Peter Wright is relishing the prospect of renewing his Winter Gardens rivalry with Dimitri Van den Bergh in the Betfred World Matchplay quarter-finals on Thursday evening.
The last eight will get underway on a blockbuster night in Blackpool, which also features a showdown between Michael van Gerwen and Nathan Aspinall, with Wright and Van den Bergh kicking off proceedings.
The pair locked horns in last year’s World Matchplay final, with Wright producing an imperious display to clinch the coveted Phil Taylor Trophy for the first time, averaging 105.90 to complete a resounding 18-9 victory.
Van den Bergh described himself as the Scot’s ‘adopted son’ after spending almost three months in the Wright household during the the Covid-19 pandemic, crediting the world number one for his World Matchplay triumph in 2020.
However, there will be no room for sentiment at the Empress Ballroom, with Wright continuing his bid to become only the third player in World Matchplay history to retain his title.
“Dimitri didn’t give up the title without a fight, and I’ll be doing the same,” said Wright, who followed up a routine win over Madars Razma by edging out Krzysztof Ratajski in an epic second-round tie-break.
“You need to be in matches like that sometimes to see where you are. I needed someone to push me all the way like Krzysztof did.
“Dimitri is playing really well. He has won two World Series titles recently and he’s taken his game to the next level, so it should be another tight game.
“Mr Miyagi didn’t teach him everything though. The master will reign!”
Wright denied Van den Bergh back-to-back World Matchplay crowns courtesy of his 2021 exploits, but now the Belgian is aiming to return the favour.
The two-time World Youth champion has won 11 of his 12 matches in the sport’s summer showpiece, with last year's defeat against Wright the solitary blemish.
“This time, I’ve had an extra day to prepare for playing Peter,” said the 28-year-old, who has relinquished just eight legs in wins over Callan Rydz and Rowby-John Rodriguez.
“I was accepted by the whole family as their adopted son. I learned a lot from Peter, but I have dreams that I am chasing.
“I do think in the last couple of months, particularly on the big stage, if you give me a chance at a double I will take it, and that is what you’ve got to do.
“I’m in a very proud moment and I want to continue what I’m doing. I’m keeping my feet on the ground.”
The evening’s second quarter-final will see two-time winner Van Gerwen take on former UK Open champion Aspinall in a mouth-watering clash.
Van Gerwen ran out an emphatic 16-9 winner when the pair met at the same stage of last year’s event, and the 33-year-old is eyeing a repeat performance on Thursday.
The Dutchman was below-par in his opening round win over Adrian Lewis, but he produced an improved showing to sweep aside Joe Cullen in a repeat of last month’s Premier League final.
“Mentally I feel really strong. The best way to build confidence is winning games, and I am doing that,” said the three-time World Champion.
“Nobody can touch me when I’m at my best, but you still have to do it.
“I’ve been battling with myself, with my confidence, with my operation, but things are starting to go a bit better, and I am proud of that.
“I know what I have to do against Nathan. He played well against James Wade, so I need to start well and put him under pressure, like I did against Joe Cullen."
Aspinall is aiming to reach his first World Matchplay semi-final this weekend, as he continues his resurgence since returning from injury.
The Stockport star dumped out an in-form Luke Humphries in his first round tie, before edging out 2007 champion James Wade in a gripping last 16 tussle.
“This is massive for me. I am playing unreal in practice. I’ve never ever played darts like I’m playing,” insisted Aspinall, a former US Darts Masters winner.
“I’ve won a Pro Tour and I’ve made loads of semi-finals. I am so confident and I’m just really enjoying myself at the moment.
“I’m still learning all the time and I’ve learned a lot about myself this week.
"I want to win it. I’m hoping the tide is going to turn and I’ll get a bit of luck. I want this to be the year of the Asp.”
The action will be 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).
Betfred World Matchplay
Schedule of Play
Thursday July 21 (2000 BST)
Peter Wright v Dimitri Van den Bergh
Michael van Gerwen v Nathan Aspinall
All matches the best of 31 legs