'PROUD' SMITH SETTING HIS SIGHTS ON DORTMUND TITLE DEFENCE
The 2023 Machineseeker European Championship begins on Thursday, as the top 32 players from the 2023 European Tour Order of Merit compete for the 120,000 pound top prize in Dortmund.
Reigning champion Ross Smith produced the performance of his life to stun world number one Michael Smith in last year's decider, and the pair will be among those vying for glory in this year's 600,000 pound event.
The tournament's 16th staging will also see former champions Michael van Gerwen, Rob Cross, Peter Wright and James Wade in action during the four-day event, which takes place at the Westfalenhalle from October 26-29.
The first round will feature 16 matches across two sessions on Thursday and Friday, as Smith begins his defence of the title against Ricardo Pietreczko, who lifted his maiden ranking title at the recent German Darts Championship.
Smith defeated five televised title winners to triumph in Dortmund 12 months ago, and is hoping to channel the spirit of last year's success ahead of his clash against Pietreczko on Friday night.
"It was my proudest moment in darts, so to be going back as reigning champion is an amazing feeling," said Smith, who won his second PDC ranking title of 2023 at Players Championship 28 on Saturday.
"I'm playing well. I feel like I can beat anybody, but I'm also learning to dig deep. It's not all about averages, it's about getting results over the line and producing at the right moments.
"My confidence is really high after last weekend. You can't beat that feeling of winning, so the timing has been absolutely perfect, but I've got to keep my feet on the ground.
"Ricardo is playing fantastic darts at the moment. Full credit to him - he was brilliant in Hildesheim and his ability is amazing, so I'm going to have to be at the top of my game."
Newly crowned World Grand Prix champion Luke Humphries will also headline a star-studded line-up on Friday night, as the world number four sets his sights on back-to-back televised titles.
Second seed Humphries has been arguably the stand-out performer on the European Tour over the last two years, lifting five titles and featuring in a further five finals to continue his rise at the top level.
"This is a special tournament for me. This would be a lovely title to win," reflected Humphries, who opens his challenge against the experienced Brendan Dolan.
"The European Tour has been a massive catalyst for my success and winning my first major title. It has given me the experience of winning on the big stage and it has definitely helped my development.
"I want to create a legacy. I want to build on my success at the World Grand Prix. I don't want to bow out of my career with just one major title, so I need to push on now and work harder than ever.
"I will approach the game against Brendan the same as I would if I was playing Michael van Gerwen. I'll be looking to dominate and impose myself on the game, and hopefully I will come out the winner."
Four-time champion Van Gerwen will also kick off his campaign on Friday against Latvia's Madars Razma, while 2018 winner James Wade meets Dirk van Duijvenbode - a two-time European Tour finalist in 2023.
Jonny Clayton and Jose de Sousa will collide in a repeat of the 2021 Premier League final, with September's German Darts Open winner Krzysztof Ratajski up against Joe Cullen.
Australian number one Damon Heta will play Dutch debutant Gian van Veen in Friday's curtain-raiser, while World Youth Champion Josh Rock faces Daryl Gurney in an all-Northern Irish affair.
Top seed Dave Chisnall will take centre stage on Thursday's opening night, as the popular St Helens star continues his pursuit of an elusive first televised crown.
Chisnall has claimed a hat-trick of European Tour titles in a stunning 2023 campaign, following up wins in Kiel and Leeuwarden with victory at last month's Hungarian Darts Trophy.
"I've had a brilliant year on the European Tour. The standard is so high right now, so to have won three titles is a massive achievement," declared Chisnall, who takes on Masters champion Chris Dobey in a blockbuster tie.
"I always fancy my chances to win a TV title. I've missed some opportunities [in the past] and you can't do that at this level, but I'm going to carry on and keep believing.
"I'm really proud to be the top seed this week, but that doesn't count for anything, and I've got a really tough game against Chris.
"Chris is a great guy and he's had a fantastic year himself, but I believe in my own ability and I'm hoping I can have a big run this weekend."
There will be five PDC World Champions in action on Thursday, as current World Champion Michael Smith meets Raymond van Barneveld, making his first appearance at this event since 2015.
Gerwyn Price - a winner of two European Tour titles in 2023 - faces Irish youngster Keane Barry, while 2020 European Champion Wright plays German number one Gabriel Clemens.
Two-time champion Cross locks horns with Belgium's Dimitri Van den Bergh in another stellar showdown, as World Matchplay champion Nathan Aspinall takes on Ryan Searle.
Elsewhere, German number two Martin Schindler meets a resurgent Stephen Bunting, with Danny Noppert and Andrew Gilding going head-to-head in a battle of the most recent UK Open champions.
Saturday October 28 will see the second round take place across two sessions, with the quarter-finals taking place on Sunday afternoon, ahead of the decisive semi-finals and final on Sunday evening.
The Machineseeker European Championship will be broadcast live on ITV in the UK, through the PDC's worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV (excluding subscribers based in the UK, Germany, Austria & Switzerland).