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New World Champ, now what?

Darts is a sport where looking backwards can be detrimental. Not just within a game but in general. So this piece is written with the view of looking forward into 2021 and where we believe will be the highlights or at least players well worth watching. Even though we’re already a month into 2021.

Firstly after a few weeks on, well done the Gerwyn Price. I didn’t call it, but I did have him in the final, just not to win it. What a game he played though to win the World Championship on his first time in the final, (he did make the semi in 2020). Also to win it over Gary Anderson, someone who has won it twice before is really an impressive feat. At one stage he hit 13 tops (D20) in a row and also averaged 136 in one of his set wins. He can certainly be forgiven for stumbling a bit to get over the line and get that final double, but that just showed he’s human. His walk down the stage to calm himself before settling at the oche and hitting double 5 with his first dart showed professionalism too. I have loved the story’s since then too with Welsh and UK ministers sending him letters of congratulations and invitations to lunch. It’s been a great start to a new year still ravaged and troubled by Covid-19. Although here in New Zealand we are very much isolated for the most part by the fact that this is still a massive issue across the UK and into mainland Europe. Many of the top professional dart players are hindered by and unwilling to travel or attend tournaments purely because of Covid-19 concerns. Who would blame them too? Given their concerns for friends and family.

So we’re well into 2021 and the first tournament of the year is due in just a few days with this weekend’s Ladbrokes Masters to be held without a crowd on stage in Milton Keynes. This is likely to be the case for many of the major tournaments this year as Covid continues to affect play. Hopefully we will come out the other side soon and find some sort of a new normality with crowds allowed to return once vaccines and lockdowns do their part. But for now, a crowd less tournament will be the norm.

So apart from the obvious, i.e. players that are inside the top ten in the world, Who will be in the mix and has a good chance of one or possibly more titles in 2021?

Outside the top ten, I made a list and it totalled more than thirty players that could and likely will be in contention, so once I managed to whittle that down to six players that are well worth a watch and are likely to win on tour this year, here they are:

Nathan Aspinall

OK, he’s currently ranked fifth in the world, but this guy under achieved at the World Champs this year, I have to include as one to watch in 2021. The “Asp” made three major final’s in 2020 winning two Player’s Championships and making the final of the Premier League Darts in October. His failure to make the fourth round of the 2021 World Championship was an under achievement. The result has seen him change darts for the first time in three years with him suggesting he’s “playing really well” with his new set. Sometimes a change of darts can be more mental than anything else, let’s see if they provide the spark for him this year.

Dimitri Van den Bergh

Many forget that Dimitri in his own words was “living the lockdown dream” when he spent lockdown at the then World Champion, Peter Wright’s house back in April/May last year. He clearly got tips that provided the spark with the result seeing him take his first major title just a couple of months later by winning the World Matchplay 18-10 over Gary Anderson. His darts ever since have still been world class even though he did not take any more titles or make any more finals last year. But what has impressed me is the calmness that he has shown on the oche. No matter what the situation, he looks composed and confident. Will that confidence turn into a win on the tour this year? This commentator thinks so.

Damon Heta

If we’re talking calmness on the oche, then this guy has it in spades. This after just one year on the PDC tour. I love to watch this guy play, not only has he got a smooth action and calm demeanour, he has a top-class game to boot. Even the top Aussie, Simon Whitlock suggests Damon has the game and will be the top ranked Australian pro darts player on tour soon. I’m sure Simon hopes it’s not too soon. Heta managed to win his first PDC ProTour event last year in mid-September in Germany. I think it will be the first of many for the ex-roofer.

Jose De Sousa

OK, so many started to take notice of “The special one” back in November when he beat James Wade 16-12 in the final of the Grand Slam of Darts. Yes that certainly was a special match and Jose did show the world what he is capable of, but, yes there’s always a “but”. This surprised few in the professional darting world or those that follow the professional tour closely. 2020 was the break out year for Jose De Sousa. In this year alone he managed to get to five tour or major final and won two of them. He beat none other than MVG back a month earlier in the European Darts Grand Prix in Germany 8-4. There’s no doubt he will make a few more final’s in 2021.

Joe Cullen

Just a week later in Germany Joe Cullen beat MVG also in the International Darts Open on the European Tour 8-5 and showed he’s someone to be reckoned with. Cullen made three finals last year winning two of them. The 31 year-old Englishman is ranked 16th in the world and whilst he will be disappointed to have been knocked out in the further round of the 2021 World Championship, it was to MVG by a tight margin of 4-3. Cullen will certainly be there or thereabouts in this years major’s and tour championships and could well be worth “a bob each way”.

Michael Smith

Speaking of those that under performed in the World Championship, Michael Smith would be first to put his hand up. Knocked out by a stunning performance by fellow Englishman, Jason Lowe, Smith will feel it was a poor finish for him in 2020 and rightly so. But I’m not here to knock people when they’re down. Michael should have his head held high. He managed four finals in 2020, two he won in the Pro Tour in November. Despite the results, some of the darts seen by Smith in the past 12 months puts him into my list of “must see” this year. He’s certainly capable of putting away any opponent in the world, it would be great to see that in 2021.

Devon Petersen

Another player who would have felt, come World Championship time (or soon after) that he under achieved in 2020. He may be right. But up until his fourth round exit to the eventual finalist, Gary Anderson 4-0 the South African had been playing throughout the year some of the best darts of his life. What ever he changed from 2019 and into the Covid-19 year worked for him. Perhaps the lockdown(s) forced him to work on his game, and it worked. Devon made two final’s last year and won the German Darts Championship in late September. I believe he is worth a watch in 2021.

OK I lied, here’s seven names, but as you can tell I could go on. I could have mentioned Dirk van Duijvenbode, Ryan Searle, Krzysztof Ratajski, Ian White or even Ryan Joyce but I didn’t.

So here’s to darts in 2021 and whilst the top five or ten players in the world may be favourite, there’s a lot of top class talent bubbling away ready to break through, surprise a few and win a tournament, or two.

Straight Arrows everyone

Paul Webber

Owner – Bullseye Darts

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