Stan James World Match Play - Preview
THE 15th Stan James World Matchplay begins on Sunday, with 32 players battling for a record £300,000 at Blackpool^s Winter Gardens.
James Wade, the current world number three, will be defending his title at the Winter Gardens, with Phil Taylor bidding for a ninth World Matchplay win in the seven-day tournament.
Wade, who won June^s UK Open and reached the final of the Las Vegas Desert Classic earlier this month, opens his challenge against Wayne Jones on Tuesday evening, having prepared by spending two days in Holland practising with world number two Raymond van Barneveld.
"I^m very pleased with how the year^s gone so far but this is a new challenge for me, defending my title," said Wade, who defeated Terry Jenkins 18-7 in last year’s final.
"I love the Winter Gardens, it^s a great tournament and the atmosphere is very special.
"I^ve prepared well for this, I practised harder with Raymond van Barneveld for two days than I probably would have in England and that should benefit me."
Wade claimed a third major title when he won June^s UK Open, but has been defeated by Phil Taylor in the Premier League Darts final and the recent Las Vegas Desert Classic this year.
"Winning the UK Open was fantastic but I know I didn^t produce my best darts, and Phil was the better man in the Premier League and Las Vegas Desert Classic finals," added Wade.
"But on those days I played him after playing semi-finals, as he had too, and I^d love to have another crack at him going fresh into a game.
"He beat me in the 2006 World Matchplay final but I^ve come a long way since then and I^d love to challenge him."
Taylorwas a semi-final loser to Terry Jenkins in Blackpool 12 months ago, but has been the most successful player in the tournament^s history, with his eight titles including five in a row from 2000-2004.
"It^s been a successful venue for and it^s my favourite venue as well," said Taylor, who meets Steve Beaton on Monday night.
"The atmosphere is superb and it^s got lots of special memories - and hopefully I can create some more this week.
"It was disappointing to lose in the semis last year but I^ve put that behind me now.
"This year has a lot better so far, and it^s all down to hard work and dedication. Even on holiday in Los Angeles after winning Las Vegas I was practising every day because I know I have to."
Taylor, who stayed with Stoke-born pop star Robbie Williams in Los Angeles, has been practising ahead of the event with Mark Frost, a qualifier from Stoke making his debut in the World Matchplay this week against van Barneveld.
"I^ve seen potential in Mark for years, but with working and having a family it^s been difficult for him to break through on the professional scene," added Taylor.
"But if Mark takes onto stage the game he practises he has a very good chance against Raymond."
Van Barneveld is determined to get his year back on track, having lost in the semi-finals of the Premier League and also failed in his bid to defend his titles at the UK Open and Las Vegas Desert Classic.
"I am very motivated to show what I am capable of," said van Barneveld. "So far this year hasn^t brought me the success I had in 2007 but it^s not over yet.
"In 2007, the first six months were the most successful ones and hopefully this year it will be the last six months.
"Since the UK Open I^ve been working hard to improve my ^darts fitness^ - I^ve had a tough practice regime and been doing two long sessions a day as well as going to the gym."
The Dutchman made his World Matchplay debut 12 months ago, losing in the quarter-finals to Adrian Lewis, but added: "It^s one of the greatest tournaments we have.
"There are lots of enthusiastic fans and it^s held in a beautiful venue, and every player wants to be involved.
"I^ll have to start well because Mark Frost is a very good player. He^s shown that on the PDC circuit this year and done well to qualify, so I can^t under-estimate him."
The opening night, live on Sky Sports from 7pm on Sunday, features three games, including 2005 champion Colin Lloyd taking on Mark Walsh, and a fourth meeting in five years at the World Matchplay between Wayne Mardle and Mark Dudbridge.
Dudbridge took victory en route to the final in 2004, but Mardle has won their last two encounters, including a 10-7 win in the first round 12 months ago.
"We seem to bring out the best in each other, and he plays well in Blackpool," said Mardle. "I think it^s a place where we both feel comfortable and I^m hoping it^s going to be a good game."
Mardle has lost in his first game at both the UK Open and Las Vegas Desert Classic this summer, and added: "I^ve just got to tighten my game up and focus a bit more.
"When I lost to Adrian Lewis in the UK Open I played well but missed a shot to win it, and when Adrian Gray beat me in Las Vegas, I didn^t play particularly well but I still had a few chances."
Tickets are still available for the Stan James World Matchplay, visit the Winter Gardens Box Office for more details or call 0844 856 1111.
All sessions are screened live in the UK on Sky Sports.
2008 Stan James World Matchplay Schedule of Play
Sunday 20 July
First Round - Best of 19 legs
Colin Lloyd v Mark Walsh
Wayne Mardle v Mark Dudbridge
Colin Osborne v Mervyn King
Monday 21 July
Dennis Priestley v Adrian Gray
Kevin Painter v Tony Eccles
Roland Scholten v Matt Clark
Terry Jenkins v Alex Roy
John Part v Chris Mason
Adrian Lewis v Kevin McDine
Phil Taylor v Steve Beaton
Raymond van Barneveld v Mark Frost
Tuesday 22 July
Ronnie Baxter v Andy Smith
Alan Tabern v Vincent van der Voort
Andy Hamilton v Michael van Gerwen
Peter Manley v Denis Ovens
James Wade v Wayne Jones
Second Round - Best of 25 legs
Taylor/Beaton v Osborne/King
Lewis/McDine v Lloyd/Walsh
Wednesday 23 July
Jenkins/Roy v Priestley/Gray
Part/Mason v Tabern/van der Voort
Hamilton/van Gerwen v Mardle/Dudbridge
Scholten/Clark v Manley/Ovens
Van Barneveld/Frost v Painter/Eccles
Wade/Jones v Baxter/Smith
Thursday 24 July
Quarter-Finals - Best of 31 legs
Jenkins/Roy/Priestley/Gray v Part/Mason/Tabern/van der Voort
Scholten/Clark/Manley/Ovens v Wade/Jones/Baxter/Smith
Van Barneveld/Frost/Painter/Eccles v Hamilton/van Gerwen/Mardle/Dudbridge
Taylor/Beaton/Osborne/King v Lewis/McDine/Lloyd/Walsh
Friday 25 July
Semi-Finals - Best of 33 legs
Saturday 26 July
Final - Best of 35 legs