The Sky Bet Mobile World Matchplay begins on Saturday at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, as 32 players compete for £400,000 in prize money in the prestigious tournament.
First held in 1994, Phil Taylor has won 11 of the previous 17 stagings of the World Matchplay, including the last three in Blackpool in a 15-game unbeaten run at the venue.
He has drawn qualifier Mark Hylton, a former airline steward from Rugeley, in the first round of the event, with the pair clashing on Monday night at the Winter Gardens.
Taylor has won only one major title since last summer, when he followed up his third successive World Matchplay success by claiming the European Championship title, but is aiming to get back to winning ways on his favourite stage at the Winter Gardens.
“The World Matchplay’s a tournament I love and coming back to Blackpool is always really exciting for me,” said Taylor, who was also the winner in five successive years from 2000-2004.
“I’ve got lots of fantastic memories in this event and I’m determined to create some new memories too next week. I’ve been practising hard since the UK Open last month and I’m determined to retain my title.”
Taylor’s clash with Hylton will come on the third day of play in the event, which begins on Saturday evening with four matches, including World Champion Adrian Lewis up against Kevin Painter.
Lewis is a former semi-finalist in the World Matchplay, but is looking to add a second major title a week on Sunday by scooping the £100,000 top prize.
“It would be fantastic to win in Blackpool next week,” he said. “For me it’s the second biggest tournament there is, behind the World Championship.
“It’s my favourite event to play in, I think the crowd’s fantastic and it’s like a party atmosphere. It will be great.”
Painter, a former World Championship finalist, recently had laser eye surgery in a bid to kick-start his career after dropping out of the world’s top 16, but was a quarter-finalist in Blackpool a year ago.
“He’s going to be a tough opponent,” Lewis added. “I’ve heard he’s had laser eye surgery and hit a nine-darter as soon as he’d had it done, so obviously his confidence is going to be high.
“But if I can get straight out of the blocks on Saturday and take the match to him I can turn him over.”
Two former World Champions will also collide on the opening night, as Welshman Mark Webster faces Canadian legend John Part, a two-time World Matchplay runner-up.
Another two-time finalist, Terry Jenkins, will kick off the tournament against Steve Beaton, the 1996 World Champion who has enjoyed a resurgence in his career over the past two years since reaching the 2009 European Championship final.
Holland’s Vincent van der Voort and St Helens left-hander Alan Tabern, both former World Matchplay quarter-finalists, will compete in Saturday’s other clash in front of a sell-out Winter Gardens crowd.
Sunday’s second night will see 2007 champion James Wade, who won his seventh major title at last month’s Speedy Hire UK Open in Bolton, begin his challenge for a second World Matchplay victory when he faces Derby’s Jamie Caven.
Holland’s five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld, who hit a nine-dart finish in last year’s event before finishing as runner-up to Taylor, plays Bristol’s Steve Brown, Mark Walsh faces debutant Dave Chisnall and Paul Nicholson meets Colin Osborne.
Chorley-based Nicholson knocked out Taylor and Premier League Darts champion Gary Anderson in the UK Open last month, but saw his challenge for a second major title ended by Wade in the quarter-finals.
“After defeating Gary and Phil it was disappointing that I didn’t go all the way in Bolton but I’ve put that behind me and am looking forward to playing Colin,” said Nicholson.
“The World Matchplay’s a special event and I’ve prepared well, and am excited about Sunday.”
Monday’s four first round games will be headlined by Taylor’s clash with Hylton, but also include Wayne Jones and Mervyn King facing debutants Scot Rand and Justin Pipe respectively, while Fleetwood ace Wes Newton takes on Andy Smith.
Newton reached his first major televised final at the UK Open last month and has jumped to eighth in the world over the past year, but has never won previously in four Winter Gardens appearances.
“Blackpool’s the biggest tournament for me and it’s my goal to win there this time,” he said. “It’s on my doorstep and it’s my favourite tournament, but I’ve never won a game there.
“Hopefully this will be my year to do that, and I’ll try to turn up and play like I have been, and the results should take care of themselves.”
Home hopes will rest with Blackpool’s Ronnie Baxter on Tuesday, as he faces Denis Ovens on the final night of first round games at the Winter Gardens.
“It’s always been my favourite tournament and it holds many memories for me,” said Baxter, the 1998 runner-up and a four-time semi-finalist.
“I’ve been playing well and practised well for this, but I’m sure Denis will be looking to get one over on me. He’s playing well and I’ve got to watch out.”
Anderson plays Derby-based Andy Hamilton, while 2005 champion Colin Lloyd plays Scotland’s John Henderson and Australian Simon Whitlock plays colourful Peter Wright, the Lowestoft thrower who dyes his hair differently for each tournament!
The second round will be split across Wednesday and Thursday evening’s at the Winter Gardens, with the quarter-finals played in two sessions on Friday, the semi-finals being played on Saturday night and the final on Sunday.
Coverage is live on Sky Sports, with the last three days also being sceened in 3D, while the broadcast is also live in Holland, Germany and Australia.
Tickets are still available for some sessions, either in person from the Winter Gardens Box Office or by calling 0844 856 11 11.
Sky Bet Mobile World Matchplay – Stats & Facts
* Someone’s ’0′ has got to go! Both Wes Newton and Andy Smith have yet to win in their combined nine previous World Matchplay appearances, but with the pair playing each other in the first round on Monday night one of the stars will finally break their Winter Gardens hoodoo!
* There were 232 180s in the 2010 event, but no player managed to hit the maximum 170 checkout. A 170 finish in this year’s event is 4/9 with Sky Bet.
* Raymond van Barneveld’s nine-dart finish last year was only the second in the history of the World Matchplay, matching Phil Taylor’s achievement in 2002. Any player to hit a nine-darter this year would receive a £10,000 bonus, while sponsors Sky Bet are offering 6/4 for a nine-dart finish to be hit during the event.
* Phil Taylor has won the title 11 times. The only two other players in the field to have won the tournament previously are Colin Lloyd (2005) and James Wade (2007). Taylor is the 11/8 pre-tournament favourite with Sky Bet, with Anderson priced at 11/2, Lewis 7/1 and Wade 9/1.
* The biggest margin of victory in a final came when Phil Taylor won 18-4 against Terry Jenkins two years ago.
* Taylor won 27 consecutive matches in the World Matchplay from 2000 to 2005, when John Part ended that run and his hopes of a sixth successive victory.
* Taylor enters this year’s World Matchplay unbeaten in his last 15 matches in Blackpool after winning three successive tournaments, and has averaged 105.61 across those 15 games, including hitting a tournament record 114.99 against Barrie Bates in the first round last year.
* Coverage of the Sky Bet Mobile World Matchplay will be screened live on Sky Sports in both HD and 3D, for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final. The event will also be shown live in Holland (RTL7), Germany (Sport1), Australia (Fox Sports) and across the Middle East on the Showtime network.
* Kevin Painter has followed the example of Paul Nicholson by having laser eye surgery to improve his eyesight. Nicholson has won two Players Championships since having his surgery in April, while Painter opted to undergo treatment following the UK Open last month.
* Raymond van Barneveld and Steve Brown are meeting for the second successive major tournament in the first round in Blackpool. The Dutchman won their third round clash in the UK Open 9-5 last month.
* Simon Whitlock created history by hitting nine-dart finishes in two successive events in Players Championships last month, the first player to do so. Dave Chisnall has also hit two nine-darters this year, and Justin Pipe hit his first in competition in June.
* Gary Anderson became only the sixth player in the PDC’s history to win back-to-back ProTour events in a weekend when he won a brace of Players Championships in Holland last month, following Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis, Robert Thornton, Mervyn King & Wes Newton.
Sky Bet Mobile World Matchplay
Schedule of Play
Saturday July 16
7.10pm – Terry Jenkins v Steve Beaton
8.00pm – Vincent van der Voort v Alan Tabern
9.00pm – Adrian Lewis v Kevin Painter
10.00pm – Mark Webster v John Part
Sunday July 17
7.10pm – Paul Nicholson v Colin Osborne
8.00pm – Mark Walsh v Dave Chisnall
9.00pm – James Wade v Jamie Caven
10.00pm – Raymond van Barneveld v Steve Brown
Monday July 18
7.10pm – Wayne Jones v Scott Rand
8.00pm – Mervyn King v Justin Pipe
9.00pm – Phil Taylor v Mark Hylton
10.00pm – Wes Newton v Andy Smith
Tuesday July 19
7.10pm – Ronnie Baxter v Denis Ovens
8.00pm – Colin Lloyd v John Henderson
9.00pm – Gary Anderson v Andy Hamilton
10.00pm – Simon Whitlock v Peter Wright
Wednesday July 20
7.10pm – Jenkins/Beaton v Webster/Part
8.20pm – Lewis/Painter v van der Voort/Tabern
9.30pm – van Barneveld/Brown v Nicholson/Osborne
10.40pm – Wade/Caven v Walsh/Chisnall
Thursday July 21
7.10pm – Whitlock/Wright v Baxter/Ovens
8.20pm – Anderson/Hamilton v Lloyd/Henderson
9.30pm – Taylor/Hylton v Jones/Rand
10.40pm – Newton/Smith v King/Pipe
Friday July 22
Saturday July 23
Sunday July 24
First Round: Best of 19 legs
Second Round: Best of 25 legs
Quarter-Finals: Best of 31 legs
Semi-Finals: Best of 33 legs
Final: Best of 35 legs
Each match must be won by two clear legs. There will be no tie break and the match will continue until one player achieves a two-leg lead.
Second Round Losers: £7,500
First Round Losers: £5,000
In addition, should a player receive a nine-dart finish, they would receive a £10,000 bonus. In the event of more than one player hitting a nine-darter, the bonus would be shared on a pro-rata basis.
Sportsnewsireland.com will have live score updates on all GAA Championship matches over the summer.