Bookies unbothered by 'bubble Matchplay' shocks

By James Lincoln 17/08/2020

The bookmakers did not lose much sleep during the World Matchplay, the first post-pandemic major darts event, played behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes. Dimitri van den Bergh sprung a surprise to land his first PDC ranking event, whilst the top three seeds (Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright, and Gerwyn Price) managed to win just two matches between them. Whilst a captivating event to watch, the Matchplay left us with a lot more questions than answers as we take an early look at the ante-post market for the 2021 World Championship.

Purely from a numbers perspective, we did not learn anything new about van den Bergh; he had already shown that he can produce very high-quality darts in major televised events, having reached four major quarter-finals and recorded match averages of over 103 twice at the World Championship. What we did learn about van den Bergh is that he is capable of holding it together in high-pressure situations. He could have easily folded in the last 16 against Joe Cullen and against Glen Durrant in the semi-final, but he showed a calmness and resilience that saw him over the line. He was fortunate to come up against an out-of-sorts Gary Anderson in the final. Anderson has now reached 20 major televised finals in the PDC and has averaged over 100 in eight of them, but he averaged just 92.81 here, his second-lowest average across those 20 finals, and his lowest for over a decade. Van den Bergh was available at 200/1 to win this event before a dart was thrown so it feels like the bird has flown in respect of value. He is currently 33/1 for the Worlds and that feels about right.
Despite reaching the final of the Matchplay, Anderson was below par throughout and changed his darts halfway through the final, to no avail. He has been very honest about his lack of preparation for the event and the difficulties he’s experiencing with his darts dropping low, but it feels like he has a lot of work to do to reach the levels required to win a third World crown; 12/1 doesn’t obviously appeal.
World number one, Michael van Gerwen, is available at 2/1 to win a fourth World title and that is the biggest price he has been for some time following a very disappointing Matchplay campaign. Having got past Brendan Dolan in workmanlike fashion in the first round, van Gerwen crashed out 11-4 to Simon Whitlock in the last 16, averaging just 90.80 and missing 20 darts at double. This was his lowest average in a televised ranking event for nearly seven years and does not leave me rushing to take the 2/1. Van Gerwen had returned from lockdown in fine fettle in the Summer Series, so it is hard to know how to explain this performance, but it felt like more than just a bad day at the office. In fairness to Whitlock, he took full advantage and continues a recent resurgence, although he still looks some way short of being a threat to a major title, something his best World Championship price of 200/1 reflects.
Gerwyn Price (8/1) never looked comfortable in his first-round Matchplay exit to Danny Noppert, averaging just 90.73 when going down 10-7 in a low-quality affair. Price has publicly said that he thrives off the crowd noise, whether it is for or against him, so given the current uncertainty around spectator attendance, a watching brief is sensible as far as he is concerned.
World Champion Peter Wright (7/1) had an incredibly tough draw to overcome at the Matchplay and fell at the second hurdle. He began his campaign wearing glasses against the highly regarded Jose De Sousa but removed them at 8-5 down after experiencing ‘glare in the lenses’, eventually prevailing 10-8. He played well in a high-quality last 16 encounter with Glen Durrant, losing 11-8 despite averaging over the 100 mark. Having already won the Summer Series, Wright is clearly maintaining a very high level of form, but he’ll need to work out the best way to overcome his recent sight issues with it rumoured he is considering laser surgery.
De Sousa will be disappointed that he couldn’t finish Wright off at the Matchplay, but he remains interesting at a price of 80/1 for the Worlds. He has the sixth-highest average across all PDC tournaments in 2020 and it seems only a matter of time before he makes an impact in a major televised event. Another player with excellent 2020 stats is Devon Petersen. He did not qualify for the Matchplay but is averaging 98.46 across 41 matches in the PDC in 2020 and his calendar year averages have increased year-on-year between 4% and 8% since 2017. A positive attitude and a switch to a new darts manufacturer (Trinidad) seem to be behind the improvement. He beat van Gerwen on the last day of the Summer Series before losing in the semi-final against Gerwyn Price despite averaging 113. I am going to recommend a small each-way bet on Petersen at 500/1, a price that seems to completely disregard his significant improvement and ample experience of the Alexandra Palace.
Glen Durrant will surely regard the Matchplay as one that got away. Having done the hard work of disposing of the World Champion and then coming through an epic quarter-final with Vincent van der Voort, he narrowly exited at the hands of van den Bergh when a strong favourite. Durrant remains a very solid proposition at 25/1 for the Worlds, but with each major event that goes past, one wonders if he is always going to find one too strong.
Another player who will be disappointed is ‘Bully Boy’, Michael Smith. His admirable consistency in major events continued at the Matchplay and he showed a lot of composure when coming through tight encounters with Mensur Suljovic and Krystof Ratajski, but then disappointed in the semi-final against Anderson, losing 18-16 when averaging 93.85 despite throwing 14 maximums. He is a best-priced 20/1 for the Worlds and it is hard to get too excited about that price given how many chances he has now had to escape bridesmaid status. I am certain he will win a major at some point, his talent demands it, but so far it has proved expensive finding out precisely when it will happen.
Nathan Aspinall never got into top gear at the Matchplay when becoming van den Bergh’s first victim, averaging 93.54 in a 10-5 defeat. Darts’ first Home Tour champion and world number 6 remains of considerable interest though given he is already a major winner and has the experience of two World Championship semi-finals under his belt. He is still improving and 18/1 seems slightly on the generous side. He is another who seems to thrive on the energy of the crowd, so that would be a slight concern.
2018 World Champion, Rob Cross, had a very slow start in his first-round Matchplay 10-8 exit against Gabriel Clemens. The defending Matchplay Champion had been very open in the lead-up to the tournament saying that the lockdown period had been a difficult time for him with a family bereavement and other personal complications. It was therefore not a huge surprise to see him take a while to find his stride in Milton Keynes. He now has something to prove having suffered early exits at three of this year’s four major tournaments, plus he has not won a Pro Tour event for over two years. It would be dangerous to write him off however and 28/1 looks quite big and is a price to monitor closely.
Betting Advice: Back Devon Petersen to win the 2021 Championship
0.5 points each-way at 500/1 (Betway)




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