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Wayne Mardle casts his verdict on this year’s World Darts Championship contenders – Sky Sports

World No 1 Gerwyn Price begins his defence of the Sid Waddell Trophy on December 15; you won’t miss a dart with Sky Sports thanks to the dedicated Sky Sports Darts channel which will run from December 15 until January 3

Last Updated: 14/12/21 10:55am

Mardle returns to cast his verdict ahead of this year’s Ally Pally showpiece

We’re all set for a thrilling three weeks at the PDC World Darts Championship, and as Gerwyn Price prepares to begin the defence of his title, Sky Sports Darts expert Wayne Mardle casts his verdict ahead of this year’s festivities at Alexandra Palace.

‘The Iceman’ defeated two-time world champion Gary Anderson to lift the Sid Waddell Trophy for the very first time in January, and he’ll take on either Ritchie Edhouse or Lihao Wen on a star-studded opening night on Wednesday December 15.

World No 2 Peter Wright will be looking to replicate his 2020 success, while three-time winner Michael van Gerwen is bidding to win a first major title of 2021, having endured one of the most frustrating campaigns of his career.

This year’s showpiece is shaping up to be one of the most open in recent memory, plus there’s the return of five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld and ‘Queen of the Palace’ Fallon Sherrock looking to create further history after her Grand Slam exploits.

There are so many talking points as we make the annual pilgrimage to the Palace, so who better to dissect the action than Mystic Mardle himself?

Can MVG win it?

The Dutchman is without a major title in this calendar year – his longest drought since 2012

Why not? I’ve got this thing with Michael; I love him as a human being. I think he can win it and the longer the format in any tournament, that suits him.

I know it was a real long format in the Grand Slam. He was looking like a potential winner there until it kind of all went wrong. The Matchplay he was out of sorts, but I don’t think he is out of sorts now.

I’m firmly in the camp that if he can get through to the quarter-finals without too many negatives – he needs to play well to win. He can win and it sometimes has a negative impact on his confidence.

Van Gerwen’s major record in 2021

Masters: L16
UK Open SFs
Premier League: SFs
World Matchplay: SFs
World Grand Prix: R1
European Championship: RU
World Series Finals: SFs
Grand Slam of Darts: QFs
Players Championship Finals: QFs

Peter Wright, Gerwyn Price, Jonny Clayton, James Wade, Dimitri Van den Bergh – I’ve mentioned some non-winners of the World Championship there by the way; they don’t care how they get through. They just want to get through.

Michael’s confidence levels are very much performance-related, but I think if he can come through unscathed mentally, I think he can crack on from the quarter-finals and win it.

I look around and I look at the very best players in the world. If they all play well, who wins? For me it is still Michael van Gerwen.

Will Wright double his Ally Pally tally?

The Scot has lifted two televised titles in 2021

Peter did say he fell out of love with the game for a while. This was shortly after the World Matchplay in July, when he walked it. It was Taylor-esque or Van Gerwen-esque the way in which he won that. It was incredible.

He then went missing until the latter stages of the Grand Slam. I’m going to say something a bit contentious here that I don’t think people will like, especially Peter.

I don’t think he played well in the Players Championships [Finals] at all. I thought he had good spells, I thought he had good legs when he needed them. Did he play well? No.

It wasn’t the form that saw him win the Matchplay, it wasn’t the similar form that saw him win the 2020 World Championships, it was good enough and he did whatever he had to do when he had to do it, and that’s the important thing.

Wright warmed up for the World Championship with victory at last month’s Players Championship Finals

It’s basically a question of timing – doing the right things at the right moments, but I think he will struggle to win the Worlds this year, I really do.

He won the Players Championships playing his C-game, and reached the final of the Grand Slam not playing well at all.

The good thing about Peter is he doesn’t care if he isn’t firing on all cylinders, because he doesn’t care about scaring players, he doesn’t care about any of that.

Do I fancy him to win it? The answer is no, but can he win it? Look, I’m silly, but I’m not that silly!

Price, Clayton on a collision course?

The World Cup partners also locked horns in October’s World Grand Prix final, with Clayton coming out on top

Jonny Clayton’s form has just tailed off a little though. Let’s not think this is the Jonny Clayton of a couple of months ago.

Gerwyn Price is going to be so difficult to dethrone. It would not surprise me at all if he won it. The way in which he won the Grand Slam, he was just the best player when it mattered.

Come Finals Day, he has got this fitness level, this belief, the ability. Like Michael van Gerwen, like the very best players in the world, ‘I only worry about my game.’ That is all he says.

He knows he can do it. He’s done it, he’s the world No 1, he is the reigning world champ. I actually think he’ll probably come through that top quarter, but I think there could be some to scupper Gerwyn in there as well.

Price is aiming to join an exclusive group of players to have retained the PDC World Championship title

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ratajski or even Bunting were to come through again. There is something about Bunting in these long events that seems to just agree with him.

Ratajski I’ve got a thing for. Cannot get rid of it. He plays poorly and it’s like I erase it from my memory, he plays well and it’s etched there forever. It’s something that is going on. I’ve got to lose it, or he’s got to win!

I wouldn’t be surprised if an ‘outsider’ comes through that half, but Price is most definitely the man to beat in it, of course he is.

“I’m a little excited about Barney. I believe that he can play to a level that can take him a long way. You get to a certain point in a tournament and you’re actually thinking: ‘One of us has got to win this’. You look around and whoever is looking at Barney in the eyes is giving it: ‘It might be Ray. It might be Ray!’ I just want him to have that little bit of belief. If he’s got it, then oh wow!”

Mardle on Barney’s Ally Pally prospects…

Can Price dominate like Taylor?

‘The Iceman’ insists he wants to create a dynasty and become a three, four or five-time world champion

The only player we’ve seen that resembled Phil Taylor for a good few years was Michael van Gerwen, and Michael van Gerwen didn’t exactly dominate like Phil did.

There are more pros that are within the game. There are more serious players that are playing the game. Back in mine and Phil’s day, anyone below say 40th [in the world] – they weren’t taking crowns. They weren’t winning events, they were nowhere near it.

What Gerwyn means by dominate I don’t know. Michael van Gerwen used to win 24, 25 events for a three-year spell, so yes that was domination, but that was only a three-year spell.

Winning world titles is difficult, ask Michael van Gerwen because he would have thought he would have four, five or six by now.

Is Price good enough? If he plays at his best every day, which is impossible. Taylor’s B-game was the best thing he had in the world.

It wasn’t his A-game. His off game was still the best. Is Price’s off game the best? No. They’ve got to be on to win.

The enigma that is Gary Anderson…

Anderson has failed to reach a televised quarter-final since losing to Price in last year’s final

He’s an odd one. I’ve changed my mind completely with Gary. He played in the Grand Slam and the way he played against Michael [van Gerwen], he really held it together.

I saw things in him that week that made me think: ‘You’re going to do well at the Worlds again, aren’t you? He looked like that player.

He goes to the Players Championships and he looked horrendous. He looked so out-of-sorts. Was that the outlier, or was playing well at the Grand Slam the outlier? I’m not sure anymore.

He tells us that he doesn’t practice but he does a little bit, he tells us that he doesn’t care but he does a lot, he tells us he would rather be fishing; that is probably true!

I’ve got Gary written down on a sheet here: ‘If Gary Anderson fancies winning it, he could win it.’ While that sounds utterly ridiculous, he could have that attitude of: ‘Throw at me what you like, I’m ready for you.’

We know what he is capable of, but I don’t think he is anywhere near as consistent as even last year, and while it’s only 12 months away, it’s a long time in sport. You ask that to Glen Durrant, the world has changed…

Another Fallon fairytale at the Worlds?

Sherrock will meet the record-breaking Steve Beaton in her Ally Pally opener on December 19

I rate Fallon Sherrock. I think she’s got a very, very tough game in Steve Beaton, and then she would face Kim Huybrechts.

I’m going to be totally honest, I don’t expect her to come through the pair of those, but I didn’t expect her to come through Ted Evetts and Mensur Suljovic a couple of years ago.

I also didn’t expect her to come through Gabriel Clemens then Mensur Suljovic at the Grand Slam.

I have been wrong before and I will be wrong again, but I believe the more she continues to play, the more the men will become used to her, they won’t panic and the more they will see her as another opponent, which is the way they’ve got to play her.

Steve Beaton won’t care two hoots you know. He just won’t. He is so experienced. I think that is a really tough opener for both players, they must fancy it – the pair of them.

It’s not long to wait until the darts returns to your screens and it’s the World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace – join us on Sky Sports for every arrow from every session across 16 days which gets under way on Wednesday, December 15.