Thanks to the PDC Summer Series we finally could watch live darts again! For the players and their managers and the few officials was the situation during the five days far from normal. All had to arrive on the day before the series began and all were tested for Covid 19. Till the test result were known all had to stay in their rooms. Not until a negative results was announced the players were allowed to take part in the events but of course they had to follow the sanitary regulations and the social distancing regulations. The match losers had to mark the following match as in bygone times, the tables for the players were placed according to distance rule, the players had allocated practice boards there was no handshake before and after matches etc.
Fortunately most of the Tour Card holders could take part.
Of course was anxious to see in which form the players would be after the Corona break which was only broken by the PDC Home Tour. One knew a few had lost some weight over the last months, some had new darts or a new set-up, some had done a lot for their bodily fitness included some garden work (as we heard during the Home Tour) - all that could affect the form.
So it was interesting to see that after the Summer Series was over on the places 1-14 of the ranking only players could be found who were among the World Matchplay participants: Peter Wright, Michael van Gerwen, James Wade, Ryan Joyce, Gerwyn Price, Jose de Sousa, Dave Chisnall, Daryl Gurney, Nathan Aspinall, Krzysztof Ratajski, Ian White, Mensur Suljovic and Glen Durrant. Van Gerwen, Wright, Price and Aspinall are the bookmaker's favourites to win the World Matchplay and they fancy the chances of the reigning champion Rob Cross as well and even those of Michael Smith who ended on place 20 and of Gary Anderson who couldn't convince in the Summer Series and only once reached a semi-final.
The Summer Series was some kind of a forerun for the World Matchplay as the tournament will take place due to the Corona crisis like the Summer Series behind closed doors in the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes. How the World Matchplay will look this year we will only know when it gets started. Till now it's only known it will be televised as always by Sky Sports. I suppose it will be similar for the players to the Summer Series but I think one will play on some kind of stage with callers and markers and MC. Might be with a walk-on. Probably with commentators. The presenter will not be Dave Clark any longer as he just announced his withdrawal from his job. Might be Rod Studd will not yet be back commentating - he had a heart attack during the lockdown and it is not known whether he already is completely recovered. But the PDC to be sure will try to stage it as the Major event which it is and not like another Players Championship.
The TV transmissions of Football matches without a crowd showed how difficult it is - there was no one there who was electrified. But might be Sky Sport found a solution.
Though of course it will be a problem for the players who are used to the crowds in big TV tournaments who interact and react with and to the crowd and profit from the support. Often your hear "the crowd was behind me" - or "I only won because the crowd supported me" No one will be able to mention this during this year's World Matchplay.
The Summer Series not only gave the players money for the rankings of the qualification for the World Matchplay - it showed as well the players form. It didn't change much in the field of participants of the World Matchplay - only two players managed to play themselves among the participants by the Pro Tour Order of Merit - Ryan Joyce and Ricky Evans who replaced Ryan Searle and Kim Huybrechts. But though those two proved their good form neither Joyce - who was a surprise winner of one of the events - nor Evans - who once reached the top 16 and three times lost in the third round - are among the favourites to win the world Matchplay.
Michael van Gerwen who once again heads the favourites and was ranked second in the Summer Series was not really in top form in the Summer Series. He was two of the events but was eliminated early round in the other three - once even first round by Joe Murnan. It even looked he lost his form over the five events. Much more convincing and consistent was Peter Wright - despite his playing for the first time with glasses - with one win, a final, two quarterfinals and a Top 16 place and his win came on the last day of the series. Gerwyn Price was like van Gerwen inconsistent - one final, one Top 16 place and three times early eliminated - but it looked he got stronger throughout the series. Even more inconsistent was reigning champion Rob Cross who had only one good day with a nine-darter and a place in the final. Nathan Aspinall had some problems on the first day but after that played consistently though far from outstanding. Glen Durrant and Michael Smith are among the bookmaker's favourites as well though Smiths best placing was a quarterfinal on day four while Durrant reached the quarterfinals on day one and two and the Top 16 on day four and was eliminated early the other two days. Gary Anderson was far from his best and might be unlucky as well - only once he reached the semi-finals all other days he was eliminated first or second round though he played most of the time quite well.
Would the consistency during the Summer Series would decide over the outcome of the World Matchplay the final would be Peter Wright v James Wade as Wade was one of the most consistent players over the five events with one third round elimination on day one, twice the Top 16, one win and a quarterfinal. But consistency will not be the only factor, we have the draw and to be sure the Corona situation as well. Beside I would think for most players it is more important to have success in the World Matchplay than to have success in the Summer Series.
To reach the final Wade would have to beat Gary Anderson second round and Michael van Gerwen third round only to run into reigning champion Rob Cross, Gabriel Clemens, Krzysztof Ratajski, Michael Smith or Mensur Suljovic in the semi-finals. Of course not an impossible task for Wade in top form but definitely a very hard one. So it is more likely that Michael van Gerwen - who of course could stumble on one of his not so focussed days over a well playing Dolan, Whitlock/Joyce or Wade/Anderson - will reach the semi-finals where the above mentioned strong players . So it will not be easy for van Gerwen as well and he can't allow him too many faults. Otherwise he will not win the World Matchplay.
In the lower half of the draw we have got first of all Peter Wright who after his Summer Series achievements is the favourite to reach the final but his first round match against Jose de Sousa could turn out a tough nut to be cracked as could a second round match against Glen Durrant. Daryl Gurney and Dave Chisnall could be next who both played a solid Summer Series. And in the semi-finals Gerwyn Price could wait though Price would have to get rid of Nathan Aspinall first.
It could well be we will see another Peter Wright v Michael van Gerwen final - with an open end. But there are enough strong players among the participants who could and want to hinder such a final and who might cope better with the closed doors situation. So might be we'll celebrate a surprise winner!