William Hill Grand Slam of Darts preview
THE William Hill Grand Slam of Darts will kick off on Saturday as the biggest names in darts, led by reigning champion Phil Taylor and rival World Champions Adrian Lewis and Christian Kist, contest for the £100,000 title at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall.
The nine-day event sees the 32 players initially split across eight groups of four for the round-robin stage, before the top two from each progress to the knockout phase from the last 16 onwards on Thursday.
Reigning champion Taylor, who defeated Gary Anderson last November to win the title for a fourth time, will kick off his challenge against Dutchman Co Stompe on Saturday night.
He is also drawn with 2010 Grand Slam winner Scott Waites - who Taylor defeated in the 2009 Wolverhampton final - and former World Champion Mark Webster in Group A, and the Stoke legend is determined to retain the title after losing his European Championship and World Grand Prix crowns this autumn.
"I really enjoy the Grand Slam of Darts," he said. "It's a massive tournament and you've got all the champions together under one roof, so to win it's a special achievement.
"I was delighted to get my title back last year and it was a week where my game really came together. I'm feeling good again going into it and I'm happy with my game.
"Winning the Championship League last week was a boost and to play nine games in one day and win them all showed me that my game's coming right.
"You need that endurance when you get to the back end of the Grand Slam because the games get longer and you'd have to play the semi-finals and final in one day, so if I get there I know I'd be able to handle it."
The tournament is the only to see the stars of the PDC and BDO systems collide annually, and Taylor admitted: "There's a few different faces in there with the BDO players, and you don't get to play guys like Scott Waites very often so it's a different challenge.
"I'll play Scott again in the groups and he's done really well since we played a few years ago in the final, winning the Grand Slam and the World Masters, so I'll have to be on top of my game.
"It's important to make a winning start so I'll be putting everything into beating Co. It's only a short format so you need to begin well, especially against a player like Co because he can produce some brilliant darts when you least expect it.
"The last time we played, I was 2-0 up against him and all of a sudden he'd hit a 170 finish and was 3-2 up, so I'll have to make sure I keep my concentration and stay on top of him."
PDC World Champion Lewis was drawn out with former Premier League champion Gary Anderson, three-time World Champion John Part and two-time Lakeside finalist Tony O'Shea in Group E for the event.
He will kick off against O'Shea on Sunday afternoon, and is determined to challenge for the Grand Slam title after failing to reach the semi-finals of a televised major since February.
"I thrive on the big tournaments and I'm putting a lot of hours in practising," said the 27-year-old. "I've got to find a bit more consistency within games - it's no good nearly hitting a nine-darter in one leg and then kicking off the next with a 60.
"I know I can do it and it's just a matter of time - in the Players Championships recently I've been playing well and my game's coming together again."
Lewis could face rival World Champion Kist in the semi-finals should both progress to the last four, and he admits a potential showdown with the Dutchman would be an appealing prospect.
"I'd love to play him and it would be fantastic for me as the current PDC World Champion to play the Lakeside Champion," added Lewis.
"I don't know too much about him to be honest but I saw a lot of him in the Lakeside Championship and he played really well when he won it.
"It would be a great game if it happens - but I'll have to win a few games first!
"I don't look any further than the group stage - you can't afford to do that because it's a short format and you've got to concentrate on every leg. If I can do that, I think I'll be in with a good shout of getting through."
Lewis' opening opponent on Sunday, O'Shea, admits he is relishing being the outsider to progress from Group E.
"I don't think I could have picked a tougher group if I'd tried!" said O'Shea. "I like to be the underdog, and that applies more than ever this year.
"I've known Adrian since he became a teenager, when he was playing for the Cheshire team. We all said years ago that he was going to move on and become a big star, and I can't believe he's only won two major titles so far.
"I know the World Championship's the best event you can win, but I thought he'd have won a few more by now and it wouldn't surprise me if he wins the Grand Slam next week.
"He's a legend already and he's still got so much to look forward to."
O'Shea suffered a second loss in a Lakeside final in January and also reached the World Masters decider in October before losing out to Stephen Bunting, but said: "I still think I've got a big win in me.
"I wasn't really playing my best darts in the World Masters and I still had a sniff of winning it in the final.
"I've changed a few things this year with my diet and going to the gym more, and I feel far better than I did this time last year. I don't know if it will help me during this tournament but I'm really looking forward to it."
Two-time Lakeside Champion Ted Hankey, who was a quarter-finalist last year and moved onto the PDC circuit in January, meets UK Open champion Robert Thornton in their Group B opener.
"I want to win the first game this year," said Telford's Hankey. "Once the first game's out of the way you know the others are going to be tough anyway, so if you get one win under your belt then you can relax a little bit.
"All the groups are tough to be honest, so when the draw came out I said to myself that it doesn't really matter who I play. It's the best of nine legs, and if you play well enough you'll win."
Hankey, nicknamed 'The Count' has often been the boo-boy for fans but found himself being cheered during last year's tournament in Wolverhampton!
"I'm looking forward to being on stage again, being on TV again and in Wolverhampton," he said. "It would be nice this year to see the crowd cheering for me again and singing 'Super Ted'.
"It was cracking last year and I really enjoyed it because the crowd were great to me, and it's one of the reasons I'm looking forward to it so much this year to be honest.
"I had a really good time and hopefully I can have a good run this week too."
The Grand Slam of Darts will kick off on Saturday evening (7pm) with eight matches from Groups A-D, with the clash between reigning Players Championship Finals winner Kevin Painter and former Lakeside finalist Dean Winstanley kicking off the event.
Waites plays Webster before recent World Grand Prix finalist Mervyn King meets Dutchman Jan Dekker.
Thornton plays Hankey before their Group B rivals Michael van Gerwen and Steve Beaton clash, and Taylor then faces Stompe in their Group A opener.
European Champion Simon Whitlock then faces World Youth Champion James Hubbard in Group C, while 2010 runner-up James Wade will end the opening night against Youth Tour Order of Merit winner Arron Monk.
Sunday's afternoon session will feature Groups E-H playing their opening games, with World Cup runner-up Paul Nicholson meeting former World Grand Prix finalist Brendan Dolan in the opening fixture.
World Championship finalist Andy Hamilton then plays Welshman Barries Bates, 2008 Grand Slam runner-up Terry Jenkins meets Dutch debutant Wesley Harms and Raymond van Barneveld meets Mark Walsh - a semi-finalist in Wolverhampton last year.
Lewis then meets O'Shea before a Group E double-header sees Anderson play Part before Lakeside Champion Kist plays home favourite Wayne Jones on his Wolverhampton debut.
Number six seed Wes Newton then plays Welsh left-hander Martin Phillips in the afternoon's final game, with Sunday's evening session seeing Groups A-D return for their second matches, with Saturday's winners facing each other and the losing players also clashing.
The round-robin phase continues on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before the top two players from each group progress to the knockout stages, with the second round being split across Thursday and Friday.
The quarter-finals will be held across two sessions next Saturday, with the semi-finals on Sunday afternoon and the final being played on Sunday evening.
Tickets for the William Hill Grand Slam of Darts are still available from the Wolves Civic Box Office on 0870 320 7000, via www.wolvescivic.co.uk or by visiting the Queen Square Box Office in Wolverhampton.
William Hill Grand Slam of Darts
Schedule of Play
Saturday November 10
Groups A-D First Games
Kevin Painter v Dean Winstanley (C)
Scott Waites v Mark Webster (A)
Jan Dekker v Mervyn King (D)
Robert Thornton v Ted Hankey (B)
Michael van Gerwen v Steve Beaton (B)
Phil Taylor v Co Stompe (A)
Simon Whitlock v James Hubbard (C)
James Wade v Arron Monk (D)
Sunday November 11
Afternoon Session (1pm-5pm)
Groups E-H First Games
Paul Nicholson v Brendan Dolan (F)
Andy Hamilton v Barrie Bates (F)
Terry Jenkins v Wesley Harms (G)
Raymond van Barneveld v Mark Walsh (H)
Adrian Lewis v Tony O'Shea (E)
Gary Anderson v John Part (E)
Christian Kist v Wayne Jones (H)
Wes Newton v Martin Phillips (G)
The order of games for all sessions below will be announced at www.pdc.tv throughout the event.
Evening Session - 7pm-11pm
Groups A-D Second Games
The winners of Saturday's games will play each other, and the losers will play each other.
Monday November 12
Groups E-H Second Games
The winners of Sunday afternoon's games will play each other, and the losers will play each other.
Tuesday November 13
Groups A-D Final Games
Wednesday November 14
Groups E-H Final Games
Thursday November 15
Winner A v Runner-Up B
Winner B v Runner-Up A
Winner C v Runner-Up D
Winner D v Runner-Up C
Friday November 16
Winner E v Runner-Up F
Winner F v Runner-Up E
Winner G v Runner-Up H
Winner H v Runner-Up G
Saturday November 17
Afternoon Session - 1pm-5pm
Evening Session - 7pm-11pm
Sunday November 18
Afternoon Session - 1pm-5pm
Evening Session - 7pm-9pm
Phil Taylor (Seed 1)
Michael van Gerwen (8)
Simon Whitlock (5)
James Wade (4)
Adrian Lewis (2)
Andy Hamilton (7)
Wes Newton (6)
Christian Kist (3)
Raymond van Barneveld
Group Stage Best of nine legs
Second Round Best of 19 legs
Quarter-Finals Best of 31 legs
Semi-Finals Best of 31 legs
Final Best of 31 legs
Second Round Losers £7,500
Group Winners Bonus £2,500
Third Place in Group £5,000
Fourth Place in Group £2,500