Grand Slam of Darts - Taylor chasing Wolves Hat-trick
THE 2009 Grand Slam of Darts begins on Saturday night, as 32 stars of the sport battle for the £100,000 title at the Wolverhampton Civic.
Below are the thoughts of Dave Allen, PDC Media Officer:
Reigning champion Phil Taylor (4/9 outright - 1/14 Group A) is bidding to claim a third successive title in the ITV-televised event, which begins with a group phase featuring eight four-player pools.
Taylor will come up against Anastasia Dobromyslova (500/1 outright - 100/1 Group A), the Russian former Women's World Champion, in Saturday night's opening games, with former BDO World Champion Mark Webster (100/1 - 11/1) and Holland's Vincent van der Voort (66/1 - 10/1) also in Group A.
Dobromyslova took Wayne Mardle to a deciding leg last year, and has claimed a number of notable male scalps since joining the PDC circuit last Christmas.
"I haven't done as well as I wanted to, but I've done better than most people expected me to," said the 25-year-old. "I'm quite pleased and I think I'm a better player than last year."
And she admits that facing Taylor, a close friend, will hold no fear in their opening group game.
"I was looking forward to it anyway but especially so since the draw was made and I saw my group," she added. "Phil has looked after me and we've had a few exhibitions together and practiced together too.
"I think it's best that I'm playing him first, because with him being such a good player it will give me a lot of experience straight away and I'll be ready for the other matches too."
Taylor has been imperious in the previous two Grand Slams, and has also claimed every major ranking PDC title for the past year.
"It's a fantastic tournament and I'd love to make it three titles," said Taylor. "Everyone in the tournament is a champion in their own right or has been successful so it's a great field of players.
"The group stage is tough because the games are so short, and playing Anastasia first will be hard. She's done well and is improving all the time, but I'm looking forward to it."
Five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld (10/1 outright - 1/2 Group D), the PDC world number two, takes on the other female in the field, current Women's World Champion Francis Hoenselaar (500/1 - 150/1), on Saturday evening.
He was drawn in a tough Group D, which also features Canada's three-time World Champion John Part (66/1 - 7/2) and Kevin Painter (66/1 - 10/3), the 2004 PDC World Championship finalist.
Number eight seed Tony O'Shea (66/1 outright - 9/4 Group B) meets Brian Woods (150/1 - 13/2) in Group B, which also features Grand Slam debutant Colin Osborne (33/1 - 13/8) and former World Matchplay winner Colin Lloyd (50/1 - 9/4).
Group C's opening games see Mervyn King (25/1 outright - 4/7 Group C), the number five seed and a semi-finalist in the 2008 Grand Slam, take on Birmingham-based Kirk Shepherd (250/1 - 9/1) and Darryl Fitton (66/1 - 11/4) meet Steve Maish (150/1 - 7/1), the ITV Wildcard Qualifier.
BDO World Champion Ted Hankey (66/1 outright - 11/4 Group E), the number two seed, has been drawn in a tough Group E, alongside Australian Simon Whitlock (50/1 - 21/10), Wayne 'Hawaii 501' Mardle (100/1 - 10/3) and Yorkshire's Scott Waites (66/1 - 9/4).
The Telford-based star, nicknamed The Count, defeated Tony O'Shea to win his second World Championship in January, and is making his Grand Slam debut against Waites on Sunday afternoon in their opening game.
"I've watched the Grand Slam in previous years and it's been entertaining," he said. ""I'm happy with my group but would have been happy with any other group.
"I just want to be there and show people how good I am.
"I don't like the short games though. I've got to dig in straight away and hopefully get through the group to the longer games, which suit me better."
The other three groups will also kick off on Sunday, including 2008 Grand Slam runner-up Terry Jenkins (25/1 outright - 11/8 Group G), who faces Denis Ovens (150/1 - 5/1) in their Group G opener.
Stoke's Adrian Lewis (25/1 - 11/8) and American Darin Young (200/1 - 8/1) complete that group, while number three seed James Wade (8/1 outright - 10/11 Group H) will be looking to enjoy further success in Wolverhampton as he heads Group H.
The left-hander hit a nine-darter in the 2008 Grand Slam, although he later lost to Gary Anderson, and is paired with American Gary Mawson (250/1 - 14/1) for his opening game, with Robert Thornton (50/1 - 7/2) and Andy Hamilton (40/1 - 11/5) also clashing.
Anderson (10/1 outright - 4/5 Group F) is seeded seven for the seven and takes on 2007 semi-finalist Kevin McDine (100/1 - 13/2) in Group F, with in-form Steve Beaton (40/1 - 11/4) - the recent European Championship runner-up, meeting Co Stompe (80/1 - 5/1).
The top two players from each group will progress to the knockout second round, with a potential "Nine-Dart Shoot-Out" awaiting players tied on both points and leg difference in a group.
The knockout phase will be played in a bracket format, giving a potential final of the two current World Champions, Taylor and Hankey, on Sunday November 22.
Tickets for the tournament are still available for some sessions, and can be purchased from the Wolves Civic Box Office on 0870 320 7000 or via www.wolvescivic.co.uk.