Grand Slam field ranked by previous group stage performance

Jose de Sousa

PDC Stats Analyst Christopher Kempf takes a look at the previous group stage performances of the 24 players among the 2021 field to have previously competed in the Cazoo Grand Slam of Darts...

The existence of the Grand Slam corresponds with an important era in darts: just months before the inaugural event in Wolverhampton, Raymond van Barneveld, the dominant figure in the BDO, took his talents to the PDC and defeated Phil Taylor in the 2007 World Championship.

This ushered in a dramatic influx of talent from the BDO over the subsequent years, including Michael van Gerwen, Jelle Klaasen, Vincent van der Voort, Gary Anderson and Mervyn King, facilitated by this new tournament in which PDC and BDO stars battled it out in round-robin groups.

Though the BDO representatives no longer appear at the Grand Slam, the format of the first few days of the Grand Slam has remained unchanged for the past 15 years.

This provides an excellent opportunity for comparing stats and records in a controlled environment, for even though the qualification procedures changes from year to year, the test to which those qualifiers are subjected is always the same.

Grand Slam players past group stage performance

The six-time winner of what is now known as the Eric Bristow Trophy, Phil Taylor, is understandably the statistical leader of the Grand Slam groups.

Through seven of the most competitive years of darts, his record 114.65 average against Christian Kist still stands as the highest ever in the group phase.

Taylor was able to reach the top of the round robin leaderboard without heavy scoring; he ranks 51st in Grand Slam participants' career output of three-treble visits per leg, but more than made up for it by hitting 48% of his doubles and winning 4 in 7 legs in 15 darts or fewer.

Only six players managed to defeat Taylor in round robin matches - James Wade, Darren Webster, Andy Jenkins, Ted Hankey, Scott Waites and Vincent van der Voort - but these were moral victories only, as Taylor advanced to the knockout round after each defeat.

Only two players have made an appearance at every Grand Slam - James Wade and Gary Anderson - and coming into 2021 even though they both have identical (and very formidable) win-loss records in the group phase (33-9), neither player has ever won the title.

Anderson is second only to Taylor among players who have appeared in more than half of the Grand Slam stagings in his 97.26 group phase average and never been relegated from his group, along the way recording three 110+ averages, more than any other player.

Wade has never failed to finish first in the initial rounds of the tournament since defeating Taylor in 2017 when the two had the misfortune to share a group; his 48% career doubles accuracy in the round-robin matches is almost equal to that of the 16-time World Champion.

Michael van Gerwen's stats in the Grand Slam's groups are weighed down by his participation in the tournament as a precocious teenager, in which he was yet unprepared for the challenges of full-time professional darts and stardom.

If we were to consider the stats from MvG's matches in 2012 onward, he would in fact surpass Taylor's career average with a 100.24, an even more impressive figure once one considers the calibre of his opposition.

MvG had the fortune (or misfortune) of appearing in four of the nine group phase matches with the highest combined averages; Taylor appeared in only one of the 34 highest.

Jose de Sousa
Jose de Sousa averaged just below 100 in last year's Group Stage

Last year, Jose de Sousa averaged almost 100 in his debut group phase campaign, nearly putting him at the top of the career leaderboard in averages on the back of an unprecedented barrage of 180s.

Yet, in spite of throwing more than one maximum for every other leg, De Sousa lost decisively to Michael Smith, eventually setting the former up for a rematch in the quarter-finals and putting the Portuguese player in the unique position to win a tournament in spite of having lost a match.

A different problem exists for Stephen Bunting, who is 9-0 in the three Grand Slam groups in which he participated, but has not reached the quarter-final of any Grand Slam since his 2014 debut. 

Similarly, Michael Smith, who together with Nathan Aspinall holds the record for combined average in a group match (109.19), has had excellent results against qualifiers in the round robin phase - he has lost just one of his last 18 matches in that round - but his success typically comes to an end in the best-of-31 matches, in which he has a 1-4 record.

Smith's impressive 97.4 average in the group matches (in 157 legs played) and 0.38 171-180 per leg are all very well when competing with players 100 places behind him in the order of merit, but he has yet to find similar magic in a 30-leg showdown with MvG or Taylor.

The new crop of women's and youth qualifiers to the Grand Slam seem poised to smash some records in the group phase; for years, Anastasia Dobromyslova's 5-4 defeat of Vincent van der Voort was the only occasion in which one could watch a woman defeat a man in a televised match.

Thanks to the successes of Lisa Ashton and Fallon Sherrock, however, seeing women triumph on TV is no longer a novelty.

Given that the record women's average in this event is only 87.27, it's hard to imagine one of the two not surpassing it.

The contingent of youth players appearing in the Grand Slam has doubled as well, not to mention the additional players in their mid-20s who have already launched successful careers.

With many appearances in the Grand Slam in their futures, and Taylor's group phase benchmark set at such a tantalisingly achievable level, someone is bound to do something magical.

Eliminate Gary Anderson from his group from the first time? Throw the record for 180s in a match (currently seven)? Break the world record average? Anything is possible in short format.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @ochepedia.