UK Open 2020: Michael van Gerwen the ‘man to beat’ while Gerwyn Price threatens again

From a major champion in-waiting to a man in the form of his life and a future Premier League player, there are three names threatening deep runs at the UK Open in the eyes of Wayne Mardle.

Minehead will host 160 players this weekend as Nathan Aspinall returns to defend his crown a year on from beating Rob Cross 11-5 in the final courtesy of a stunning 170 checkout.

Mardle’s three to watch

One of those on Mardle’s radar is Michael Smith as he enters having lost in four major finals, three major semi-finals and two major quarter-finals since the beginning of 2018 – most recently suffering an 11-10 defeat to Peter Wright in the final of the Masters.

In fact, having lost in the Belgian Darts Championship final at the weekend, remarkably Smith has not won a tournament of any kind since 2018 and has lost in nine finals. However, a Premier League nine-darter in Dublin last week and a first Premier League win over Michael van Gerwen last night means he is in form.

“As you know I’m a fan of Michael Smith, I cannot see how he can go another year without winning a major,” Mardle told Sky Sports’.

“Every time a year passes by without him winning one I’m more amazed and more kind of disappointed for him.”

Chris Dobey, who will compete as a Premier League ‘challenger’ on Night Seven in Newcastle, looms as a respected contender having reached the semi-finals of the 2019 World Grand Prix and Players Championship Finals.

South African darting trailblazer Devon Petersen, meanwhile, arrives on the back of reaching the semi-finals of Players Championship 5, where he was beaten by Wright following victories over Rob Cross and Stephen Bunting.

Mardle added: “There’s Chris Dobey who seems to be playing really consistent stuff without setting the world alight and the one who is playing the darts of his life right now is Devon Petersen.

“If you are that confident, which he is, they’re hard men to stop. All three of those and Michael van Gerwen are going to be hard to beat.”

Devon getting through to a semi-final, it was a massive step in the right direction. Dobey, he could be in the Premier League next year or the year after and Smith, who’s to say in a few years we aren’t calling him a two or three-time world champ?

Mardle’s three to watch at the UK Open

Van Gerwen ‘man to beat’

World No 1 Van Gerwen collected six major titles last year but was eliminated in round four of the UK Open after a 10-6 defeat to Mervyn King.

The Dutchman averaged around 97 on Night Three and Four in the Premier League as well as in his Players Championship defeat to Smith, however, he remains Mardle’s frontrunner thanks to his ever-impressive finishing, despite an empty start to the season.

He has yet to claim a title of any kind, but Mardle is not worried.

“I think we’re approaching the event this year with a lot of players that will fancy their chances, no matter who they play because the format in the UK Open is never that long. Even the semi-final, final are best of 19 and 21.

“I believe Michael van Gerwen is still playing the best darts in the world. I don’t believe that because he’s not winning it’s because he’s dropped his level that much.

I don’t think he’s scoring that well so he’s giving players more chances yes, but I believe his finishing is right there. When he starts scoring I think he wins, Van Gerwen is still the man to beat for me.

MVG still ‘the man to beat’

A surprise run…..

The nature of the UK Open holds the potential of a generous route to the latter stages for some, with Mardle citing John Part’s passage to the quarter-finals in 2018 having faced two qualifiers and surpassed a 90 average just once in his six matches.

“The draw will open up for someone, whether it leads to say just a quarter-final or semi-final,” explained Mardle.

Night Six, March 12: M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool

“But then you never know. I’m not knocking the way he played a few years ago but John Part got to a quarter-final and the draw opened up beautifully for him round after round and people weren’t playing well against him.

“He wasn’t playing well but he made the most of the draws he was having and that’s what you have to do.

“We are approaching the event this year with a lot of players who will fancy their chances no matter who they play because the format is never that long – even the semi-final and final are best of 19 and 21.”

Price admiration

Gerwyn Price remains impossible to overlook amid his march towards Van Gerwen’s No 1 ranking as he looks to go one better after losing to Aspinall in last year’s semi-finals.

“He’s very difficult to beat, he’s got this energy,” said Mardle. “I noticed that last week, I know it was only one game but he looked at it in the last game against Peter Wright.

“Peter was slightly off we know that but then I look back to the Grand Slam, that is a real slog of a day and he produces one of the best performances he’s ever produced in two best of 31 matches on the same day.

“He turned up on that particular day and beat Van Gerwen, which for him mentally would have been so tough and so draining, and then an hour or so later has the game of his life against Peter Wright who was playing magnificently well.

“I’ve got a lot of admiration for Price, I think he’s got the mentality that not many have got. I really do think he just wants to kick on and win more.”

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