Barney Out to Complete William Hill Grand Slam of Darts Double
The 2013 William Hill Grand Slam of Darts kicks off at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall, as Raymond van Barneveld begins his bid to retain the cross-code title over the next nine days.
Van Barneveld ended a five-year gap between major individual titles when he took victory at the Wolves Civic last year, overcoming Dutch rival Michael van Gerwen 16-14 in a thrilling final.
Barring a Pairs triumph alongside Co Stompe in the 2010 PDC World Cup of Darts, the win was van Barneveld's first televised victory since the 2007 Las Vegas Desert Classic, and came despite the five-time World Champion considering withdrawing from the event due to his form last year.
He has since reached major televised semi-finals in the World Championship, Premier League, UK Open and at The Masters last week, and is in confident mood ahead of Saturday's Group E opener with Ricky Evans.
"I'm going to approach this tournament the same as I did last year, play without pressure and see how far I go," said the 46-year-old. "It was a fantastic feeling to win a major tournament again after all those years.
"Confidence is very important in this game. You only have to look at last year when I won the Grand Slam.
"This time last year I didn't want to come and play in the Grand Slam of Darts. I was not in any kind of form and I had to be talked into it by a good friend, and I went on to win the whole thing, which shows how everything can change with one tournament.
"That gave me belief in myself again and I haven't done too badly since then."
Van Barneveld will also face former Lakeside Championship finalists Mervyn King and Tony O'Shea in Group E during the round-robin stage of the tournament.
Four-time Grand Slam of Darts champion Phil Taylor, the reigning PDC World Champion, opens his campaign against Stuart Kellett on Saturday and will also play former Players Championship Finals winners Kevin Painter and Paul Nicholson in Group A.
Taylor was knocked out in Wolverhampton by van Gerwen in the second round 12 months ago, but won The Masters in Edinburgh last week to claim a sixth televised title of 2013.
"I didn't do very well in the Grand Slam last year so I'll be after it," said Stoke legend Taylor. "It's a tough group and because it's a short format, the first to five legs, I know I'll have to be on my game from the start.
"This is one of the best tournaments you can play in because you've got the best of both sides. Everyone wants to prove a point and win it and I'm no different.
"I've done alright this year - but I think I can improve a little bit towards the World Championship and that's what I want to do, starting in Wolverhampton."
Scott Waites, the 2010 Grand Slam of Darts champion and reigning Lakeside Champion, heads the contingent of BDO players in the tournament, and will face World Grand Prix finalist Dave Chisnall, World Youth Champion Michael Smith and two-time World Champion Ted Hankey in Group H.
2012 Lakeside Champion Christian Kist and emerging star Richie George, a semi-finalist at Lakeside in January, will clash in Group C alongside reigning European Champion Adrian Lewis and Belgian ace Ronny Huybrechts.
Huybrechts' younger brother Kim, who won two PDC ranking events during October, is drawn in Group D alongside Premier League Darts champion van Gerwen, Dutch ace Vincent van der Voort and Dean Winstanley, a semi-finalist in Wolverhampton last year.
Australian ace Simon Whitlock heads up Group G alongside two-time major finalist Wes Newton, former Lakeside Champion Mark Webster and emerging Ross Smith, the Challenge Tour Order of Merit winner who faces the world number four on Saturday.
Whitlock had won his first two group games last year, but was knocked out on leg difference after going down 5-1 to Winstanley in his third match, and is determined to improve on that this week.
"Every group looks a tough one and mine is no different," said Whitlock. "It's a fantastic tournament and always a brilliant atmosphere in Wolverhampton so I'm determined to have a good run.
"I'm going to go all out to win all three matches and then there is no danger of leg difference going against me.
"Last year was hugely disappointing but taught me a lesson that, even if you win your first two matches, you can take nothing for granted in terms of qualifying. Every leg is absolutely vital."
2007 Grand Slam of Darts finalist Andy Hamilton, who reached the UK Open final in June, opens up in Group F against Wildcard Qualifier Justin Pipe, who turns 42 on Saturday, while former UK Open champion Robert Thornton meets 2011 Wolverhampton semi-finalist Mark Walsh.
Two other former Grand Slam of Darts finalists, number eight seed James Wade and Gary Anderson, were paired in Group B, and meet Peter Wright and Holland's Wesley Harms respectively in their openers.
Taylor enters the tournament as the 5/4 favourite with sponsors William Hill, with van Gerwen the 4/1 second favourite, Adrian Lewis 9/1 to lift a fourth major title and van Barneveld 10/1 to retain his crown, while Waites is 40/1 to win his second Grand Slam of Darts title.
Groups E-H will play their round-robin games on Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon and on Monday evening at the Wolves Civic, with Groups A-D playing on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday nights.
The top two players from each group progress to the knockout phase from the last 16 onwards, with the second round being split across Wednesday and Thursday nights.
The quarter-finals will be held on Friday and Saturday evening, with the tournament coming to a conclusion with the semi-finals and final across two sessions on Sunday November 17.
Tickets are still available for some sessions. To purchase, please call the Wolves Civic Box Office on 0870 320 7000 or visit www.wolvescivic.co.uk.
William Hill Grand Slam of Darts
Saturday November 9
Afternoon Session (1pm-5pm)
Robert Thornton v Mark Walsh (F)
Andy Hamilton v Justin Pipe (F)
Scott Waites v Ted Hankey (H)
Dave Chisnall v Michael Smith (H)
Wes Newton v Mark Webster (G)
Simon Whitlock v Ross Smith (G)
Mervyn King v Tony O'Shea (E)
Raymond van Barneveld v Ricky Evans (E)
Evening Session (7pm-11pm)
Gary Anderson v Wesley Harms (B)
James Wade v Peter Wright (B)
Christian Kist v Ronny Huybrechts (C)
Adrian Lewis v Richie George (C)
Kevin Painter v Paul Nicholson (A)
Phil Taylor v Stuart Kellett (A)
Michael van Gerwen v Vincent van der Voort (D)
Kim Huybrechts v Dean Winstanley (D)