The 2021 Betfred World Matchplay begins on Saturday in Blackpool as the summer's biggest darts event returns to the iconic Winter Gardens.
Dimitri Van den Bergh will be defending the title he sensationally won on debut behind closed doors in Milton Keynes in 2020, with Gerwyn Price, Peter Wright and Michael van Gerwen the top three seeds in the 32-player field.
The 28th staging of the historic tournament will feature ten sessions of action across nine days from July 17-25, as 32 players compete for 700,000 pound in prize money and the coveted Phil Taylor Trophy.
The first round sees the top 16 players from the PDC Order of Merit take on the 16 qualifiers from the ProTour Order of Merit, as Van den Bergh meets South Africa's Devon Petersen in the battle of two Winter Gardens debutants on what promises to be a special night for the sport as the event returns in Blackpool in front of crowds.
"I'm really excited, "Van den Bergh smiled. "I get goosebumps just thinking about walking on that famous stage, I can't wait to be up there.
"I am one of the few people to be able to call themselves a World Matchplay champion, which still sounds crazy for me to say.
"If you look at the list of players who I beat they are some of the best players in the world, I'm very proud of what I achieved.
"Playing such long games you've got make sure you prepare the best you can, for example making sure you sleep well so that you have the energy you need.
"I'm just feeling good at the moment, I'm working hard and my mind is in a good place. My game is in such a position that I believe anything is possible."
After a year away from Blackpool due to coronavirus restrictions, experienced duo Dave Chisnall and Vincent van der Voort will take the honour of contesting the first match back in the Empress Ballroom.
A blockbuster opening night will also see a further two first round clashes take place, as World Champion Gerwyn Price faces Jermaine Wattimena and Premier League winner Jonny Clayton takes on Dutch debutant Dirk van Duijvenbode.
First round victories for the Welsh World Cup winning duo would see Price and Clayton set up a tantalising second round meeting.
However, Price insists he is not looking ahead any further than his first assignment against rapid-fire Dutchman Jermaine Wattimena, a late replacement for Mensur Suljovic.
Price is relishing the chance to finally be introduced as World Champion in front of a live crowd when he steps out at Blackpool's Winter Gardens on Saturday night.
"I'm looking forward to John McDonald calling me out with an actual crowd there," said Price, who last played in front of fans at the European Championship last October.
"Hopefully if all goes well I can get through that game and get called out with a full capacity as well. I haven't played in front of a crowd for so long, I'm not sure how it's going to go.
"Hopefully I can get through that first game and settle in, and look forward to the rest of the tournament with a full capacity.
"I've approached the tournament wrong in the last couple of years. I've been doing things with the family and not really concentrating on darts, so this year's a little different and the family's not coming.
"I'm going up there solely for work and to give it every chance. I've been practising a lot more on my doubles and hopefully it will all come together."
Clayton, meanwhile, comes into the tournament as the most successful player of 2021, having also won The Masters along with two Players Championship events.
"The Premier League was brilliant and I'm still smiling, but this is a different competition to try and win and I'm looking forward to it," said Clayton.
"I know I could play Gerwyn and everyone will want to see the World Champion and world number one against the Premier League champion.
"I'd love for that to happen but I've got to make sure I get there first. I've got a big challenge on Saturday because Dirk is a fantastic player and he's going to be very hard to beat.
"The Winter Gardens is a fantastic venue and I love it. Having the crowds back will be a massive part of the tournament and it will bring the best out of us players."
Sunday's double session will begin with former champions James Wade and Rob Cross in action against Luke Humphries and Ross Smith respectively in the afternoon's action.
The evening session sees Grand Slam of Darts winner Jose de Sousa up against Gabriel Clemens and 2017 runner-up Peter Wright taking on Danny Noppert.
Wright heads into the tournament with confidence, having won the most recent Players Championship event earlier in July.
"I'm so excited," Wright revealed. "The World Matchplay is going to be back where it belongs in Blackpool.
"It's such a unique venue to play in. It took me a few attempts to get used to it but once I did I fell in love with the place.
"I've got lots of good memories up on that stage. When I made the final in 2017 I got too emotionally involved with it being Phil Taylor's last game up there, but I know I won't make the same mistake again.
"It's probably the tournament I would most like to win before I hang up the darts."
The first round is set to conclude in front of a capacity crowd on Monday, with two-time champion Michael van Gerwen playing Australian debutant Damon Heta and 2018 winner Gary Anderson facing Stephen Bunting.
Since lifting his second World Matchplay title in 2016, Van Gerwen has endured a torrid run at the event, failing to make it past the second round stage since 2018.
However, the world number three is in typically bullish mood about the prospect of racking up a third World Matchplay title.
"It's about time; a nice big tournament again and from Monday if everything goes as planned with a big crowd again, so I'm looking forward to it," said Van Gerwen, the 9/2 favourite for the title with Betfred.
"With crowds, with the pressure, I think it makes me normally even a better player. Lately we had a lot of gaps in between tournaments while we normally play week after week, you need to get a bit used to the new system.
"It's all been a bit different, I think I did well in the last ProTour, my game's started to pick up so I want to do some good damage in the World Matchplay.
"I love the tournament, I love the format. But the last two years, I underperformed.
"I don't have to prove anything, people know what I'm capable of. I only want to do it for myself, my fans and everyone close around me. You have to keep working hard, nothing is coming automatically."