Trying to explain why the Betfred World Matchplay is so special is not difficult.
The second biggest ranking event behind the Worlds? The fact that players have to dig deep in sometimes brutally long games just to even reach the final? All solid arguments, but there’s one reason which is bigger than anything else.
After having to play behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, the event returns to its spiritual home.
The Empress Ballroom at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool is the only venue that’s been on the PDC calendar since the organisation launched in 1994. It’s the only venue that still offers standing room tickets. When you walk into it, particularly for the first time, many stand and admire at how amazing it is, before sweating away in what is the hottest room in darts.
The people that flock to the English seaside town to watch the drama unfold are also different than the crowds for the rest of the year. They’re more respectful, and the fact that many buy season tickets shows just how interested they are in the sport.
In short, everything about the World Matchplay is sensational. Which is why, after nearly 18 months, it’s only fitting that this tournament is the one that sees the return of full crowds. Well, after the first two days at least.
Difficult to call a favourite
On paper, this looks like the open Betfred World Matchplay ever. With the sharing around of titles in 2021, no player has yet to go on a dominant run. In the case of Michael van Gerwen, The Green Machine has yet to win an event this year.
World number one Gerwyn Price has had an up and down year himself. Having test positive for COVID-19 which ruled him out of the Premier League, he’s yet to win a title since returning. In addition, he’s not actually won a game at the event since 2016.
Peter Wright won the final ranking event before Blackpool, as he did two years ago when we last visited the seaside. He’s said that he will win this tournament, and then win the Worlds. Snakebite has arguably been the most consistent of the so called big three this year, and going off form, is probably the most likely out of them to lift what would be his first World Matchplay.
Then there’s defending champion Dimitri Van den Bergh. Oh, and do not forget Jonny Clayton, who’s won more titles than anyone in 2021. Plus, there’s Jose De Sousa, Dirk van Duijvenbode. The list goes on.
The point is, with so many players winning titles in the first half of the year, it means that trying to pick a winner from this field is difficult. It’s what should make this special tournament even more so this year.
“A full crowd changes the dynamic of the World Matchplay completely”
The World Matchplay was the first TV tournament to come back in 2020, played with no crowds and players staying in the same place as the venue. It became the standard for PDC darts throughout the year.
The final nights of the Premier League saw some fans return. It made the tournament feel more normal, and the Welsh contingent who were there throughout the week helped their native Clayton pick up the title at the first attempt.
Now, after a long 12 months, a full crowd changes the dynamic of the World Matchplay completely. Will this allow the world’s top three to regain a bit of focus and normality? Can the players who won events in bio secure bubbles now win them in front of packed houses?
There are many questions to ask, but having the fans fully back from Monday can only add to the spectacle. The first two days will be great, but Monday will feel a watershed moment in the Winter Gardens, for darts and the wider public.
We’ve got the iconic venue. We’ve got a full house (for most of it). All we need now is the players to deliver, and this could be an unforgettable Betfred World Matchplay.