Seventy two players started on the path to glory at the Ladbrokes World Darts Championship and eight title hopefuls now remain as the tournament reaches the quarter-final stages.
Simon Whitlock, Raymond van Barneveld, Phil Taylor and Andy Hamilton are all in action on Friday night before the semi-final line-up is complete following ties involving Wes Newton, James Wade, Michael van Gerwen and defending champion Adrian Lewis on Saturday.
Darts journalist Lenny Boyle is predicting two unforgettable nights at Alexandra Palace and here he previews the four games.
Since Barney’s wife reappeared in his cheering section at the Grand Slam, he’s been a different player. Resurgent, and revitalised he conquered the man-of-the-moment Michael van Gerwen in a stunning final.
He hasn’t looked back since. He dismantled Gary Anderson in round three.
Likewise, Simon Whitlock is a new man since his first PDC major this year. His European Championship victory unlocked a run of form that culminates in this mouthwatering quarter-final.
Whitlock did some dismantling of his own in his third-round clash with Dave Chisnall. A clutch 152 finish saw the Aussie weather a late storm in a tense tiebreak. If he keeps pulling these out the bag he’ll challenge anyone.
Unfortunately for Whitlock; Barney is like a middle-aged woman on HRT: he’s got his mojo back. It’s 2007 again and Barney’s feeling the old magic.
Andy Hamilton is grateful we haven’t been inundated with snow like recent Christmases. Hamilton has tonnes of grit, he’s a one-man grit mine.
For once Local Authorities don’t have to drain Hammer of his natural reserves: For the good of British infrastructure. It’s a good job they don’t, the Hammer needs all his grit to beat the Power.
Hamilton has never beaten, “The greatest player ever to tickle tungsten,” on television. And even off the telly, he’s only beaten him once.
That’s not to say the Hammer can’t do it. His grit is legendary; he’s got more fight in him than the UFC.
Hamilton has been a model of consistency in 2012. He’s reached at least the quarters of every TV major. In and of itself; that’s an accomplishment worthy of a trophy. His wife should pick him out something at Poundland. A wee trophy with darts on it. That would be nice.
Now he’s in another quarter, and faces his toughest challenge yet.
The Power has hardly been the awe-inspiring force of previous years, but his performance against Robert Thronton – the player who knocked him out of two telly majors in 2012 – is the first indication that he’ll be as tough as ever to oust from the competition.
It’s difficult to be a seven-time major winner, second most successful PDC player ever, and a dark horse.
But that’s exactly the feat James Wade has pulled off.
You can’t write, or talk, or back Wade without considering his well-documented personal problems. There’s no doubt it’s been a difficult year for him. It really isn’t anyone’s business, but it would be less than truthful not to reflect that his problems have affected his darts.
Wade was visibly discomfited, and upset during a loss to Colin Osborne at the Grand Prix. He has since received treatment, he returned at the Slam. That tournament was about re-finding his feet. He’s back, and he says he’s never prepared better for a World Championship.
Wes Newton walloped Scott Rand in round two, but aside from that he’s been less than stellar the latter half of 2012. At a pre-tournament world ranked number seven, he needs one further push to make the coveted Premier League.
Unfortunately for Newton, all the signs suggest Wade is back. The Worlds has always been slightly out of the Machine’s reach. So how fitting would it be if, in this year of hell, Wade finally accomplished his lifelong dream?
Adrian Lewis survived a needle-filled battle with Kevin Painter to set up this quarter. He was a bit lacklustre till then. Presented with this face-off a week ago: any darts fan, prognosticator or pundit, would have pencilled a Michael van Gerwen win as a cert.
This is the year of MVG. He’s won a boat-load of pro-tour titles, reached the Grand Slam final, won the Grand Prix. He’s done it all. He even won his third-round match against Colin Lloyd with two dodgy feet.
Mighty Mike has a dodgy Achilles in his left foot, but overcompensating with the other led to an injured right foot. One dodgy foot became two. I think ‘dodgy foot’ is the proper medical terminology. Heard it on ER.
He was limping about like a peg-legged pirate, but fortunately for him the standing and chucking parts of his game were unimpaired.
MVG was always the man to beat. But thanks to his entertainingly nasty scrap with Painter, Lewis is now in fighting shape too.
This is the pick of the quarters, and it’s very tempting to say the winner of this will win the lot. Might as well say it then: the winner of this will be world champion on January 1.
Please Note: All Odds and Markets are correct at the time of publishing