Peter Wright, Rob Cross, Nathan Aspinall. Three of the world’s top six have fallen in the bottom half of the PDC World Championship bracket.
And as seeds tumble, opportunity knocks for some dark horses.
The shadow of Michael van Gerwen’s dominant performances looms large over the entire top half of the draw, dampening the hopes of any outsiders.
That’s far from the case on the other side.
Tuesday at the World Championship
Live World Darts Championship
December 29, 2020, 12:00pm
Gabriel Clemens – the reigning champion’s conqueror – marched into the last 16, after a dramatic last-leg victory over Snakebite.
“I have no words. I played against the world champion, such a fantastic player and a nice guy. I am so happy,” he told Sky Sports after his win.
“Yeah. I felt good in the last few weeks. I practised hard and a lot. I’m really happy.”
He may have been largely speechless – but that was understandable. He let his darts do the talking. That message was that he is a live contender in this competition.
An average of 98.65, and a double-rate of 15/33 under intense pressure from such a seasoned campaigner tells its own story. There has been a boom in the sport’s popularity in Germany over recent years but, as yet, there has been no player from the country to really crack it at the top table.
That will all change if Clemens backs up his win over Wright and goes deep into the tournament.
Can the Polish Eagle soar?
Waiting for the German Giant in the fourth round is the in-form Krzysztof Ratajski. The Polish Eagle is widely regarded as one of the top players on the Pro Tour, but thus far in his career he has failed to fulfil his potential on the big stage.
He will be eager to shed his moniker as a top ‘floor player’ in the coming days; a back-handed compliment also levelled at Gary Anderson in the past before the Flying Scotsman hit the big-time.
Ratajski is yet to drop a set in the tournament, with comprehensive wins over Ryan Joyce and Simon Whitlock. Ranked 15th in the Order of Merit, the Warsaw-native is a growing force in the game. But in order for him to progress any further, he will need to do it on the big stage.
Early indications have been positive. Having reached the quarter-final of the World Matchplay, he has shown he can thrive in these televised ‘behind-closed-doors’ settings. His Pro Tour form would suggest he is capable of even greater heights.
Make way for the King?
“There’s no reason at all [why I can’t win the World Championship],” Mervyn King told Sky Sports, after he sent Grand Prix winner Jose de Sousa packing with an impressive 4-0 victory.
The experienced Englishman produced an awesome performance, averaging 103.47 with a 57.14 per cent checkout rate.
But he still feels there is more in the tank.
“I still need to up it,” he said. “I’m not going to win the Worlds playing like that. I’ve got to up it by quite a considerable margin to beat the likes of Gary Anderson, Michael van Gerwen and Gerwyn Price. It’s nearly there and I’m trying.
“I take each game as it comes. If I play well enough, I win. If I don’t, I go home. It’s the way it has always been, over the 23 years I’ve been a pro. I never turn up saying ‘I’m going to win this, I’m going to win that’. I just do it on the day. If it’s good enough, happy days. If it isn’t, then I’ll watch.”
In 2009, King reached the semi-final where he lost to Phil Taylor. Fast-forward 11 years, and he says his game is in a better place: “Without a shadow of a doubt. My game is in a far better position, through what I’m doing, not because I’ve talked myself into that, it’s because of what I’m doing. So fingers crossed it keeps going.”
The elephant in the room
Of course, a certain Gerwyn Price may have something to say about any underdog’s ambitions of reaching the final from that half of the competition.
The Iceman is growing into the tournament as it progresses. Having seen off countryman Jamie Lewis in underwhelming fashion, he raised his game to edge Brendan Dolan in an epic.
Price thrives on momentum, and the Sid Waddell Trophy is the one big omission on his glittering CV, after this year adding Grand Prix and World Cup titles to his two Grand Slam crowns.
He faces King with a quarter-final berth on offer. The Welshman is the hot favourite to progress.
But if he joins Wright, Aspinall and Cross as a high-profile casualty, the bottom half will be blown wide open.
The fourth round of the PDC World Championship gets underway on Tuesday evening, as Gabriel Clemens faces Krzysztof Ratajski, and Joe Cullen takes on Michael van Gerwen. Watch all the action live on our dedicated Sky Sports Darts channel.
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