Kim Huybrechts has revealed he still harbours aspirations of becoming world number one, as he prepares to make his Betfred World Matchplay return following a three-year hiatus.
Huybrechts has enjoyed a welcome return to form in 2022, and his consistency on the ProTour will see him compete at the iconic Winter Gardens for the first time since 2018.
The Belgian is among the 16 ProTour qualifiers featuring in the biggest event of the darting summer, although he’ll be hoping to improve upon his torrid Blackpool record.
The 36-year-old suffered six consecutive first round defeats at the World Matchplay from 2012-2017, before finally breaking his duck with victory over John Henderson in his most recent appearance.
“The World Matchplay was one of my goals at the start of the season, and I’m very happy to have qualified,” said Huybrechts, who takes on five-time quarter-finalist Dave Chisnall in Monday's final first round tussle.
“Being back in Blackpool is a very good feeling. My record there isn’t great, but I do love going to the Winter Gardens.
“There is a special atmosphere there, and it’s a lovely venue. For some reason it hasn’t clicked yet, but I’m sure it will.”
Huybrechts is one of two Belgians in this year’s 32-player field, with 2020 champion Dimitri Van den Bergh bidding to reach his third successive World Matchplay final.
The two-time World Youth champion comes into this year’s event fresh from completing a World Series of Darts double in Copenhagen and Amsterdam last month, and he stormed past Callan Rydz 10-2 in merciless style on Saturday night.
Van den Bergh’s continued progress has contributed to the soaring popularity of darts in Belgium, and Huybrechts admits it’s an exciting time for the sport in his native country.
“Darts has just exploded in Belgium and that’s a great feeling,” he added. “We literally haven’t seen anything like it.
“If you looked a couple of years ago, there was only me, Ronny [Kim’s brother] and Dimitri on the circuit.
“Now you have Mike [De Decker], Brian [Raman], Geert de Vos and Mario Vandenbogaerde, and I think in the future you will see a couple more.
“We used to have local competitions with 30 or 40 players, whereas now there are over 200 players.
“There is some new talent coming through, and that is really important for the future of darts in Belgium.”
Huybrechts was involved in an epic showdown against Gerwyn Price at last year’s World Darts Championship, spurning match darts before succumbing in a thrilling last-leg decider.
However, that performance reaffirmed his big stage credentials, and his World Matchplay return offers another opportunity for him to return to the spotlight.
The Belgian was a prominent figure within the world’s top 16 after bursting on to the scene a decade ago, featuring in two Premier League campaigns in 2015 and 2017 respectively.
Over recent years, Van den Bergh has become the new poster boy of Belgian darts, and despite the pair’s close relationship, it’s been a difficult reality to accept for Huybrechts.
“It has been hard. You are used to a certain status, and I have lost that,” admitted the two-time televised finalist, currently ranked 34th on the PDC Order of Merit.
“Dimitri is doing amazingly and I am proud of him, but it is difficult. I don’t just want to be the number one in Belgium, I want to be the number one in the world.
“He is one of my opponents, one of my goals, but so are the other 33 players in front of me, and I’ll just take it step by step, player by player, and I just want to aim as high as possible.
"Whether it's the number one in Belgium or number one in the world, we will see, but you have to have goals, and they are my goals."
The tournament is being broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK, through the PDC's worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV (excluding UK, Germany, Austria & Switzerland based subscribers).
2022 Betfred World Matchplay
Schedule of Play
Monday July 18 (1900 BST)
4x First Round
Rob Cross v Chris Dobey
Jose de Sousa v Gabriel Clemens
Gerwyn Price v Martin Schindler
Dave Chisnall v Kim Huybrechts