Raymond van Barneveld is bidding to write another famous chapter in his career when he takes on reigning champion Gerwyn Price for a place in the Cazoo Grand Slam of Darts semi-finals on Friday night.
The first of two nights of quarter-final action will begin with a brace of blockbuster ties at the Aldersley Leisure Village, headlined by a heavyweight tussle between Price and Van Barneveld.
Van Barneveld has produced a series of vintage displays in Wolverhampton to reach his first televised quarter-final since November 2019, having only returned to the sport last February.
The 55-year-old defied a 106 average from Price in the round-robin phase to finish top of Group A, before recovering from 5-2 down to edge out his old adversary Simon Whitlock in a last 16 classic.
The Dutch veteran – who lifted the Grand Slam title a decade ago – is now just three wins away from a fairy-tale triumph, and he believes enjoyment has been key to his resurgence this week.
“For the first time in a long while I’m enjoying the game,” admitted Van Barneveld, who is unbeaten in his five televised tussles against Price.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in the quarter-finals of a major tournament. I have been struggling but the belief is there. I can go all the way.
“Gerwyn is incredible. He’s won this tournament three times in the last four years and all credit to him, because winning the Grand Slam of Darts – I know what’s it’s like.
“He is an amazing player, but if I play my A-game, I can beat everyone and that’s what I believe in.”
However, the five-time World Champion faces a huge test against top seed Price, who has won all three Grand Slam events staged at the Aldersley Leisure Village.
The world number one was not at his blistering best in his 10-8 win over Danny Noppert, but a masterful display of finishing preserved his hopes of lifting a fourth Eric Bristow Trophy.
The Welshman boasted a 103 average across the round-robin phase, and having never suffered defeat in a knockout game at this venue, he heads into his clash against Van Barneveld in confident mood.
“When I’m not at my ultimate best I’ve got a decent B-game,” reflected Price, who converted 77% of his attempts at double in his comeback victory over UK Open champion Noppert.
“You just need that mental strength, and I think out of everyone in the PDC, I’m probably the strongest mentally.
“Raymond is playing really well this week, so if I want to get through, I need to play way better on Friday night, otherwise he is going to give me another lesson.
“Raymond has been doing this for the last 30 years. He knows how to win, but if I can go up there and play my A-game, I think I will come through.”
Friday night’s opening quarter-final will also see Michael Smith and Joe Cullen collide in a repeat of their Group C clash last weekend, which saw Smith run out a resounding 5-1 winner.
The St Helens star then battled past Rob Cross 10-8 in a hard-fought last 16 tie, having extended his winning run in the Group Stages to a record-breaking 16 matches earlier in the week.
“I don’t think I’ve played well in this event, but something is going right because I’ve won four games on the spin,” said Smith – through to the last eight for a fourth straight year.
“I’m really happy with the way I can grind out results now when I’m not playing at my best. I can hold my nerve.
“We’re into the business end of the tournament now. I’m competing against the best players in the world and I enjoy the longer formats, so it should be fun.”
Cullen is set to feature in his first Grand Slam quarter-final after dispatching a below-par Dirk van Duijvenbode 10-4 on Wednesday, averaging 96 and converting two ton-plus checkouts in the process.
The 33-year-old has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign, winning his maiden TV title at January’s Masters before reaching the Premier League final on debut, and now he’s hungry for further glory.
“I’m here for a reason and I’m here to win,” insisted Cullen, who will climb into the world’s top ten if he progresses to Sunday night’s showpiece.
“I think I’ve got as good a chance as anyone. I’ve not over-exerted myself and played out of my skin yet, so hopefully I’m saving that for the latter end of the tournament.
“Me and Michael are great friends. I was terrible against him last weekend, so surely I can’t be that bad again? It should be a great game.”
Saturday November 19 (1900 GMT)
Nathan Aspinall v Alan Soutar
Michael van Gerwen v Luke Humphries
Best of 31 legs