2016 Grand Slam of Darts – Group Stage Preview
One of the most eagerly awaited darting tournaments of the year starts on Saturday with the 10th staging of the Grand Slam of Darts. It’s a tournament where players from the PDC mix with players from the BDO, so it always possesses extra intrigue.
As usual the field consists of 32 players who are split into 8 groups of 4 players, the group matches are played over a short format of first to 5 legs and the top 2 from each group will progress through to the last 16, the tournament is a straight knockout from that stage onwards.
Here’s a look at the groups (along with some stats).
Groups A to D
Groups E to H
Now my previews for each group
Michael van Gerwen (PDC Number 1)
Defending Grand Slam of Darts champion Michael van Gerwen has won his group at this tournament in each of the last 5 years and hasn’t been defeated in the group stage since losing to Mark Walsh in 2015. He has won 23 tournaments during 2016 alone and enters the tournament having won TV tournaments in consecutive weekends at the European Championship and World Series of Darts Finals.
Brendan Dolan (PDC Number 25)
Dolan is returning to the Grand Slam for the 4th time having previously competed in 2011, 2012 and 2014. His best performance at the tournament came in 2012 when he qualified from his group before losing to John Part in the Last 16. In his other two appearances combined he won just 1 of 6 group matches. Dolan has slipped down the PDC rankings over the past year having previously been ranked in the top 16. He has failed to reach the quarter-final of a singles tournament since September 2015.
Max Hopp (PDC Number 38)
Hopp is making his Grand Slam of Darts debut at this year’s tournament. He won the PDC World Youth Championship last December thus earning qualification for this event. His best performances on the PDC tour this season so far have been two quarter-final appearances.
Martin Adams (BDO Number 5)
Three time BDO World Champion Martin Adams returns to the Grand Slam for the second consecutive year. He previously turned down the chance to participate at the Grand Slam on many occasions before making a very popular decision to compete last year, he went on to finish top of a group containing Jelle Klaasen, Ian White and Steve Beaton (Adams won all 3 matches), before losing on a last leg decider in the Last 16 to Kim Huybrechts. Adams is currently battling prostate cancer and has played with a more limited schedule in the last few months.
I fully expect van Gerwen to finish top of the group leaving the other three players to battle it out for second place. Adams certainly has the calibre to join van Gerwen in the knockout rounds and if he turns up playing to a similar level that he did last year then he will make it through, there is always the question mark over how much his ongoing treatment will affect his performance and he hasn’t been playing as much competitive darts recently but I’m going for van Gerwen and Adams to progress.
Robert Thornton (PDC Number 8)
Runner-up at the Grand Slam in 2013, Thornton has competed at the Grand Slam on 7 previous occasions and has only once failed to qualify from his group. Last year he finished the group stage with 3 wins out of 3 in a group containing Terry Jenkins, Geert de Vos and Jonny Clayton, he then reached the quarter-finals where he lost to Phil Taylor. Although Thornton is ranked in the top 8 of the PDC ranking he has only reached one ranking quarter-final during this season.
Gerwyn Price (PDC Number 20)
Price is making his debut at the tournament having qualified courtesy of winning 2 ProTour ranking tournaments during this season. Both of the tournament wins came during May, but since then he has failed to make it past the quarter-final stage in a ranking tournament. His best run in a TV tournament came at the 2015 World Matchplay when he reached the quarter-finals.
Dimitri Van den Bergh (PDC Number 56)
Van den Bergh is another Grand Slam debutant. He came through the PDC Grand Slam of Darts qualifying tournament where he defeated Joe Murnan, Paul Milford, Ryan Palmer and Michael Mansell to win a spot in the tournament. On the PDC tour this season he reached the semi-finals of a Players Championship tournament in September. He has limited experience in big TV tournaments but did defeat Ian White on his World Championship debut last December.
Scott Waites (BDO Number 7)
After an absence in 2015 the current BDO World Champion Scott Waites returns to the tournament for the 8th time, he was the winner of this tournament in 2010 when he defeated James Wade in the final having lost the previous year in the final to Phil Taylor. He has qualified from his group in 4 of the 7 years he has competed at the Grand Slam and has won his group 3 times. Waites has wins against Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis, Gary Anderson, James Wade and Raymond van Barneveld on his record at this tournament.
It’s a group in which I genuinely give three players a chance of winning. Scott Waites has some very good experiences at this tournament to draw upon and as mentioned above he has some very good scalps on his record. Gerwyn Price has made good strides in the last couple of years and is gaining a lot of experience on the big TV stage. Robert Thornton is the seeded player in the group but hasn’t been playing well since reaching the quarter-finals here last year, as indifferent as Thornton has been he still has the potential to beat the other players in the group and he certainly can’t be written out of contention. It’s great experience for Dmitri Van den Bergh just to be in the tournament but I would be very surprised if he was in contention for a place in the knockout rounds. I’m leaning towards Thornton and Waites to progress but in no way would I rule Price out of having a good chance to take one of the spots.
Peter Wright (PDC Number 5)
Peter Wright is competing at this tournament for only the 4th time having had to wait until 2013 to make his Grand Slam debut; He failed to qualify from a strong group containing Gary Anderson and James Wade on his debut year but in each of the last 2 years he has qualified for the knockout rounds, he has yet to win a knockout round match though having exited to Taylor in 2014 and Adrian Lewis in 2015. Wright had an excellent run to the final of the World Series of Darts Finals last weekend and lost in the semi-finals at the European Championship the week before.
Simon Whitlock (PDC Number 18)
Whitlock missed out on qualification for the Grand Slam last year but is returning this year for his 7th appearance at the tournament. He has finished as a group winner on 3 occasions but failed to qualify the other 3 times. Overall he has failed to qualify from the group stage in 3 of his last 4 Grand Slam appearances. Whitlock has 2 ranking tournament wins to his name since the start of October and is arguably playing his best darts for over 2 years.
Ted Evetts (PDC Number 109)
Evetts will be making his Grand Slam debut and also his debut in a big PDC TV tournament. He qualified through the PDC Wild Card qualifiers defeating Jonny Clayton, Gerwyn Price, Jeffrey de Graaf and Mike Zuydwijk having only dropped 3 legs in those 4 matches combined. Teenager Evetts only joined the PDC circuit this year and has yet to reach the Last 16 stage of a PDC ranking tournament.
Jeff Smith (BDO Number 30)
2016 BDO World Championship runner-up Jeff Smith will be making his debut at the Grand Slam. He also reached the semi-finals of the BDO World Championships in 2015. Smith plays the majority of his darts on the North American circuit hence his lower BDO ranking; he is ranked number 8 in the WDF rankings.
Wright and Whitlock are the two favourites to go through and it is hard to argue with the bookies opinion of that, Wright comes into the tournament having had an excellent run at the World Series Finals last weekend and as mentioned previously Whitlock has rediscovered his form and confidence. Smith will relish the challenge and won’t mind being the underdog as he has shown at the BDO World Championships over the past couple of years he is comfortable on the big stage but he will have to take his scoring up a notch if he is to get chances against Wright and Whitlock. Evetts is still very much in formative stages of his darting career and its unknown how he will settle, it would be a big shock if he qualified. I think it’ll be Wright and Whitlock moving through to the Last 16.
Phil Taylor (PDC Number 4)
Phil Taylor is a 6 time winner of the Grand Slam and has never failed to qualify from his group in all 9 previous years of the tournament. Overall Taylor has won his group 7 times and has only ever lost 4 group matches from 27 played. The last time he lost a group match at the Grand Slam was in 2012.
Ian White (PDC Number 12)
White is playing at the Grand Slam for the 3rd time and will be aiming to get through to the knockout rounds for the 1st time having finished in 3rd place in his 2 previous appearances. His only two wins at the tournament came against van Barneveld in 2011 and Klaasen in 2015. White qualified for this year’s Grand Slam courtesy of winning 3 ProTour tournaments during 2016.
Darren Webster (PDC Number 40)
This will be the 2nd appearance at the Grand Slam for Darren Webster having previously qualified in 2014 when he finished winless at bottom of his group containing van Gerwen, Kim Huybrechts and Jan Dekker. To qualify for this year’s Grand Slam he came through the Wild Card qualifiers where he defeated Mark Webster, Berry van Peer (2016 World Youth finalist) and Jelle Klaasen. He has reached 2 ranking semi-finals during 2016; the most recent was in September.
Darryl Fitton (BDO Number 10)
Fitton has competed at the Grand Slam 3 times previously but this is his first visit to the tournament since 2010. On his debut in 2008 he reached the quarter-finals before falling to Gary Anderson, in each of the next 2 years he failed to make it out of his group. Fitton qualified for this years Grand Slam by winning the BDO World Trophy in May.
Phil Taylor is the obvious favourite in this group and I expect him make it through to the knockout rounds as the winner. Ian White is the player most likely to join Taylor in the last 16, on the negative side for White is that he hasn’t qualified from his group at the tournament previously and despite his undoubted talent can be inconsistent. Darren Webster can be a tricky opponent but also is a little too erratic. Fitton still has quality as he showed when winning the World Trophy but he doesn’t play to the same consistency he did when reached the quarter-finals here in 2008. It’s Taylor and White to qualify in my opinion.
Gary Anderson (PDC Number 2)
Current back to back PDC World Champion Gary Anderson has appeared in all 9 previous editions of the Grand Slam and has never failed to reach the knockout rounds. He is a former finalist (2011) and reached the semi-finals in both 2007 and 2008, but has failed to win a knockout round match at this tournament since 2011. Anderson has finished top of his group in 4 out of 9 years and has only twice managed to win all 3 of his matches (he won all 3 games in 2009 and 2015). The only group matches he has lost since 2011 have been against Adrian Lewis and James Wade.
Alan Norris (PDC Number 22)
Former BDO World finalist Alan Norris returns to the Grand Slam for the second time, having made his debut in 2014 when he qualified at the top of a group containing Scott Waites, Terry Jenkins and Ronny Huybrechts. He went on to lose in the Last 16 to Kim Huybrechts. Norris has made excellent progress up the PDC rankings since switching in early 2015 and won his 2nd PDC ranking tournament only last month.
Nathan Derry (PDC Number 82)
Derry is a Grand Slam debutant and earned qualification through the PDC wild card qualifying event where he defeated Jeff Batham, Dennis Smith, Johnny Haines and Scott Taylor to win a place in this tournament. Prior to the Grand Slam qualifying tournament he had lost 16 of his last 18 matches on the PDC circuit. Derry has qualified for the UK Open finals 3 times and just lost out 9-8 to Mervyn King in the Last 32 in 2015 but in the other 2 years he lost in his opening match.
Glen Durrant (BDO Number 1)
Current BDO number one Glen Durrant is making his first appearance at the Grand Slam of Darts; he won the Winmau World Masters in 2015 which should have seen him make his debut last year but the qualification criteria meant he had to wait until this year. Durrant is a prolific tournament winner and has won 17 tournaments over the past couple of years alone. This isn’t the first time Durrant has appeared in a PDC ranking tournament, he appeared at the UK Open finals 3 times previously (2005, 2009 and 2012).
Gary Anderson, Glen Durrant and Alan Norris will be fighting it out for the two qualifying places in what should be an intriguing battle. Anderson has stated how he likes the tournament and venue and as mentioned he has never failed to progress from his group, despite some indifferent performances in his last 2 TV tournaments I expect him to be switched on and to keep his 100% qualification record intact. The key tussle is likely to be the match between Norris and Durrant, it’s the first time for Durrant at the tournament and he will be desperate to make an impact, he’s a quality player who is used to winning matches so confidence shouldn’t really be an issue. Norris has proven his ability both before and since switching to the PDC and is certainly capable of qualifying if he plays to his potential. I think it’s a very tough call but I’ll go for Durrant to join Anderson in the knockout rounds.
Mensur Suljovic (PDC Number 7)
Suljovic is making his Grand Slam debut at this years tournament. He has risen up to 7th place in the PDC rankings courtesy of a very impressive last couple of years. In September he won his first PDC ranking tournament and only a couple of weeks ago at the European Championship he made it through to his first PDC TV ranking final having defeated Phil Taylor and Peter Wright in consecutive matches before losing to Michael van Gerwen.
Raymond van Barneveld (PDC Number 14)
Five times World Champion Raymond van Barneveld is an ever present at the Grand Slam of Darts and won the tournament in 2012. Barney has progressed from the group stage in 7 of the 9 years he has competed at the tournament and in only 1 of those 9 years has he failed to win 2 group matches.
Nathan Aspinall (PDC Number 74)
Aspinall is making his Grand Slam debut having qualified due to reaching the 2015 PDC World Youth final where he narrowly missed out in the final to Max Hopp. His best performance during 2016 was in reaching the quarter-finals of a Players Championship tournament in April but he enters the tournament having lost 12 of his last 14 matches on the PDC tour.
Danny Noppert (BDO Number 3)
Noppert is also making his Grand Slam debut, he qualified through his BDO ranking, he is currently ranked 3rd in the BDO on the back of a very consistent year. Noppert has yet to make his World Championship debut but has reached the quarter-finals at the both World Masters and the World Trophy.
Mensur Suljovic and Raymond van Barneveld start as the rightful favourites in this group. Suljovic has been so consistent over the past couple of years and I think it would be a big surprise if he didn’t qualify. Van Barneveld has a lot of experience of this tournament and the fact he has only once failed to register two wins in a group suggests he knows what it takes to get through, Barney hasn’t played a lot of ranking events this year and still has a lot more quality than his ranking suggests. Noppert has plenty of potential, I think he will leave a good impression on the tournament but I don’t think he is at the level yet that will see him finish above Suljovic and van Barneveld. For Aspinall to just qualify for the tournament is a big achievement and will give him valuable ranking money but it will be a huge task for him to finish above 4th place.
James Wade (PDC Number 6)
Wade is a former Grand Slam finalist and has appeared in all 9 previous years of the tournament; he has qualified from his group in 8 of the 9 years and has finished as the group winner in 5 of those years. In total he has only lost 6 of his 27 group matches at the Grand Slam.
Dave Chisnall (PDC Number 9)
Chisnall is another former Grand Slam finalist having reached the final in 2014. Prior to 2014 he had failed to qualify for the knockout rounds in 3 years of competing at the tournament and had won only 2 of 9 group matches played in those 3 years. He has now qualified from his group in 2 consecutive years.
James Wilson (PDC Number 36)
Wilson is making his debut at the Grand Slam in 2016; he earned qualification through the PDC wild card qualifiers where he defeated Wes Newton, Daryl Gurney and Terry Jenkins along the way. He is a former BDO number 1 who switched to the PDC in early 2015 and is now closing in on a place in the top 32 of the PDC rankings. Wilson is a former winner of the BDO World Trophy and also reached the World Masters final during his time in the BDO.
Jamie Hughes (BDO Number 4)
Jamie Hughes will also be making his Grand Slam debut at this years tournament. He has produced some excellent performances on the BDO circuit over the past couple of years resulting in him rising up the rankings. He reached the World Masters final in 2014 and he had runs to the semi-finals at both the BDO World Championships and the BDO World Trophy earlier this year. This is a local tournament for Hughes as he hails from nearby Tipton.
On paper this is the toughest group of all 8 and whoever comes through will have certainly earned the place in the knockout rounds. Both Wade and Chisnall have good experience of this tournament and are the favourites to go through, they are both more proven performers than Wilson and Hughes. It would be folly to dismiss Wilson and Hughes completely from the equation though as they are both quality players who will push Wade and Chisnall all the way. I reckon that Wade and Chisnall will both go through but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if either Wilson or Hughes claimed one of the spots.
Adrian Lewis (PDC Number 3)
Lewis has featured in all 9 previous years at the Grand Slam; he has reached the semi-finals twice and lost in the quarter-finals last year. Lewis doesn’t have a good group stage record however as he has failed to qualify from his group 5 times and has finished bottom of his group 3 times.
Benito van de Pas (PDC Number 15)
Benito van de Pas is making his Grand Slam of Darts debut; he qualified on the back of winning 3 tournaments on the PDC tour during this season and has now broken through in the top 16 in the PDC rankings. Still only 23 years old he has already competed at 5 World Championship tournaments (3 in the BDO and 2 in the PDC).
Chris Dobey (PDC Number 54)
Dobey is another Grand Slam debutant; he earned qualification through the PDC wild card qualifiers where he defeated former Grand Slam competitors Steve Beaton and Rowby-John Rodriguez on the way. Dobey recently reached his first PDC ranking final; during that tournament he claimed the scalps of Adrian Lewis, Stephen Bunting and Dave Chisnall before losing to Simon Whitlock.
Scott Mitchell (BDO Number 2)
2015 BDO World Champion Scott Mitchell is returning to the Grand Slam for the 2nd time having made his debut at last years tournament where he finished bottom of a strong group containing Peter Wright, Dave Chisnall and Mervyn King. Last year Mitchell lost to Wright and King before beating Chisnall in his final match.
The group favourite Adrian Lewis has had his problems in the group stage at the Grand Slam previously and can’t afford any slipups against some tricky opposition if he is to progress. Van de Pas has made huge strides on the PDC tour especially away from the TV tournaments and although he hasn’t shown his best game on TV yet it is only a matter of time before he does. Mitchell will have benefitted from his experience of playing in this tournament last year when he played a lot better than he results suggested. Dobey is very much an up and coming player who will continue to rise up the rankings; he’s had some good results on the tour and is a dangerous outsider. It’s Lewis and van de Pas to just qualify in my opinion, from what should be a good quality set of matches.
Finally the schedule for the group matches is as follows.
Saturday November 12
Afternoon Session (1pm)
Groups B-C-F-G First Matches
Gerwyn Price v Dimitri Van den Bergh (B)
Simon Whitlock v Ted Evetts (C)
Dave Chisnall v James Wilson (G)
Mensur Suljovic v Danny Noppert (F)
Robert Thornton v Scott Waites (B)
Raymond van Barneveld v Nathan Aspinall (F)
James Wade v Jamie Hughes (G)
Peter Wright v Jeff Smith (C)
Evening Session (7.30pm)
Groups A-D-E-H First Matches
Brendan Dolan v Max Hopp (A)
Alan Norris v Nathan Derry (E)
Ian White v Darren Webster (D)
Benito van de Pas v Chris Dobey (H)
Phil Taylor v Darryl Fitton (D)
Gary Anderson v Glen Durrant (E)
Michael van Gerwen v Martin Adams (A)
Adrian Lewis v Scott Mitchell (H)
Sunday November 13
Afternoon Session (1pm)
Groups B-C-F-G Second Matches
Saturday’s Loser v Loser & Winner v Winner face each other
Order of play TBC
Evening Session (7pm)
Groups A-D-E-H Second Matches
Saturday’s Loser v Loser & Winner v Winner face each other
Order of play TBC
Monday November 14 (7pm)
Groups A-D-E-H Final Games
Order of play TBC
Tuesday November 15 (7pm)
Groups B-C-F-G Final Games
Order of play TBC