There are subplots aplenty ahead of the start of the Ladbrokes World Darts Championship this week.
Defending champion Adrian Lewis is bidding to make it three in a row. Phil Taylor will be out to silence the doubters at Alexandra Palace. And Michael van Gerwen could cap off a sensational year that has seen him cement his standing as the most exciting emerging talent in the sport.
Daily Mirror sports journalist Mike Walters will be covering the event and thinks the in-form Van Gerwen, who reached the last 16 last year, represents excellent value at 4/1 to be crowned world champion when the tournament finishes on New Year’s Day.
Either Paul Lim or Mohd Latif Sapup will be first up for the 23-year-old, the 2012 World Grand Prix winner.
Talking exclusively to Ladbrokes, Walters said: “The guy who’s absolutely tearing it up at the moment, mainly through heavy scoring, but also a strike rate of around 50% on the doubles would be Van Gerwen.
“Because he throws so fast and rattles off the 180s, opposition players can find themselves two or three legs down before they even know it.
“He’s the sort of player who can put you on the back foot. If you’re under pressure through your opponent’s fast scoring and you’ve only got five seconds to gather your thoughts before you’ve got to go to the oche again, it’s difficult.
“I think he’s playing the best darts of anybody at the moment. Whether he can sustain it over the long course of a World Championship, we’ll see. He’s seriously looking the part.”
As Walters is quick to point out, lasting the distance at the Ladbrokes World Darts Championship is tricky due to the 72-player field and the tournament spanning 15 days.
History shows that experience is a factor, but there’s a feeling that this year’s competition could be the tightest ever, with plenty of potential winners waiting in the wings to stop Lewis from making it a hat-trick of Ally Pally successes.
Walters added: “Whereas a couple of years ago Phil Taylor won virtually every major prize going, there’s now a greater spread of the big prizes.
“Phil has won three majors this year, Van Gerwen was playing like a million dollars at the World Grand Prix and there’s a wider field of potential winners this year than ever before, which is a good thing for darts.
“Phil Taylor is 52 and he can’t go on forever – we need the new contenders to come through and say ‘This is my territory, I’m going to defend it’. Lewis has won the world title two years running and if he can make it three in a row we know he’s going to be a serious, serious player over the long term and he’s not just a two or three-year flash in the pan.”
Lewis is fourth favourite at 12/1 to leave Ally Pally victorious for the third successive year.
Walters said: “Adrian has got Gino Vos in the first round and I’d expect him to win that one.
“I’m not sure he’s the number one favourite this year in a lot of peoples’ eyes because he’s had a slightly patchy year by his standards, but he’s certainly a contender.
“He was 5-1 down in the semis against James Wade last year and we all thought the champion was going out – and we were wrong. So I think the longer the course the better Lewis is likely to be.”
Who do you think will win at Ally Pally?