The 2022 Cazoo European Championship gets underway in Dortmund on Thursday, as Rob Cross bids to defend his title in the £500,000 event.
Cross defeated Michael van Gerwen to lift the title in Salzburg 12 months ago, and the pair will be among the leading contenders at this year’s showpiece, with former champions Peter Wright and James Wade also headlining the 32-player field.
The tournament's 15th staging will see the top 32 players from the 2022 European Tour Order of Merit in action from October 27-30 at the Westfalenhalle, with £120,000 on offer to the winner.
The first round will feature 16 matches across the first two sessions on Thursday and Friday, including a blockbuster clash between former champions Cross and Wade on the tournament’s opening night.
Two-time winner Cross boasts a superb record at this event, and after clinching his second ProTour title of 2022 in Barnsley last weekend, the 32-year-old heads to Dortmund in bullish mood.
“I’ve made three finals in five years – that’s not bad for an amateur,” quipped Cross – who also appeared in three European Tour finals in 2022.
“I’ve got a tough first round against James [Wade], but every game is tough now.
“When I rocked up [on the tour] I managed to get away with a few games and then got my brilliant best out, but now you’ve got to produce from the outset.
“If you’re going to be here and you deserve to be here, you have to play your best darts, and I love it. I think there are no limits to where I can go.”
Top seed Luke Humphries also kicks off his campaign on Thursday, with the former UK Open runner-up locking horns with Poland’s Krzysztof Ratajski for a place in round two.
Humphries – a winner of four European Tour titles in 2022 – is aiming to cap off a breakthrough campaign by clinching his first televised crown in Germany.
“Winning those titles made me believe. It made me believe I could win, and that is crucial,” said Humphries, who has broken into the world’s top ten for the first time in his career.
“Once you win that first title, it makes you believe things can happen.
“The top 16 now is very elite. There is nothing between us. We’re all very good players and it’s exciting times for darts, because there is exceptional talent around.”
Elsewhere, fifth seed Damon Heta plays experienced Dutchman Vincent van der Voort on Thursday night, and the Australian is brimming with confidence ahead of his opener.
Heta celebrated his maiden European Tour title at the Gibraltar Darts Trophy less than a fortnight ago, before producing a series of imperious displays to clinch his third ProTour title in Barnsley last Friday.
“I am looking forward now. I really want to push on in these big tournaments,” insisted Heta, who guided Australia to their first World Cup of Darts success in June.
“I’m not trying too hard anymore. I’m more relaxed, I’m throwing quicker and things are happening.
“I think I’ve nailed it down to stick to my game – believe in what I’m throwing, believe in my action.
“I feel like life is going easy at the moment, so when you’re on a high like this, I’m going to let it ride, and hopefully it rides to the top.”
Another fascinating first round tussle will see last year’s semi-finalist Nathan Aspinall meet Northern Irish sensation Josh Rock - one of six debutants in the field.
Rock averaged over 103 across the day en route to claiming his maiden ProTour title on Sunday, and the 21-year-old will make his highly-anticipated televised debut against World Grand Prix finalist Aspinall.
Thursday's first round also includes a tie between Dutch Darts Championship winner Michael Smith and Czech qualifier Karel Sedlacek, while UK Open champion Danny Noppert plays Andrew Gilding – a runner-up at the Belgian Darts Open.
This year’s tournament kicks off with a showdown between Dutch star Dirk van Duijvenbode and Latvia's Madars Razma, with Ryan Searle up against Martin Lukeman.
Friday's action will see a further eight first round matches take place, as four-time champion Van Gerwen faces Chris Dobey, and 2020 winner Wright plays Ryan Meikle.
Welsh duo Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton are up against Rowby-John Rodriguez and Gabriel Clemens respectively, with in-form Martin Schindler taking on former Grand Slam champion Jose De Sousa.
Hungarian Darts Trophy winner Joe Cullen plays Ross Smith, Dimitri Van den Bergh and Daryl Gurney collide in a battle of the former TV title winners, while Dave Chisnall and Stephen Bunting compete in an all-St Helens affair.
Following the conclusion of the first round, the last 16 will take place across two sessions on Saturday, before the tournament concludes with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final in a bumper double-session on Sunday.
The tournament will be broadcast live on ITV4 in the UK, through the PDC's worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV (excluding UK and Netherlands based subscribers).
2022 Cazoo European Championship
Schedule of Play
Thursday October 27 (1845 local time, 1745 BST)
8x First Round
Dirk van Duijvenbode v Madars Razma
Ryan Searle v Martin Lukeman
Danny Noppert v Andrew Gilding
Rob Cross v James Wade
Luke Humphries v Krzysztof Ratajski
Nathan Aspinall v Josh Rock
Michael Smith v Karel Sedlacek
Damon Heta v Vincent van der Voort
Friday October 28 (1845 local time, 1745 BST)
8x First Round
Dave Chisnall v Stephen Bunting
Dimitri Van den Bergh v Daryl Gurney
Joe Cullen v Ross Smith
Jose de Sousa v Martin Schindler
Peter Wright v Ryan Meikle
Gerwyn Price v Rowby-John Rodriguez
Michael van Gerwen v Chris Dobey
Jonny Clayton v Gabriel Clemens
Saturday October 29
Afternoon Session (1345 local time, 1245 BST)
4x Second Round
Evening Session (2000 local time, 1900 BST)
4x Second Round
Sunday October 30
Afternoon Session (1300 local time, 1200 GMT)
Evening Session (1900 local time, 1800 GMT)
Semi-Finals & Final
(1) Luke Humphries v (32) Krzysztof Ratajski
(16) Ryan Searle v (17) Martin Lukeman
(8) Michael Smith v (25) Karel Sedlacek
(9) Nathan Aspinall v (24) Josh Rock
(4) Rob Cross v (29) James Wade
(13) Dirk van Duijvenbode v (20) Madars Razma
(5) Damon Heta v (28) Vincent van der Voort
(12) Danny Noppert v (21) Andrew Gilding
(2) Michael van Gerwen v (31) Chris Dobey
(15) Jose de Sousa v (18) Martin Schindler
(7) Dave Chisnall v (26) Stephen Bunting
(10) Jonny Clayton v (23) Gabriel Clemens
(3) Peter Wright v (30) Ryan Meikle
(14) Gerwyn Price v (19) Rowby-John Rodriguez
(6) Joe Cullen v (27) Ross Smith
(11) Dimitri Van den Bergh v (22) Daryl Gurney
First Rounds - Best of 11 legs
Second Round - Best of 19 legs
Quarter-Finals - Best of 19 legs
Semi-Finals - Best of 21 legs
Final - Best of 21 legs
Winner - £120,000
Runner-Up - £60,000
Semi-Finalists - £32,000
Quarter-Finalists - £20,000
Last 16 - £10,000
First Round - £6,000
Total - £500,000