Stat of the Week: Success against seeds on the European Tour

Stephen Bunting (Jonas Hunold/PDC Europe)

In his latest 'Stat of the Week' column, PDC Stats Analyst Christopher Kempf looks at the players who have enjoyed the most success against seeded players in the second round of European Tour events since 2014.

Stat of the Week: Euro Tour record v seeds

The stat: Most wins against seeded players in the second round of European Tour events.

The parameters: European Tour events, 2014 to present, at least 10 matches against seeds.

The caveats: Qualifications for seeds and the tournaments' format have changed over the years. European Tour events before 2014 had 64 participants and 32 seeds, with all players starting in the first round - these events are not considered here. The ranks of unseeded players have historically included high-ranked Order of Merit players who had earned little ranking money on the Pro Tour, and thus were not seeded.

Saturdays on the European Tour have seen defeats inflicted by local heroes and ProTour journeymen forcing elite, marquee players to return home from a continental venue without any ranking money to their name.

They can also serve as the prelude to a victorious campaign, against the odds, elevating a local qualifier to European Tour stardom and qualification for their first televised tournament. 

Such an outcome, once rare, has taken place in three of the past five European Tour events, with Ricardo Pietreczko, Luke Littler and Martin Schindler ploughing through six stage matches in three days, knocking out World Champions and darts luminaries along the way.

With the top 16 Order of Merit players guaranteed to feature after the most recent European Tour qualification overhaul - and seeding carried out according to ProTour performance - seeded players are finding it harder than ever to hold onto their minimal ranking money by surviving through to Sunday afternoon.

Such was the case for Joe Cullen in Riesa, who became one of the seven seeded players to leave the International Darts Open (ET3) without any improvement in their Order of Merit status. 

The man who decisively defeated him with a 105 average, Martin Schindler, went on to knock out two more seeded players and win the tournament, following in the footsteps of his countrymen Pietreczko and Max Hopp. 

Schindler's victory put him in the top 10 most effective unseeded players at defeating seeds in the second round of the European Tour, adding to a list of 8 prior wins stretching back to 2017. 

One of the few players ranked ahead of him in win percentage happens to be Cullen himself, who, finding himself unseeded for the first time in eight years in the first two European Tour events of 2024, crushed Jonny Clayton and Dirk van Duijvenbode's tournament hopes.

Even Schindler's loss this past week in Sindelfingen saw the German star put forward a monumental effort, pushing Premier League veteran Rob Cross to the limit with a 106 average - he has proven himself to be one of the most difficult opponents for seeds in 2024, in spite of his career record.

Though Cullen leads all players with 10 or more seed encounters with his 97.66 average against those seeds, the undisputed king of frustrating seeded players on the European Tour is Stephen Bunting. 

From 2014 to present, 'The Bullet' has won 19 of the 27 matches he has played as a UK or Tour Card Holder Qualifier. 

Bunting's record at the end of 2022 was only 11 wins in 19 matches, but since then Bunting has won eight straight, enjoying such success that he has become seeded himself in recent European Tour events. 

Among his 18 victories are a 2018 whitewash of Michael Smith (Bunting averaged 106), 2014 thrashings of then-Premier League contestants Dave Chisnall and Peter Wright and even a victory over second seed Michael van Gerwen, handing the Dutchman a loss in his first European Tour match of 2023. 

The 36-time European Tour champion Van Gerwen has lost his first match only 11 times across 10 years, and only Keegan Brown has defeated him twice in such a scenario.

As impressive as it is to be one of the nine who has a winning Saturday record against seeds (only about 1/3 of players manage an upset overall), every player would rather not have to risk a Friday loss and be seeded themselves. 

This is now the case for Bunting, seeded 15th in Riesa, and may soon be the case for Schindler as he climbs up the ProTour Order of Merit. 

Making the transition from scrappy underdog to authoritative seed is not always easy - as a seeded player in his first match, Bunting actually has a worse record against ProTour and local qualifiers than he does against seeds, winning only 58% of his matches.

Schindler's 8-13 record in 2013 is slightly better, though both players can take inspiration from World Champion Luke Humphries, who has lost his first match only 4 times in 25 appearances as a European Tour seed. 

Rising up from the first round to defeat seeds and win a title is impressive, especially when it results in a player's first PDC title, as for Schindler - but the next step, to becoming a seed and winning consistently as one, is just as difficult.