ALAN WARRINER-LITTLE looks ahead to the start of the BetVictor World Matchplay this Saturday and predicts who will lift the Phil Taylor Trophy.
As a two-time finalist you must have fond memories of the World Matchplay, how do you look back on your time playing at the Blackpool event?
When we started the PDC it was one of our big two unique events and I was lucky enough to play in two finals.
The World Matchplay is now in its 25th year and is going stronger than ever which is great to see.
Like all PDC events the quality of play has improved and ticket sales have gone through the roof over the years - all the players want to play there and all the fans want to be there.
All players are there on merit and the big name players are under pressure from the first round.
What makes the Winter Gardens stage such a special place to play darts?
The Winter Gardens is unique - the crowd is so close to the stage and it's generally quite hot up there.
I've always said Blackpool is a working man's Las Vegas - there is always such a party atmosphere with everyone enjoying themselves.
Being from Lancashire I always had a lot of local support so it was always a special tournament for me.
What is your pick of this year's first round ties?
The first round clash I'm most looking forward to is Raymond van Barneveld v Kyle Anderson.
Raymond has had some great moments up there, including his nine-darter in 2010, but he would've liked to have won it.
He's always a big stage player who reacts to the atmosphere of the crowd and the status of the event so he will be at his best.
Kyle is one of those players who can push him all the way and is certainly capable of beating him.
What do you think could potentially be the game of the tournament?
If Michael van Gerwen and Adrian Lewis both win their first round ties then they will meet in round two - that would be really special.
When they played each other in Blackpool in the 2013 semi-final it was one of the best games I have ever seen - nobody wanted it to finish.
It was such an incredible match which Adrian eventually won 17-15 and if they meet again this year it will be unmissable.
Who will be the surprise package in Blackpool this year?
Looking at the draw there are a number of players who are playing well but I'm going to go for Steve West.
I think he is now one of the top players in the world, he always does well on European Tour and floor events so he is due a good run on TV.
He has a tough first round game game against Daryl Gurney but it's certainly a game he can win and he'll come into the game with a lot of confidence.
Steve is a very good scorer, he just needs to get to grips with the pressure he puts on himself and he will do well.
And finally...who will walk away with the Phil Taylor Trophy?
I was torn between two players in deciding who I think will win - Rob Cross or James Wade.
I'm going to go with Cross because I believe he is back to the incredible standard he achieved at the end of last year.
He found it difficult for the first few months of this year after being crowned World Champion with the extra travelling and being the man to beat but since the Premier League finished he has been able to get back to some normality.
Rob is practicing more again, he looks fully focused and could go under the radar like he did at the World Championship.
Of course, it wouldn't be a surprise if Michael van Gerwen won because he is the best player in the world, while Michael Smith is another danger with the good form he is in.
The BetVictor World Matchplay will be broadcast on Sky Sports from July 21-29. For tickets, call the Winter Gardens Box Office on 0844 856 1111 or buy online at pdc.seetickets.com.
Thomas Cook Sport Breaks and Hospitality Packages are also available. See www.pdc.tv/tickets for full details and ticket information.
2018 BetVictor World Matchplay
Schedule of Play
Saturday July 21 (7pm)
Adrian Lewis v James Wilson
Dave Chisnall v Keegan Brown
Michael van Gerwen v Jeffrey de Zwaan
Michael Smith v Jonny Clayton
Sunday July 22
Afternoon Session (1pm)
Darren Webster v Steve Lennon
Ian White v Max Hopp
Gerwyn Price v Joe Cullen
Daryl Gurney v Steve West
Evening Session (7.30pm)
Mensur Suljovic v Steve Beaton
Gary Anderson v Stephen Bunting
Rob Cross v Mervyn King
Raymond van Barneveld v Kyle Anderson
Monday July 23 (7pm)
Kim Huybrechts v John Henderson
Simon Whitlock v Richard North
James Wade v Jermaine Wattimena
Peter Wright v Jelle Klaasen
Tuesday July 24 (7pm)
Chisnall/Brown v Smith/Clayton
Gurney/West v Price/Cullen
Van Gerwen/De Zwaan v Lewis/Wilson
G Anderson/Bunting v Van Barneveld/K Anderson
Wednesday July 25 (7pm)
Whitlock/North v Wade/Wattimena
Suljovic/Beaton v White/Hopp
Cross/King v Webster/Lennon
Wright/Klaasen v Huybrechts/Henderson
Thursday July 26 (7pm)
Friday July 27 (7pm)
Saturday July 28 (7pm)
Sunday July 29 (7pm)
First Round - Best of 19 legs
Second Round - Best of 21 legs
Quarter-Finals - Best of 31 legs
Semi-Finals - Best of 33 legs
Final - Best of 35 legs
Winner - £115,000
Runner-Up - £55,000
Semi-Finalists - £30,000
Quarter-Finalists - £17,500
Second Round Losers - £11,000
First Round Losers - £7,000
Total - £500,000