World Matchplay 2023: Favourites and Fairytales

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The 2023 Betfred World Matchplay gets underway on Saturday, as the showpiece event of the darting summer takes place at Blackpool’s iconic Winter Gardens.

The 30th staging of the World Matchplay will see reigning champion Michael van Gerwen headlining the stellar 32-player field, which includes six former winners of the event. World number one Michael Smith and last year’s runner-up Gerwyn Price will also feature, as the sport’s top stars compete for £800,000 in prize money across nine days of action from July 15-23.

The first round will see the top 16 players from the PDC Order of Merit take on the 16 qualifiers from the ProTour Order of Merit, with Van Gerwen up against Brendan Dolan in his opener.The Dutchman is brimming with confidence ahead of his Blackpool return, after following up his record-breaking seventh Premier League title with World Series victories in New York and Warsaw.

However, the Dutch superstar has been playing through the pain barrier in recent weeks, having undergone intense pre-planned dental surgery only last month.“It has been a really tough period, but the most important thing is you have to stand up and you have to battle,” said Van Gerwen, the only multiple World Matchplay winner in this year’s tournament.

“It costs a lot of energy, but I always say if I am competing in something, I want to win it, and this tournament will be no different.

“I’m looking forward to the World Matchplay already. It’s one of the biggest tournaments we have, I want to play well and I want to defend my title.

“I always have pressure on my shoulders but I don’t mind that. I’m winning tournaments again and that gives you confidence.”

Van Gerwen defeated Price in a Winter Gardens classic to clinch his third World Matchplay crown 12 months ago, and the Welshman will feature on a star-studded opening night against Stephen Bunting.Joe Cullen will play Belgian debutant Mike De Decker in the tournament’s curtain-raiser, while former champions Rob Cross and Gary Anderson take on Daryl Gurney and Dave Chisnall respectively.

Sunday’s bumper double session will see former champions Van Gerwen and James Wade open their title challenges, with 2007 winner Wade up against Masters champion Chris Dobey in the afternoon.Dutch duo Danny Noppert and Dirk van Duijvenbode begin their campaigns with ties against Martin Schindler and Kim Huybrechts, while World Youth Champion Josh Rock will make his highly-anticipated debut against Australian number one Damon Heta.

“It’s a dream come true,” admitted Northern Ireland’s Rock, who could renew his rivalry with Van Gerwen in the last 16.”I watched the World Matchplay as a fan for years, so to have the opportunity to play on that stage is phenomenal.

“I believe I’ve played better this year than I did last year. I’ve been more consistent and I’ve gained so much experience and now I know what I have to do [to win].”

Van Gerwen’s clash against Dolan will be followed by Michael Smith’s showdown against Steve Beaton, the 59-year-old who is featuring in his 22nd World Matchplay.Smith boasts a rather underwhelming record at the Winter Gardens, but is determined to rectify that by adding to his Grand Slam and World Championship success at the Empress Ballroom.

“It’s an iconic venue. The crowd are right on top of you. It’s special for us as players,” claimed world number one Smith, a runner-up to Cross in 2019.

“I’m feeling confident. I’m feeling good. I’ve had a few disappointments in this tournament, especially losing the final to Rob.

“This year feels different though. I’m going in as the world number one, and I’ve got to prove why I’m in that position.

“I’m feeling comfortable and I’ve got to continue that winning run this year, hopefully starting with the World Matchplay.”

Elsewhere, Nathan Aspinall opens Sunday night’s action against 2021 semi-finalist Krzysztof Ratajski, while world number six Luke Humphries faces former Grand Slam champion Jose de Sousa.

2021 World Matchplay champion Peter Wright enters the fray as the first round draws to a close on Monday night, and the world number two will play UK Open champion Andrew Gilding for a place in the last 16.Raymond van Barneveld will also make his World Matchplay return on Monday night, with the five-time World Champion securing his qualification following a five-year hiatus.

“I really feel like I’m coming back and I’m proud of myself for that,” insisted Van Barneveld, who will meet 15th seed Ryan Searle in round one.

“It feels really good to be going back to Blackpool, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. It’s like a summer World Championship, the atmosphere there is brilliant.

“The draw could have been worse, but Ryan is still dangerous. He’s an amazing player and I will have to play my A-game to beat him.

“If you believe and you set yourself goals then you can achieve a lot, and I know the Barney Army will be there to give me a boost when I need it.”

Meanwhile, 2020 champion Dimitri Van den Bergh locks horns with European Champion Ross Smith in Monday’s opener, before Wales’ World Cup winner Jonny Clayton faces Germany’s number one Gabriel Clemens.

The second round takes place across Tuesday July 18 and Wednesday July 19, with the quarter-finals staged on Thursday July 20 and Friday July 21.

The semi-finals will take place on Saturday July 22, before the final is held following the second staging of the Betfred Women’s World Matchplay on Sunday July 23.

Van Gerwen is the 4/1 pre-tournament favourite with title sponsor Betfred, just ahead of Price at 9/2, and world number one Smith at 5/1.

Sixth seed Humphries is priced at 14/1, with Scottish legend Wright a 16/1 shot.


The Betfred World Matchplay will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK & Ireland, through the PDC’s worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV (excluding UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria & Switzerland based subscribers).

—–ENDS—–

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