The festive period really is the most wonderful time of the year for darts fans as the world’s best players descend on the famous Alexandra Palace for the annual PDC World Championships.
It’s the most important and most exciting event in the darts’ calendar, the one that all the players want to win the most and the one that the fans most look forward to.
Every year seems to produce everything from fairy tale moments and upsets to titanic clashes between the very best in the game.
Usually though, there are two to three players who start the competition as genuine contenders to make it all the way to the final with a stacked field of hungry contenders lined up behind them.
That’s doesn’t seem to be the case this year with more than just a handful of players entering the competition on the back of several impressive results and major competition wins in 2021.
Let’s take a look at some of the front runners at this year’s tournament:
- Age: 36
- Nationality: Welsh
- World Ranking: 1
- Previous World Title wins: 1 (2021)
- Tournament odds: 4/1
The Iceman rightly starts as favourite due to not only being the reigning champion and world number one but also on the back of winning the 2021 Grand Slam of Darts last month.
That was his first major tournament win since lifting the Sid Waddell Trophy in January but the former rugby player has reached the semi-finals of The Masters and quarter-finals of the World Matchplay this past year.
His route to the final will be a tough one and there’s a potential mouthwatering Last 16 clash against good friend and countryman Jonny Clayton which would prove a huge hurdle on his route to retaining the title.
Michael van Gerwen
- Age: 32
- Nationality: Dutch
- World Ranking: 3
- Previous World Title wins: 3 (2014, 2017, 2019)
- Tournament odds: 9/2
Make no mistake about it, when MVG is at his very best there is little that anybody can do to stop him.
The three time champion of the world has struggled for consistency in 2021 and hasn’t won a major PDC trophy since the Players Championships is November 2020. That may not seem like much of a drought for the average player but with 41 major trophy wins at the age of just 32 it certainly is for van Gerwen.
Phil Taylor’s epic total of 16 world titles is probably out of reach for the Dutchman but countryman Raymond van Barneveld’s five is certainly within reach. MVG’s biggest obstacle seems to be players upping their game when they face him and, with the likes of Gary Anderson and Peter Wright in his half of the draw, this year could prove equally as frustrating.
- Age: 51
- Nationality: Scottish
- World Ranking: 2
- Previous World Title wins: 1 (2020)
- Tournament odds: 9/1
It was a wonderful moment when one of the most beloved players on the PDC circuit finally won the big one in 2020.
Many players have brought outlandish antics to the Ally Pally stage over the years but nobody has ever backed it up with darting brilliance quite like Snakebite.
Wright has had a fabulous career but there’s still plenty left in the tank and he’s had a fairly successful 2021 after winning the World Matchplay in the summer and coming in as runner-up to Price at the Grand Slam.
No matter how many times he meets MVG in major tournaments they never fail to entertain and darts fans will be hoping for another in the form of a semi-final clash between the world number two and three this year.
- Age: 47
- Nationality: Welsh
- World Ranking: 8
- Previous World Title wins: None
- Tournament odds: 9/1
Years of success and performing at the elite level of darts does count for a lot but, in Clayton’s case, it’s his meteoric rise over the past two years that has him in contention.
Clayton has won four major events in 2021 (Premier League, World Series, Grand Prix and Masters) but has never made it further than the Last 32 at the World Championships. If he’s going to get past that stage this time he will have to overcome the world number one and his good friend Gerwen Price.
The two met in the quarter-finals of the Grand Slam last month and, although Price won the encounter, it was actually Clayton who started as favourite against the world number one. That is testament to just how red hot The Ferret has been over the past few months and there’s nobody in the field who will want to come up against him at the moment.
Dimitri van den Bergh (16/1) is the most favoured of the remaining top 32 players and should certainly be counted amongst the contenders.
Meanwhile, Michael Smith and Nathan Aspinall (both 25/1) have the ability to beat anyone on the circuit but haven’t quite been able to find that long term consistency at the top yet.
Rob Cross (28/1) and Gary Anderson (33/1) are both previous World Champions who have struggled recently but seem to be hitting purple patches at just the right time. Anderson in particular loves the Ally Pally stage and was last year’s runner up.
There’s plenty of other players who will be aiming for nothing less that a serious tilt at lifting the trophy including Jose de Sousa and James Wade while Ryan Searle has earned a lot of plaudits for his recent performances.
Fallon Sherrock famously smashed the glass ceiling in 2020 when she became the first female player to beat a man at the World Championships before backing that up by knocking off a seed (Mensur Sulovic) in the next round to reach the Last 32.
Since then, the Queen of the Palace has improved as a player and looked strong at the Grad Slam last month. She is a difficult opponent at the best of times and will have the Ally Pally crowd right behind her every time she walks out so the top players will be keen to avoid facing her.
Two time world champion Adrian Lewis has dropped out of the top 32 in the world rankings and that’s a problem for the seeded players if he can regain something close to the form that guided him to success in the past. Gary Anderson will be the first big name to face Lewis and that is undoubtedly the most eye catching match of the opening rounds.
Then there’s the living legend that is Raymond van Barneveld who might not be the same player that went toe-to-toe with the great Phil Taylor, at a time when The Power seemed unstoppable, but is still be a player that the top seeds take lightly at their peril.
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