Sunday, 25 February 2018

UK Open preview überpost

Less than a week to go before my favourite tournament of the year, 128 players from all over the darting spectrum face off with all kinds of possible storylines to tell. This year, we've got full data from all the pro qualifiers, which I've taken and dumped into my database, a time consuming process which has more than doubled the number of games in it, but it's allowed me to create graphs like these:

This is a series of three scatter plots for each of the three sets of pro qualifiers - those who are straight into round 3, those who are straight into round 2 and the rest who kick off early with the Riley's qualifiers. There's so much data, and seeing how rank average some of the players are is eye-opening. Karsten Kornath takes the spoon more or less, but Dean Winstanley's game seems to have completely imploded. They're huge so I'm not embedding directly into the blog.

Anyhow, we've got 96 players looking to punch their ticket into round 3 and a near two grand payday, let's look at each section of the draw in turn, ordered by the highest player in the FRH rankings for each section. All the stats from legs won/lost on are based just on the UK Open qualifiers - I'm not taking anything further back for this, nor have I put the first weekend of the Players Championship in yet. I reference Elo a bit - follow DartsElo1 on Twitter who does that. Basically it's a number that rates how good you are, the higher the better. Bets will follow nearer the kickoff, once I've put the full data through the master computer and made some projections, I'm at work on the Friday so won't be able to get anything up for round 2 games that are not known already, round 3 may be very brief and round 5 may not get anything up at all (Blades home game at 3pm), the random draw, while amazing, doesn't allow any what if analysis to be done. Without further ado, the preview:

Chizzy's the highest ranked player (other than Taylor and Suljovic who didn't attempt to qualify for different reasons) not to make it straight through to round 3, and he's not got the easiest of tasks given the level that we know Eidams can hit. Chisnall could have avoided this by playing the second weekend, but he didn't, so he has work to do. Eidams' numbers aren't bad, not too far off Dave's, so he's not without chances, especially if he can do anything like what he did in that two set spell against van Gerwen a couple of years back. Johnson tried Q-School in 2017, but could only muster a solitary round of 128 appearance over the four days, prior to that he played the Challenge Tour in 2016 with little success, he did play one European Tour event in 2013 but lost 6-3 to Jamie Caven in round 1. The dartselo account reckons Johnson is about 100 points worse than Eidams, which seems about right.

If you look at the big visuals you can see that Barney ran really bad - a 99 losing average thanks to getting Ratajski twice for early exits is huge. He got home thanks to one last sixteen performance where he went out to Adrian Lewis and should have more than enough for Norton, who made it on the last day with a last 16 run involving wins over Prins, Adie and Cullen, and three last leg deciders in that run. He doesn't have a card despite a semi final run where he lost a close game to Robert Owen, but is a finalist on the Challenge Tour, albeit three years ago now.

Big clash in round two with Premier League player Gerwyn Price coming up against World Championship seed James Wilson, as both players were right at the top of the list of those that didn't get a free pass to round 3. Price's numbers across the board are better, as you would expect, but there is a fair bit of variance, and if Wilson can put together a solid three or four leg run as he can do, then in a short format it's not unreasonable to think he can pull off an upset.

Intriguing one this, Norris has put up some pretty average numbers in qualification with as many legs lost as won, and has shown the biggest difference between winning and losing of this section, highlighting inconsistency. His numbers are better, but it's not by much, and the first round game looks pretty close with van Duijvenbode seemingly finally getting over that infamous loss to Barney in the worlds and playing some better darts. Whoever comes through this tough game should gain a bit of confidence, but it will be a stage game in round two, and Norris always seems to do a bit better in that environment.

Holy living crap, how bad is Benito playing? Only making it through on countback, only just getting more than three legs out of ten in fifteen darts or legs, less than 80 points per turn, and he's up against Cristo Reyes first round on the second stage. Fortunately Cristo's been poor for around six months or more, but those figures in qualification when he's winning look a lot more like the standard we expect. That said, there's a huge difference between his winning and losing. The winner will face David Evans, who's not far behind on Elo, and made a last sixteen on day five to go with an earlier last 32 run to get one away from the money. He seems a lot more solid, if only through looking at the tightness in his winning and losing average, and that could be enough if either opponent continues to be hit and miss.

Straight round two game here, with Cullen nearly getting through to round 3, only missing out by a couple of wins. His opponent is new Spanish tour card holder Perales, notable mostly for his incident with Lewis on the opening day, but that overlooks the good darts he played that day to reach the quarter finals. His numbers throughout are pretty solid, and not that far off Cullen's, who has had occasional struggles and loss of form (two opening round deciding leg defeats in the Players Championship not helping). If Cullen steps up he should have enough, but if the Spaniard can stick around he could spring a surprise.

Bunting could do with a bit of a run here to restore some confidence, which was starting to come back towards the end of last season in places. A near 60% clip of legs won in par is fine, but could certainly tighten up on consistency. His opponent will either be Chris Quantock, who we've seen a few times as he nearly made the worlds and is in the second year of a tour card run, most noticably in this tournament last year where he lost heavily to Simon Whitlock, or Bradley Brooks, a new tour card holder who won it outright on the final day and also got in here on the final day with a last 32 run, just enough to creep into round 1. Quantock's numbers are slightly better and he'll certainly have the experience advantage over someone who's played pretty much only Challenge/Development Tour games, which should see him through, and he could challenge Bunting if he shows up.

Vincent's got the draw he would have wanted, while he didn't tear anything up in the qualifiers, not making it past the last 32 in any of them, he's picked up cash in five qualifiers and isn't playing horribly bad, although he'd like to get more legs in under fifteen than he is doing. He'll play one of two Riley's qualifiers from two of my former haunts, with the Elo rankings only splitting them by one point. Lacey hasn't much record but he did make the quarters of the big Worthington's open that Paul Hogan won last year (Hogan knocked Lacey out), while Biggs has nothing other than making this comp last year, going out 6-4 in the opening round to Yordi Meeuwisse, who's a competent enough operator. Vincent should be too strong but can't afford to be complacent at all here.

van den Bergh can count himself incredibly unlucky to be in round 1 here, getting some tough draws and being on the wrong side of them. His numbers look outright spectacular, continuing what he was showing in the worlds, and should come in as a big favourite against Evans, who has course and distance for cashing, having made the last 64 in 2015 and 2016, and the last 96 last season, only being edged out by Ron Meulenkamp. The winner faces Chris Dobey, who got all of his qualifying money in the fifth qualifier, busting every other event in the last 128. Dobey's numbers look fine and steady, but Dimitri should be able to overcome him if he produces anything remotely like what he's been doing.

Wattimena will be looking to replicate his run to the last 32 from last season as he pushes up towards the top 32 in the world. He could certainly do with converting legs quicker, but is looking quite tight and consistent. His opponent will not be easy, as he'll get either Willie O'Connor, who we know on any day can bring a game to damage a lot better players than Wattimena, and whose game in the qualifiers isn't far behind, or former world finalist Andy Hamilton, who has come through the Riley's qualifiers as he looks to rebuild on the BDO/open circuit. Andy's still rated the second highest (behind Hogan) of the Riley's qualifiers on Elo so despite a bad couple of years he's still dangerous.

Richardson, after his last 16 worlds run, hasn't kicked off this season in a great fashion at all, only just doing enough to get into round 2, and putting up mediocre numbers. Oddly there's not a big difference between winning and losing legs, inconsistency always used to be the issue. His opponent will be either Robert Rickwood, a Challenge Tour winner last season but someone who didn't get close in Q-School, or Rene Berndt, who we saw three times on the European Tour last year without success. The two have the same overall points per turn, but Berndt shows a lot more variation between winning and losing legs - despite being the only player of the three to win even 40% of legs in par. This'll depend on which Berndt turns up, and which Richardson turns up, if Berndt throws bad legs then Rickwood wins, if Richardson keeps playing like this then he could easily go out.

Keegan's numbers look very good - enough explosive scoring to get double digits in four visit percentage, solid enough that he's nearly at 60% in five visit kills, and consistent enough that he's at a 90 average when losing legs, so it'll take something good to beat him. In round one there's two players at hugely different stages in their career - Jenkins with multiple decades of experience while Killington is barely into his twenties. Jenkins' experience could be important here, as their numbers are quite close in the qualifiers, Jenkins being marginally better - if it gets close then having been there before so many times might be the difference. Whoever wins will need to step it up hugely if they want to get close to Brown the way he is playing.

Spectacular looking first round match, which earlier in the decade could easily have been a major quarter final or similar, as Terry Jenkins is having one more punt at the circuit, while Nicholson, after winning his card back in 2017, is looking to get enough in the bank to retain it. We've barely seen the Bull throw a dart in a year, so seeing that his numbers still look good is critical and he should be a slight favourite in what is the first game on the stage in the afternoon. Their opponent is Richard North, who's still yet to transfer his floor game to the stage, but if you look at the figures from his floor game you can see why he's been able to get into positions to play on TV last season. The game is on an outer board so it should be a bit more comfortable a situation for North, but still a tight game to call whoever he plays.

An opening round game which makes you think it's 2004 again, Alex Roy continues his record of qualifying in the UK Open, and has a circuit veteran in Mark Walsh in the first round. Walsh probably could have qualified with a last 64 run on the final day, but did one better to be absolutely sure. Neither player can really claim an experience advantage, and Walsh's figures don't look too far out of Roy's reach. Alcinas is a different question, having a good World Championship and doing enough to push straight into round 2, his numbers look a step up from Walsh in all areas and should be playing well enough to advance into the money rounds.

Almost the closest thing we have to a guaranteed qualifier in the money, but Meulenkamp is a tough out for anyone. Nearly 90 points per turn with a good record of putting in big legs when needed, he may offer up enough chances for someone to break in fifteen/hold in eighteen if he's not careful though. He faces Andy Hibbert, who tried Q-School between 2011-13, getting nowhere, and played the pro qualifiers in those years, only getting three mincashes from 24 events. Of the 28 qualifiers that have an Elo rating, he ranks number 27, so shouldn't trouble Meulenkamp. Read and Davis are quite close in that metric, about 100 points higher a piece (but 200 points below Meulenkamp), so either should be a tougher test. Read tried Q-School but couldn't get out of the last 256, he qualified last year but lost to Jamie Caven, but he's still young enough to have played the world youth (lost 6-1 in the opening round) so has time on his side to gain this sort of experience. Davis also played the world youth (lost 6-0 in round one to Hopp), but did one better at this event last year, getting past Paul Harvey before narrowly losing to Ross Twell, having got in through the pro qualifiers. He also seems to like the Malta Open, playing that frequently and making the final last year.

Evetts is looking to rebuild after not doing quite enough to save his card last year, and not doing enough to win it back at Q-School. This is a good potential starting spot, saving his bacon on the last day of qualifiers with a last 16 run after putting nothing on the board previously, and he'll face one of two Riley's qualifiers from the same part of the country. Ward we know a bit more about and he's the fourth highest qualifier on Elo, still developing (he made the world youth, but went out in round two to the same guy that beat Read above in round one), but has been able to get into a couple of Pro Tour events, making a board final and winning one game on the other day in the last weekend of last season. He was here before two years ago, losing to Josh Payne 6-1 a round before the money. Lee is over 150 points lower on Elo, and in two years of attempting Q-School he's not made the last 128 on any of the eight days he's played, so you've got to put Ward down as the favourite in this one. Evetts should take the second round tie though.

A second straight young player versus one of two Riley's qualifiers game, with Aspinall continuing his resurgence, putting nearly three grand in the bank in the qualifiers, and hitting impressive statistics which shows why he did enough to make the European Championship last year. Pullen is close to unknown - no dartsdatabase record at all. Some quick googling shows he's not been putting up any sort of impressive averages on the county circuit, so let's look at Rice in comparison - he does have an Elo ranking of nearly 1500, over 200 points below Aspinall. He qualified two years ago but lost in round one to Ronny Huybrechts, and has minor cashes in the Worthington's Open and Welsh Open last year, so I think he should be favoured, but Aspinall is a class apart here.

Straight face off between Gilding and Clemens for the money here, as Gilding's three years removed from his amazing semi final run. The stats look quite close but Clemens has a minor edge - he won more legs, lost less legs, and is a fair bit more consistent. I can only see this being close, but Clemens has a small Elo edge and the recent form, having to have come through the European Q-School and nabbing an outright card on the last day to follow a semi final earlier.

Evans is the known name here, but is needing to come from round one, not being able to add anything after a last sixteen run on day two. The rapid thrower is looking OK on the numbers, with solid stats in kill speed but a bit too much variance between winning and losing. His first opponent will be Hajimena, who played Q-School from 2015-17 but failed to reach the last 64 on any day, and has mostly been drakking around the Challenge Tour with a best run last year of a quarter final. Evans should advance through that to face Wilkinson, who made it through with a last sixteen run on the final day after not being able to claim a tour card, adding nothing of note following an opening day quarter final at Q-School. Evans looks comfortably the superior player, and should add to three straight cashes.

Two Riley's qualifiers in the opening round that we know something about. Davidson is here for a third straight year, he lost a deciding leg to Lee Evans in round one last season but two years ago made the money with wins over Jan Dekker and Cristo Reyes, before going out 9-5 to Darren Webster. Still learning the game on the Development Tour, his opponent is Burgoine, who's tried the pro method for a few years but not got close, only making it in 2012 and 2013 through the amateur qualifiers, with a best in 2013 of getting one leg off the money in a loss to Richie Howson. A Challenge Tour regular but with no real success, Davidson I think might be the better pick here. Owen was having a good 2017 but couldn't do enough to retain his card, needing to reclaim it at Q-School which he did outright on day two, he nearly did enough to make it straight to the money, and should comfortably have enough to see off either potential opponent.

This game will see a pro vs amateur faceoff for the cash. Let's look at the pro's first - Mansell has been around for a while and we know what he can do, whereas Meikle is still in the infancy of his career at half Mickey's age, grabbing back his card. Meikle has been known to put up some red hot darts, but also be quite poor at times, whereas Mansell is a lot steadier with less ability to hit peaks. I think Meikle has enough if he can hold his game together, he's done well enough last weekend to win a board on the Pro Tour and make the first two European Tour events, so has form at least. Winstanley has no Elo rating, no dartsdatabase record, the only thing I can really see is some BDO inter-county averages that put him at about 75 or so. Craddock is 26/28 on Elo of the qualifiers with a rating, playing quite a few BDO opens around the UK and Europe, picking up fifty quid here, twenty quid there, nothing to really trouble the scorers, but he should have played a bit more and come in as a favourite in round one, but I doubt either can trouble the pro player in round two whichever one it is.

Johnson only just missed out on the World Championship last year, and will face a Riley's qualifier in John Scott, who is here for a fourth attempt, in 2016 he lost a decider to Dean Winstanley in round one, and in 2013 he lost 5-2 to James Hubbard (remember him?) - the year before he didn't even make round one proper, losing a prelim to Brian Woods. He's played the Challenge Tour but not really shown anything that should concern Johnson. Lowe was unimpressive at Q-School, which made it a real surprise when he made the semi final of the fourth qualifier, coming through the likes of Adie, Hendo and Keegan Brown. His numbers seem legitimate and a fair bit better than Johnson's, but it'll come down to whether Lowe can keep that form going into the main event, he'll need to as we know what to expect from Darren and he will bring what he can do.

This is an interesting pod, with former world finalist Shepherd being the highest ranked player, but having the worst numbers of the three. His first opponent is Adam Hunt, still in his early twenties despite seemingly having been around for a long time, Hunt can produce very good darts on his day but he's not really been able to do it often enough to push on at the senior level, having claimed six titles at Challenge/Development Tour level. When he can, as he did in Germany last year to make the final day of a European Tour event, look out. Shepherd was close to making round two outright and has had a few decent results in the last twelve months, winning his board on the Pro Tour last time out, so it has the potential to be close. Kamphuis reclaimed a card this January and is into round two following a quarter final run in qualifier five for his only cash of the series, and he is beating Shepherd's four visit kill percentage and Hunt's five visit kill percentage, producing a much better winning points per turn score. He should go in as a favourite against either opponent, but if he doesn't turn up he will lose.

Jones is back on the tour and back to accumulating cash - three cashes from six qualifiers being enough to get him into round two, and he added a board final and one European qualification last weekend to keep things ticking over. His opponent could be someone with very similar stats but at the opposite end of his career in Luke Humphries, the winner of the other secondary tour, who left it a bit close but got four mincashes to get in. Like Jones, he made a board final last weekend, but did the double in European qualification. If Humphries gets through it could be very tight, but Kelly is a wildcard in the top 5 of Elo for the Riley's qualifiers, and coming through the Wolverhampton qualifier could be someone Jones knows well. Kelly dropped off the scene for a few years but made the final of an open in Wolverhampton last year that was big enough to attract Durrant to play who beat him in the final, and in a brief PDC stint in 2012 he made the last 16 more than once on the main tour to qualify for this event, losing the round before the money to Kellett. Tough set of games to call.

Into the depths of the sub-100's in FRH rankings now, with two pro vs amateur first round games. Harris has adapted to the game on this side of the world well, with good stats all round, although having not got a card and only having got £50 on the opening Challenge Tour weekend, you wonder how often he'll play here this season. His opponent Mitchell is fairly unknown, last having an appearance in trying to qualify for this in 2009 through the amateur route, having done so the year before, missing out on money by one round losing to Alan Warriner (told you it was a while ago). Harris has the game now and should be fine. Barnard has been on the lower fringes of the circuit for ages and seems to be on a big upswing this season - he didn't get close to a card, but did make two finals on the Challenge Tour already this year, nick qualification on the wire in event six, and win his board on the opening Pro Tour weekend. Robertson could do without that form swing, he's here for a fourth time, cashing in 2012 but losing to Tabern in the opening round last year. It's probably the wrong time to face Barnard, who could give Harris problems in round two.

Noppert, after needing countback to get his tour card, has adapted to the PDC well, although he needed a great last day to qualify following 4/5 misses and a mincash up to then. A quarter final was more than enough and gets him into round two with very good finishing speeds and points per turn which are easily better than either opponent. Two board wins last weekend indicate that this is more likely to be the usual than the earlier results. Burnett/Harrington might have been an exciting matchup in 1999 or something, but this may be less so. Richie clocked four out of six cashes in qualification with much better figures than Ryan, and has kept things going with a board win last weekend, as he looks to keep edging up the rankings to try to retain the card he won in 2017. Ryan got to the last 32 of the first qualifier, adding a mincash later to be safe, and would like to get a good start after winning a tour card at the 29578th attempt. Burnett however ought to be too much of an ask on the main stage, and if not, Noppert will surely be too strong.

Let's look at the qualifiers first - McClelland is another unknown with no Elo, no dartsdatabase record, and I can't even find any sort of averages at county or Superleague level. I know nothing. Airey's dartsdatabase isn't much more extensive, but it does at least show him making the last 48 of the World Masters two years ago, so I think I've got to go with Airey. Kellett wasn't close to getting his card back after losing it in 2016, but cashed four times to make the event. He went out at this stage last year, but should do better against either opponent this year, and having shown a bit of a resurgence he could, with a decent draw, get close to the last sixteen run he made two years ago.

Two German speakers in this section, so let's look at Tate first - Elo isn't impressed with a score just below 1400 compared to either opponent who are in the mid-1500's. He's not known before Q-School, where he made one last 64 but not much outside of that, hence why he could play the amateur qualifiers. He made no money in the first Challenge Tour weekend, which is hardly threatening. Rasztovits has better numbers than Langendorf, but got done over on countback and a playoff to need to start at this stage. Someone who's played the worlds before and did enough to make a last 16 run in one of the qualifiers should have enough. Langendorf also made it through one last 16 run, so while he also seems hit and miss, he doesn't seem to do so to as high of an extent as Michael who I'd fancy to get out of this section.

We're now in the bizarre zone where a Riley's qualifier has the highest FRH ranking - that'd be the legend that is Paul Hogan. We know exactly what he can do and has done, which should be more than enough to dispatch Brown, whose six hundred quid on the Challenge Tour isn't a great resume. Goldie is a bit of a surprise package who won a tour card on countback after a final day semi, and after just one mincash in the last five events, smashed his way to a quarter final and a first round bye, beating Price, Aspinall and Michael Smith on the way. His numbers look fantastically good, the question is whether it's sustainable against someone of Hogan's quality and experience. I want to say no.

A multiple world champion and three qualifiers. Part only just got in with a single last 32 run, and the stats that he's churned out are distinctly un-Partlike. Whether any of the qualifiers can do anything about it is the question - Morris is low on Elo, went out in the round of 512 on every day of Q-School and has career earnings of four hundred quid, so I doubt it's him. Whitworth has been a regular participant here, but is the lowest ranked of all of the qualifiers with an Elo rating, and it's his tenth attempt to cash, getting one game away three times, so I doubt it's him either. Atkins could be the one, while he wasn't close at all at Q-School, he did win on the Challenge Tour already and qualify for one European Tour event, so is doing enough recently that I think he can get out of this segment.

Rafferty is into round two with a last 16 and last 32 run on the second weekend of qualifiers, while he's not finishing legs in a particularly quick fashion, his averages aren't quite so low as you'd expect with those figures. Jiwa is one potential opponent, sneaking in with a last 32 run on the final day as an only cash, on the second year of a card where he only picked up a grand in the first year. A poor showing of barely one in four won legs at a par speed, losing more legs than he won and only just breaking 80 points per turn, Mold could be in with a chance here. Jiwa's the lowest ranked pro on Elo after all. Mold has played this three times previously from 2014 to 2016 and returns after a year off, he cashed in 2015 after beating Jamie Robinson and Matt Edgar in deciding legs, so he must like the venue at least.

And on to the final games. Nentjes is a young player on the rise with good Development Tour results towards the back end of last season who advanced a round in the world youth, also getting to the semi final of the main worlds qualifier that Neyens won, and here he made the last 32 of the opening two days and added a mincash later to make the second round. He'll face a Riley's qualifier, and Elo can only separate them by 17 points - Jopling had a tour card from 2011-12 and returns here after a nine year absence, having a best run to the last 96 ten years prior, getting smashed by Steve Maish. Most recently he's been playing BDO stuff with moderate results, winning an open in Gibraltar two years ago. Pilgrim has also been around for a while, but with little record - prior to qualifying last year where he lost to someone who then got whitewashed by Jamie Caven, he only had a fifty quid cash in the England Open in 2009. Jopling probably advances but Nentjes' figures look decent so I think Jopling would be one and done.

And that's it. Bets to follow some time this week.

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