Johnny Clayton v Joe Cullen
Clayton kicks off his title defence against world number 11 Joe Cullen, and he’ll be determined to prove last year’s victory wasn’t a flash in the pan. The Welshman is in a good vein of form having won 12 of his last 16 outings going back to the beginning of November, though when up against players of real quality he’s noticeably stumbled in recent matches.
Narrow victories over Dimitri van den Burgh and Gerwyn Price at the Masters will certainly fill him with confidence, though in that time, up against top players van den Burgh, Price (twice), Dave Chisnall, Michael Smith, Peter Wright and Krzysztof Ratajski he’s just W2-L5, so it’s hard to see him going all the way on night one when considering the quality of this field.
Masters Champion Joe Cullen comes into this in red hot form, having beaten all of Chisnall, van Gerwen, Jose de Sousa, Gary Anderson and Daryl Gurney en route to that title. He’ll certainly want to stamp his mark on this competition with an opening round win.
While he’s underdog in this opener, there’s every chance of an upset here, and he’ll confidence form the fact that he’s won each of his last three meetings with Clayton.
JOE CULLEN TO WIN
Gerwyn Price v James Wade
World Number One Gerwyn Price is likely the one to beat this year, and while underwhelming showings at both the World Championships and the Masters have indicated signs of vulnerability, he’s still near impossible to beat on his day.
The Welshman won the Grand Slam as recently as November, and won’t lack for motivation having to agonisingly pull out of this event last year after testing positive for COVID-19. His consistency over the last 12 months has been frightening, though he'll have to contend with a negative 8-5 head-to-head record against Wade in the opener.
Wade also missed the cut at this event last year, so will be buoyed to be back in the big leagues. The world number four certainly can’t be written off. He’s had his critics, but his darts speak for themselves and run to the semis at the Worlds is nothing to be sniffed at.
He’s the UK Open winner, and if his opponents show any weaknesses he’ll be there to clean up, though we can’t see him taking out the favourite early doors and we’d expect Price to come through this one.
GERWYN PRICE TO WIN
Peter Wright v Michael Smith
The opening night gives us a repeat of the World Championship final, where Snake Bite ran out 7-5 winner over Bully Boy in a tense showdown, and the Englishman will relish the opportunity to get revenge here on Thursday night.
Both went on fantastic runs at the Worlds, though were underwhelming on their follow ups at the Masters, with Wright losing in the first round and Smith in the second. They’ll easily put those performances behind them though and it wouldn’t be a surprise if both of these players made the playoffs at the end of the 16 weeks, though for this night only one can pick up points.
Wright certainly has the upper hand in the head-to-heads having beaten Smith 20 times throughout their careers, including six of the last seven meetings, so it’s fair to say the Scot has his number and we’d be surprised if the two-time World Champ doesn’t pull through on this occasion.
PETER WRIGHT TO WIN
Michael van Gerwen v Gary Anderson
A great rivalry reignited to round off night one as Mighty Mike faces off with the Flying Scotsman for the 51st time. Recently, it’s unsurprising that their meetings have massively gone in favour of the Dutchman, with Anderson winning just one of the last 15 head-to-heads and it’s hard to see him tipping the scales towards himself here.
Anderson does relish the big occasion, and that was highlighted with a semi-final run at the Worlds back in December, though around that there’s been very little to get excited about in the way of momentum.
Indeed, going back to the beginning of World Matchplay in mid-September, he’s lost 15 of 28 outings when excluding the Worlds, including a first round defeat at the Masters last time out and that’s not the form you want to be facing van Gerwen with.
The Dutchman isn’t at his flying best at the moment, though he’s still at a very high standard and on his day is the hardest player to beat in the sport. He’s still won 21 of his last 26 outings, and a withdrawal after the first round at the World Championships can be considered very fortunate for everyone else.
He’s a five-time winner here, though having won four in a row between 2016 and 2019, he’s now missed out on the last two and will be determined to tie Phil Taylor’s record of six wins, and that’s all the motivation he needs.
MICHAEL VAN GERWEN TO WIN
There’s no such thing as an easy draw with this star studded field, though if you were Gerwyn Price you’d be licking your lips at the prospect of not having to face Wright, van Gerwyn or Anderson until the final.
He’s favourite for a reason and while his previous Premier League record isn’t great , he’s grown as a player since his last appearance and the change of format may suit him, and we’ll back the Welshman to kick off night one with five points.
GERWYN PRICE TO WIN NIGHT ONE