A New Venue
This year the Grand Slam is again played in Wolverhampton but not as usually in the Civic Hall - which is renovated ate the moment - but in Aldersleigh Leisure Village
This village is to be sure not a small town but a big sporting complex with a soccer place, hockey places a shooting range for national tournaments, a cycle velodrom, a track and field stadium, the sports hall and a gym.
As on the first day of the tournament I first had to find the venue and the press room and then had to learn where I was allowed to stand taking pictures , I can't really tell you where in the village the venue is situated. But I can tell you the press room is on the first floor and normally is used as a boardroom with one big table and leather office chairs around it. Luckily we were not a lot of people and so all fitted in. The so called function rooms are on the first floor too, among them the players room in which I am not allowed in. The venue itself looks like a sports hall and is not really big but the Civic Hall is not really big either. It was not completely sold out on the first day but the athmosphere was great and it looked people had no problem to get here. There is a huge parking place and probably the PDC organised a Shuttle which starts at the the Civic Hall. As around the venue there is no accomadation at all I was among the passengers of the shuttle as well.
This year three Germans managed to qualify for the Grand Slam and one of them - Max Hopp - opened the tournament against Josh Payne. The first two legs Hopp had problems to get into the match but then he lost his nervousness and Payne was no longer as strong. Hopp was just that little bit better that made the difference and won the match 5:3. Nervous as well was in the second match the newly married Gerwyn Price, who played far better then Andrew Gilding, but first was not able to get the result and Gilding managed to win two legs. But finally Price arrived in the match and won 5:2.
After that the not really well-known Ryan Searle and the still reigning youth world champion Dimitri van den Bergh came on stage. Both players were rather clinical on their doubles, but van den Bergh who always looks as if it is hard for him to keep his nerve on stage, was just the better player and won the match.
Similar was the following match in which Stephen Bunting just showed a better performance then the second German Martin Schindler and won deservedly 5:3. As Schindler told me it was not the fly which was responsible for his loss, he felt he lost the match much earlier. Though of course the bright yellow board surround helped the fly to show off. The fly still spread itself unimpressed out throughout the hall.
Those were the matches with the probably weaker players. Next on were the seeded players against the BDO players of the groups E-H.
First up were Simon Whitlock against and Glen Durrant. It was a highclasse match from Durrant who impressed again and he let Whitlock no chance. With 99.20 Durrant played the highest average of the afternoon. In the following match it was the BDO player Scott Mitchell who had no chance at all against Mensur Suljovic. Mensur played solid, Mitchell weaker then usually.
It followed a curious and not really good match between Rob Cross and Mark McGeeney. McGeeney had started into the first leg with great scores but couldn't hit his doubles so in the end Cross won the leg who had been far behind. His double trouble intimidated the BDO player who didn't recover in the short format. Hopefully he will be back in his next match.
The last match of the afternoon was a hard fought match beween Peter Wright and young Welshman Jim Williams. It to be sure was not an outstanding match, Wright usually is much better then an 88.65 average. All legs went with the throw. The throw in the last leg had Wright who managed to cross the finishing line after Williams had missed a matchdart.
After the break the evening-session started in which beside reigning champion Michael van Gerwen and some other favourites the third German Michael Unterbuchner would stand on stage. But opened was the evening session by the match between Keegan Brown and Mark Webster. It was not a highclass match, but very close. Somehow Brown started to get stronger and won in the end - at least a small surprise.
The following match between Jonny Clayton and Joe Murnan to be sure was not a highlight of the tournament. Joe Murnan played weaker then Jonny Clayton who in the end won 5:2. Should they both not be able to raise their game Michael van Gerwen who is in group A as well will have an easy passage into the next rounmd.
The first group D match followed and Ian White met Steve Hine who is very popular as he spreads muffins in the crowd during his walk-on. Ian White finally played a great stage match again, a very good one and had the first over 100 average of the day.. It had been clear from the start Hine would have no chance...but at least the muffinman won a leg.
Next on were Michael Smith and Adam Smith-Neal - the first match in group B. Michael Smith stormed through the first legs and was 4:1 in the lead. Suddenly he couldn't find a double any longer. In the following two legs his scores were gone too. So Smith-Neal managed to win two more legs. In the last leg doubles and scores were back again and Smith won 5:3.
In the second match Group C James Wade and Wesley Harms stood at the oche. Wade raised his perfomance compared to his last two tournament wins and steamrolled Wesley Harms who didn't play one of his best matches. The first and only whitewash of the first day.
The second match of Group B brought the biggest upset of the day when Krzysztof Ratajski won against a listless and a little bit too nonchalent playing Raymond van Barneveld. Ratajski looked very determined and won with 5:3.
In the second match of Group D Gary Anderson played against Michael Unterbuchner. Anderson was far away from his best - probably because he had taken a break from darts recently. But he nevertheless was too much for Michael Unterbuchner on his Grand Slam of Darts debut who never found a foothold in the match. But he still has two more matches to settle in the tournament.
The final match of the evening finally brought the reigning champion Michael van Gerwen on stage who played against BDO player Gary Robson. Robson was not really a match for van Gerwen and lost 1:5. But against a van Gerwen with an 112.66 average a lot of players wouldn't have had a chance. And despite his defeat Robson seems to be the second strongest player in Group A.
And so the first day of the tournament was history already. There is no time to feel bored with this short format and there had been a lot of interesting matches on this first day anyway though we didn't see a lot of upsets and only two of the seeded players lost their matches. But all the players still have two more chances and I hope of course Martin Schindler and Michael Unterbuchner will use them.
I left the venue as fast as possible to reach a already well filled shuttle whith a great athmosphere and shutteled back into town. The fans in the shuttled first sang for Phil Taylor and than for Michael van Gerwen before they agreed on James Wade. I felt content with that...