VAN GERWEN RETURNS FOR UNIBET EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP
MICHAEL VAN GERWEN has declared himself fit to challenge for a fourth successive Unibet European Championship title after recovering from his ankle injury in time to compete in Belgium this weekend.
World Champion Van Gerwen was forced to withdraw from last weekend's German Darts Masters due to the effects of bursitis in his ankle.
The Dutch ace has been receiving treatment for the problem since returning home on Saturday, and will defend his European Championship crown this weekend at the Ethias Arena in Hasselt.
Van Gerwen has been installed as the 8/11 tournament favourite with sponsors Unibet as he aims to extend his winning run at the European Championship to a fourth successive year - matching Taylor's record from 2008-2011.
He faces an all-Dutch first round tie when he meets Jan Dekker in Thursday's opening night, and the number one seed said: "I'm looking forward to getting back playing and I hope I can win this title again.
"I've had a good rest since the weekend and had some treatment for my ankle and it's feeling a lot better now. I've been practising again and I'm feeling good, so I'm focused on the European Championship now.
"It's been special to win this title three years in a row and it would be a great achievement if I can make it four titles because only Phil Taylor has ever done that before."
Last weekend's German Darts Masters winner Peter Wright is the 4/1 second favourite as he bids to follow up his 11 tournament wins this year with another TV title.
The world number three plays Polish star Krzysztof Ratajski as the first round continues on Friday afternoon, and is in confident mood after reaching the semi-finals for the past two years in Hasselt.
"I can't wait," said Wright. "I hadn't been able to practise much before we went to Germany so that may be the trick, or using a brand new set of darts like I did last weekend.
"We'll see what happens in Belgium. I always dig deep and try not to give up in a game and I got lucky last weekend."
Last year's European Championship finalist Mensur Suljovic takes on Kim Huybrechts in one of the high-profile first round ties, while the Belgian's elder brother Ronny takes on Welshman Gerwyn Price.
2012 European Champion Simon Whitlock, who was also the 2013 runner-up, is in action against James Richardson, while number five seed Jelle Klaasen comes up against fellow former Lakeside Champion Christian Kist in another all-Dutch tie.
Australian ace Kyle Anderson takes on John Henderson - the Scot who reached his first TV semi-final at the World Grand Prix earlier in October - while Alan Norris faces Mervyn King and Ian White plays Darren Webster.
With the tournament featuring the leading 32 players from the European Tour Order of Merit after 12 events across the continent this year, the Gibraltar Darts Trophy winner Michael Smith will be the number three seed as plays against Nathan Aspinall on Friday.
Two European Championship debutants clash as number six seed Rob Cross - who has enjoyed a remarkable first year as a professional - plays German youngster Martin Schindler, while number seven seed Joe Cullen takes on Stephen Bunting.
Belgium's Dimitri Van den Bergh opens Friday's afternoon session against Welsh debutant Jonny Clayton, while another all-Dutch tie sees Benito van de Pas playing Vincent van der Voort.
New World Grand Prix champion Daryl Gurney takes on 2009 European Championship finalist Steve Beaton, and Dave Chisnall plays Spain's Cristo Reyes.