs to make sure that he doesn't apply this sort of pressure in the semifinal, because if Anderson goes two or three sets up, it will be exceedingly difficult to catch up. That said, this is Michael van Gerwen and he has won, by far, the most titles this year of any player, whilst seemingly not at his best. He will be ready and Anderson will know this. Anderson must maintain the form of the quarter final, and finishing will be key to his success. No doubt he will score very heavily, but occasionally his finishing can let him down. If he gets that right then this could be his year. However any mistakes will be punished by van Gerwen.
Very hard to predict. I think it will be 6-5, and maybe van Gerwen might just snatch it, although it really is a very difficult call. This could also be the match where we see the first 9-dart finish of the tournament too!
So the evening session of Quarter Finals and two intriguing matches in store.
First up is Michael Smith (pic) against the very impressive Luke Humphries (pic). Humphries continues to impress as the tournament progresses. He came back with real quality to beat Rob Cross in the last 16.Prior to that he beat Adam Hunt convincingly and then eliminated Stephen Bunting and Dimitri van den Bergh, so no mean feat. He seems to be full of confidence and will be a tough opponent. His averages have been 98,96,90 and 100. He will probably need to play at 100+ average to get a decent amount of leg winning chances though. However,he is going from strength to strength and it just depends on whether he can handle the occasion. Michael Smith has looked good throughout the tournament and I'm not sure we have seen the best of him just yet, so tonight could be the night. He too will have to play at 100+ average to stop Humphries, but does have the big scoring game to do so. Smith has beat Ron Meulenkamp, John Henderson and Ryan Searle, so perhaps a slightly 'easier' route, but has produced averages of 94,100 and 100, so he is obviously in good shape coming into the quarter final. If both play their best, then Smith should win, but this is close and a slip from either player will certainly be punished.
The second game is, Michael van Gerwen (pic) against the outsider Ryan Joyce (pic). Joyce may be an outsider in terms of the bookmakers or television appearances, but he has played magnificently to get here. He will be no pushover after beating Anastasia Dobromyslova, (under a lot of pressure and little crowd support), Simon Whitlock, Alan Norris and James Wade. Although a fantastic achievement, he must keep focused and not get bogged down by the big occasion. Van Gerwen will not give him many chances, so he must be clinical when presented with an opportunity to finish. Van Gerwen will throw a 100+ average unless he has a very off day. This is the standard that the others must keep to. Joyce, so far has hit averages of (to nearest whole number) 90, 90, 88, 88. He is consistent, but will need to up that by around 10 to progress. Van Gerwen has been here before and hasn't really played his best yet, which is ominous for the other players. He will be very focused as he nears the final stages. His averages have been 103, 102 and 108, so the gulf in standard is quite visible. Van Gerwen has also beaten Alan Tabern, Max Hopp and Adrian Lewis to reach this stage,winning quite convincingly. The pressure will be very much on Van Gerwen,so as long as he handles that he should win. But this year's competition has been anything bu predictable!
(Note: Apologies for being away the last couple of days, but Christmas happened! I will fill in any previous days' gaps for continuity in due course. Thanks)
So we are now at the business end of the tournament. There are some big names, but also some surprises here. All will believe they can win and all have shown fantastic darts to get here.
Proceedings start with two surprise packages in Nathan Aspinall (pic) and Brendan Dolan. Aspinall has fought through the rounds playing excellent darts and fulfilling the potential he has promised for some time. He has hit the big darts when needed and kept a cool head even when in difficult situations. He wears his heart on his sleeve and will be cheering his big scores and finishes once again no doubt. He beat Geert Nentjes, Gerwyn Price,Kyle Anderson and Devon Petersen to get to this stage and all have been tough for him,but he has come through with a strong resilience. This resilience may well be to his advantage. His averages so far are, (to nearest whole number) 88, 92, 96 and 96, which shows that he seems to be improving as the tournament progresses.An impressive set of stats and high 90s may just win this. Brendan Dolan is an experienced campaigner and has won on the big stage before. He will need to use all of this experience in this tricky match. Dolan has had a resurgence in form to get him here and he seems to have a real belief. His scoring has been consistent and his finishing has been particularly good. He will not be overawed by the occasion,but he must remain mindful that Aspinall will not give in, even if a set or two down. Dolan has beat Yuanjun Liu,Joe Cullen, Mervyn King and Benito van de Pas to to make the quarter finals, with the latter three opponents all experienced Tour professionals and very tough to beat. This will certainly give Dolan confidence. His averages are 87,93,92 and 90, which are slightly lower than Aspinall's, so finishing again will be very important for Dolan.
A close quarter final in prospect but I think Dolan may just win it, based on his experience.
The first match of the afternoon is the quick throwing Vincent van der Voort against Chris Dobey. Van der Voort looked at his best in the last round as he swept past Darren Webster. Dobey will need to make sure that doesn't happen to him, as it can be easy to get caught up with the fast throwing rhythm. Dobey has also played well in the tournament, so he will fancy his chances. This should be close and as in many cases, finishing will be key to finding a winner.
The second game is another one that is very evenly matched. It features two of the most experienced players in the tournament as Brendan Dolan plays Mervyn King. Dolan has been playing close to his best and looks to have timed his World Championship run well. King continues to play good consistent darts and he will want to keep this way. Really hard to call a winner here and whoever makes the least mistakes will win.
The final match of the afternoon could be tense as James Wade (pic) plays Keegan Brown. Statisically, Wade is the better player, but I think this game will be a lot about mental strength. In round two Wade was chastised for his unsporting behaviour as he berated Seigo Asada during the match. Brown was similarly criticised by his round two opponent Jelle Klaasen, as Brown continually celebrated big shots and finishes. So this game will be about who can keep a cool head and focus on playing good darts. Wade may probably edge this as he has played very well at the close of the season,but Brown has also showed his talent. Could be fireworks!
Tonight's 3rd Round matches have the first and second favourite in action, so will be interesting to see how they perform.
The first match, though, is Ryan Searle (pic) against William O'Connor from Ireland. Searle has looked very impressive so far and seems to be getting better with each round. He has had a good season and that seems to have given him a new found confidence. O'Connor will be a tough player to beat. He looked good in round two and will just need to keep that form going. I think Searle may have a little bit extra and his big scoring is more consistent.
The second game sees second favourite, Gary Anderson against Jermaine Wattimena. Wattimena has showed some good form so far and will need to show more to compete with Anderson. Anderson looked comfortable in his second round match, and will want to keep a high average against a tougher opponent. Anderson should win this, but it all depends on who gets off to the best start.
The final game is Michael van Gerwen against Max Hopp. Hopp has had his best season,winning on the Tour and is improving. Van Gerwen scored well even though he was not at his best. Van Gerwen will probably hit a 100 average, so Hopp will need to take his chances when he can. If not Van Gerwen could dominate this one.
Evening Session (all round three)
Ryan Searle v William O’Connor Gary Anderson v Jermaine Wattimena Michael van Gerwen v Max Hopp
Another four second round matches, with more contenders in action.
The first game is Ian White against Devon Petersen. White had a great year on the Tour, topping the Players Tour Order of Merit. Although of late his form has dipped slightly. Petersen had a tough first round match but held his nerve to win in the final set. Both are experienced at this level, but I expect White to be just that little bit better.
The second match is Jelle Klaasen against Keegan Brown. Klaasen hasn't had his best season, but is still a top player. His major fault, is that his darts can be erratic. He may hit a 180, then follow it up with a 23.He must play more consistent. Brown played very well in his first round match and seems to becoming into form at the right time. This could be close and depends on Klaasen's consistency.
Next is Gerwyn Price against Nathan Aspinall. Price has had a fantastic season and is always a tough character, usually shouting after any important shot. Aspinall will have to contend with this,but he has Tour experience and will hopefully use that to focus. Price can score big,so Aspinall will have to take his chances when he can.
The final match is Dimitri van den Bergh (pic) against Johnny Clayton. This is probably the toughest second round match of them all. Both are players in form and both know how to win.Clayton has won on the Tour and also beat Michael van Gerwen at the Grand Slam in the group stages, so his confidence is high. Van den Bergh won comfortably in his first round and looked in good form.I really cannot call this one and should be a very exciting match.
So, the beginning of the third round matches and some great matches ahead, as the competition heats up.
First of the weekend is Ryan Joyce against Alan Norris. Joyce has been impressing so far and knocked out Simon Whitlock in the previous round, so has to be considered. Alan Norris held his nerve to overcome Steve Lennon in a thrilling final set, on a sudden death leg. He showed his experience in a pressure situation and will be buoyed by that. This looks like another close match, but I think Norris may get through.
Second match should be exciting as Dave Chisnall takes on Kim Huybrechts (pic) of Belgium. Huybrechts was in the form of his life in his second round demolition of Daniel Larsson, hitting a 103 average,the highest of any player in the second round. Chisnall took a while to get going but then pulled out some fantastic darts to win his second round match. Both look in great form and it should be a thriller. I wouldn't like to predict a winner, but if Huybrechts repeats his form he will be very hard to beat.
The final match of the afternoon is Daryl Gurney against last year's semi-finalist, Jamie Lewis. Gurney looked in fine form in his win over Ross Smith, hitting big scores. His finishing wasn't perfect, so there is a potential opening for Lewis. Lewis had a harder second round match, against Cody Harris, but he played well. However Gurney did look very strong and I expect him to go through. Although as this tournament has proved already, anything can happen!
Afternoon Session (All round 3)
Ryan Joyce v Alan Norris Dave Chisnall v Kim Huybrechts Daryl Gurney v Jamie Lewis
Another 8 second round matches today and there was certainly some interesting results.
First was Jermaine Wattimena against Michael Barnard. Wattimena was the favourite going in , but some thought a possible upset may happen. And the upset could have been on as the first set went 2 legs each. However, Wattimena held his nerve and took it. That was the turning point in the game as Wattimena then raced away, winning 6 of the next 7 legs to finish a comfortable 3-0 victory.
Next was one of the matches of the day as Alan Norris (pic) took on Steve Lennon. Lennon had been in much better form this season and this seemed to be the case as he took the first set. But this seemed to galvanise Norris and he won the second, winning 3 legs in succession. But Lennon remained calm and took the third. But Norris was in no mood to be beat and levelled once again. Into the final set and the players could not be separated, each time one player went ahead, the other would level and in the end it was all down to a sudden death leg. Maybe the greater experience told as Norris completed a remarkable win. A shame really,there had to be a loser. Let's hope Lennon bounces back in 2019.
Third was Stephen Bunting against Luke Humphries. Humphries look really good in round one and showed this immediately by taking the first two sets. He hit a series of 180s and really took the game to the former world Champion. Bunting did fight back to grab the third set, but Humphries kept piling on the pressure to take the win3-1. Humphries has really impressed so far and will be interesting to see how far he progresses.
The final game of the afternoon was Chris Dobey against Steve Beaton. These two were closely matched, so it was thought it would be a tight match. However Dobey was in great form. After a closely fought first set, Dobey then won the next 6 legs to wrap up a comfortable 3-0 win. Beaton will be disappointed, but Dobey looked very sharp and will definitely want to continue this form going to the next round.
The first match of the afternoon is Benito van de Pas against Jim Long. Long did well to bet Mickey Mansell in Round One, but is was one of the lowest scoring first round matches, with both players only averaging 75. Long will need to improve significantly to win this one. Van de Pas hasn't had the best of seasons, but he is a very good player and should prove too strong.
Second is John Henderson against Gabriel Clemens. Henderson definitely has the experience and is a solid player. Clemens is an improving player and looked good in Round One, so this match could go either way. There should be some big scoring, so finishing is the key.
The third match is another evenly balanced game, with Steve West against Richard North. North staged a remarkable comeback to win his first match and his confidence should be high. West is a very consistent player and capable of beating anyone if he plays his best. Again, a really tough match to call, but the experience of West may just tell. We should see plenty of 180s in this match.
The last match of the afternoon is Kyle Anderson (pic) against Noel Malicdem. Malicdem showed some resolve in winning his first round match and he will no doubt fight for every leg. This may be a step too far though, as Anderson has proved himself many times on the world stage, and he has had good form this season. I think Anderson will win, but Malicdem will certainly make life very difficult.
Four more games this evneing, again they are all round Two contests.
First is Cristo Reyes (pic) against Rowby-John Rodriguez. Rodriguez was showing some of his old form as he won his first round match.He will certainly be hoping to maintain that form in this tough encounter. Reyes is a very good player and when playing at his best, can be excellent and score big. He has more big stage experience too and that may well count in his favour. Should be a good match, but I think Reyes may have too much firepower.
The second game looks quite even as Mervyn King plays Jan Dekker. Dekker beat Lisa Ashton in the first round, so played under a lot of pressure. This game will seem more relaxed for him, and will either improve his form , or lead to a lack of focus. I suspect the former will be the case. King is such an experienced player that he should be able to handle the big occasion. He is another player struggling for form this season, but has put in the odd good performance. He will need to do this again, and I can see this match going to 5 sets.
The third match see two-time World Champion, Adrian Lewis against the young qualifier, Ted Evetts. Evetts was another who looked good in the first round, but Lewis is a different prospect. Lewis has had an indifferent season, but he can never be overlooked. If he plays his best,he is one of the best players in the world. Evetts will be hoping Lewis is not at his best.
The final game is Mensur Suljovic against Ryan Searle.Suljovic's form has dropped off recently, and he will need to be fully focused for this game. Searle played very well in his first round match and looked confident, He also hasn't had a bad year on the tour too. If Suljovic is not quite at his best , then an upset could be very much on the cards.
Evening Session Cristo Reyes v Rowby-John Rodriguez Mervyn King v Jan Dekker Adrian Lewis v Ted Evetts Mensur Suljovic v Ryan Searle