The curtain is raised on the new PDC Darts season with The Masters in Milton Keynes as Michael van Gerwen looks to make it six of the best.
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The elite invitational event features the world’s top 16 ranked players battling it out from January 31 to February 2 at the Marshall Arena for £200,000 in prize money.
For half of the field, this tournament presents a timely warm-up for the new Premier League campaign, which kicks off in Aberdeen next Thursday.
Van Gerwen has made The Masters his own in recent years, winning the title on five consecutive occasions to go unbeaten in 20 matches since the event moved to MK in 2015.
After his heartache in the World Championship final on New Year’s Day, MVG will be determined to return to winning ways at the first time of asking and extend his stranglehold on this trophy.
The Dutchman marked a new chapter in his glittering career just 24 hours after that defeat at Ally Pally when he signed a new deal with Winmau, meaning he is likely to use his new setup for the first time i televised competition this weekend.
Van Gerwen is situated in the top half of the draw as number one seed and starts out against Welshman Jonny Clayton for the second year running, having eased to a 10-5 victory last time out.
A repeat performance would see him through to face either Nathan Aspinall or James Wade, having beaten ‘The Asp’ in the Semi-Finals of the World Championship and having lost just two of his last 21 meetings with Wade.
Rob Cross looks to be MVG’s most likely Semi-Final opponent, though Michael Smith, Mensur Suljovic and Adrian Lewis could all have a say, but as the format increases, the green machine so often makes a habit of going through the gears.
The opposite half of the draw houses Mighty Mike’s Ally Pally nemesis Peter Wright – who will carry the added expectation of being World Champion for the first time.
Gary Anderson could be on course to face Gerwyn Price in the Quarter-Finals, and with the Scot having not threatened a TV title for over a year, form favours ‘The Ice Man’ to do another number on his rival.
Price has never been beyond the Quarter-Final stage of this event, but expect him to mount a strong challenge this time around, and he looks to offer the most solid each-way value at 13/2.
However, with MVG hungry for redemption and taking into account his dominant record in this competition, expect him to hit the ground running and secure the first available silverware of the season once again.
Preview courtesy of Jamie Shaw from Live Darts