You know it’s Christmas when the weather’s cold, the Celebration tins are full of Bountys and the World Darts Championship is on Sky Sports.
The first round treated us to some really exciting match up’s but lacked any real major shocks. All of the top 10 ranked players won their opening round matches, the majority comfortably, including reigning two-time world champion Gary Anderson who eased past the wonderfully named Robert “Frosty the Throwman” Frost, 3 sets to 0. Now that the first round is in the books, let’s look at four players who could impress in the last 32.
The Wizard is certainly an outside bet for the Sid Waddell trophy but he will be going into his match with Darren Webster full of confidence. In his first-round match on Tuesday evening, Whitlock coolly dispatched of German qualifier Dragutin Horvat. The Aussie was impressive in his scoring with a 98.70 average and was nothing short of ruthless in his finishing, checking out his favourite 170 followed by a clinical 158 to close out the third set and take the match 3-0. Whitlock is a previous runner up in this very tournament in 2010 and has broken his unwanted trend of crashing out in the first round of the last two World Championships in 2015 and 2016, which will surely give him an added boost heading into Friday’s game. Granted, his opponent in that match England’s Mark Webster is no slouch, he impressively defeated 16th seed Stephen Bunting in round one, but if Whitlock can find that ruthless finishing he showed against Horvat he should have enough to see off The Demolition man. A show down with world number one Michael Van Gerwen could be in his future should they both win their second-round matches, but for now at least, The Wizard is certainly a player to keep your eye on.
Going into this year’s tournament many darts fans would be forgiven for writing off perennial first rounder Joe Cullen, before a dart was even thrown. In fairness to Cullen, all his previous six first round defeats have come at the hands of some of the games finest, Wright in 2014, MVG in 2015 to name just two. Cullen’s seeded status this year however meant that he would be facing impressive youngster but prelim qualifier Corey Cadby. In what turned out to be one of the games of the last 64 Cullen played some of the best darts of his young career to see of the Australian 3-1. Cadby had averaged an incredible 102 in his preliminary match with 3 tonne plus checkouts and with the game level at 1-1 he impressively took out 108 to start the third set. But Cullen was playing incredibly and took the next 3 legs and eventually won the match 3-2 hitting 6 180s with a checkout percentage of 38.48%. The Rockstar will be absolutely brimming with confidence after his first-round performance and will need it against two time world champion Adrian Lewis in the next round. Cullen however will have no fear after defeating Cadby and could give Jackpot a really could game when the pair meet on Friday evening.
Raymond Van Barneveld
One of the greatest to ever do it, 5 time world champion Raymond Van Barneveld will always be one of the most entertaining darts players to watch. Despite being seeded outside of the top 10 Barney can never be counted out at Alexandra Palace. He looked his usual calm, cool and collected self in his routine dismantling of former BDO World Championship semi-finalist Robbie Green on Tuesday evening. Green is a solid player and many expected him to give Barney a tough opening test but in truth the Dutchman never allowed him to, taking out a 156 in the first set as an early statement as if to say “I’m not messing about here”. He then took home the next two sets in clinical fashion to take his opening round game 3-0. He now faces Alan “Chuck” Norris, who defeated John Michael, in round two. Barney will undoubtedly be the favourite going into this one and if he shows the kind of ruthlessness he did against Green it could be a long matchup for Chuck next Tuesday.
The youngest player left in the tournament, German Max Hopp reached the second round with a hugely impressive victory over fan favourite and two time world championship quarter finalist Vincent Van Der Voort on Thursday evening. Despite Van Der Voort rather comfortably taking the first set, Hopp rallied playing some lovely darts to take the next three sets in a row to win the game 3-1. It’s only the second time in the young man’s career that he’s made it to the second round of a world championship – in 2015 he met a far better Vincent Van Der Voort and lost 0-4. In this year’s last 32 the German will face off against Belgian Kim Huybrechts who comfortably defeated Jamie Wilson 3-0 on Thursday evening. The Hurricane is the number 13 seed and will provide another really tough challenge for Hopp, but the youngster will certainly go into the contest feeling he can win. If he can build on the positives from the Van Der Voort victory than there’s no reason why Das Maximiser can’t go far in this year’s world championship.