No beach weather..
The first day of the World Matchplay started mostly wet. already on the day before it had rained cats and dogs.
When I looked out of the window during breakfast I saw mainly stretched umbrellas. So I was appropriately
equipped when I ventured to go outside. But I was lucky - the rain had stopped for the day. One of the
reasons was probably the very strong wind which churned up the Irish Sea. Even the in this respect far from
sensitive English were not interested in the beach. On the promenade you didn't find a lot of pedestrians or
cyclists which was not astonishing. The waves often pounded over the balustrade of the promenade and some of
the few cyclists got unvoluntary a cold shower.
In the town quite a lot of people could be found - beside the
usually families on holiday an astonishing number of groups with young men. Might be darts fans??? But all in
all Blackpool today is far less a magnet of tourism as it has been. Blackpool is the epitome of a British
seaside resort and was one of the first in England.
The notion of the seaside resort - to pass a holiday at
sea - is an English one. Initinally the health aspect had been in the forefront of thinking . The seawater
and the fresh air should help the health similar to the popular spas for example Bath. Over the time it developed in the fancied and traditional family holiday at sea. The idea of an entertainment program already belonged to the cure in Bath and just was included in the family seacoast holiday. That the PDC decided to offer the World Matchplay as part of the entertainment program in such a traditional seaside resort as Blackpool was only consequential. And already the first evening of this year's event provided entertainment on a high level.
The World Matchplay didn't start with a strong performance by Nathan Apinall as I (and probably a lot of other darts fans) had expected. Aspinall played good but always trailed while Mervyn King was the player in the front seat. He hit almost everything - the 180s, his doubles. Aspinall looked quite annoyed by himself and couldn't leave the stage fast enough for the first break. After the break it changed and it was King who trailed and Aspinall who was always one step in advance and he scored much better. Might be he had settled or King was not as strong any longer. Aspinall managed the 5:5 and disappeared into the second break. After the second break we had the same procedure as in the first part of the match. King was back and again got the lead. He was clinical on his doubles and Aspinall couldn't grab the few chances he had. In the end Mervyn King won 10:5 as Aspinall had not been able to win a single leg after the second break.
Together with the walk-on of Gerwyn Price the booing started. It got less during the match itself but the cheerful crowd favoured Stephen Bunting throughout. The match was not as highclass as the first match of the night - might be that was the reason it was not really gripping at first. Or might be the reason was Stephen Bunting's double-trouble. Till the second break he had only hit four of his possible 19 doubles. After the second break the match changed. Bunting was more clinical on his doubles which delighted the crowd and Price was booed more in the hope this migth help Bunting. But Price didn't look affected though he shook his head. Bunting first had a problem to finally draw but suddenly the score line was 8:8 and now we had a thrilling and on both sides rather emotional match. Price reacted with a 180, but he was no longer able to dominate and the match went into the tie break. Bunting for the first time got the lead and had the first chance to win the match. But he had six points left and missed three matchdarts on the double three. Price was back in and a Sudden Death leg was necessary. It looked that now Price had run out of steam while Bunting still was very determined. And so to the delight of the crowd in the end the winner was Stephen Bunting.
Then the venue got blue and even louder - reigning champion Gary Anderson came on stage. Till the first break neither of the players showed a good performance. It was rather sratchy from both and especially scratchy from Danny Noppert. Anderson went into the first break with a 4:1 advantage. After the first break it got a little bit better though Anderson still was far from outstanding.. Noppert managed to win two more legs but his situation was not much better after that. Anderson threw a 111 finish - one of the few highlights of the match - and went with a 7:3 lead into the second break. After the break Anderson had left his focus and his joy of playing behind the stage and Noppert managed despite the cheers of the crowd for his opponent to get closer. It became tighter for the reigning champion! But an all the time scolding Scotsman somehow improved a little bit and he even managed to conjure a brillant 160 finish out of the hat while Noppert looked like he had finally given in. So Anderson won 10:6. I am sure he knows he will have to improve.
To end the first World Matchplay day Rob Cross played against Chris Dobey. Dobey seemed to be very nervous and very impressed by his surroundings while it looked his opponent enjoyed himself from the start. It is really astonishing how serene Cross already seemed to be compared to Dobey who is exactly the same age. Cross dominated and we watched a very one-sided match, the first one, as Dobey just couldn't keep up. In the end Cross won so to say "slack and nochalant" with 10:3.
So none of the debutants of the first day had survived the first round and with Gerwyn Price and Nathan Aspinall the first seeded players had been eliminated as well.
On my way home I stumbled over Rob Cross who waited for his taxi. I passed two still crowded fish and chips take aways. The seagulls were still around as well - they don't seem to ever sleep. And the Blackpool Tower twinkled colourful in a now dry sky.