NINETY-SIX of the top darts players on the planet, representing 28 countries, will compete in the 2019 William Hill World Darts Championship at the Alexandra Palace, battling for a share of the record-breaking prizemoney of £2.5 million and all the action starts this evening.
In the mix will be Plymouth’s Simon Stevenson who qualified from the ProTour Order of Merit, based on prizemoney won across 41 non-televised events in 2018 and 32 international qualifiers.
The Mirror Man did not have the best of fortunes in 2017, finishing the year in 76th place in the PDC Order of Merit, which meant that to remain on the tour, he would have to return to Q School with the hope of re-gaining his Tour Card.
Stevenson was one of 430 players at the Robin Park Tennis Centre, Wigan, hoping to win one of just 23 tour cards that were on offer and after four days of competition which saw him defeat no fewer than 16 players, he had won back his coveted Tour Card for the next two years.
When the Q School’s final Order of Merit table was made known, Stevenson was in joint fifth place, a remarkable achievement.
The Mirror Man went on to have his best year on the Pro Tour which began by qualifying for the UK Open, picking up good wins over Mervyn King, Jelle Klaasen, Keegan Brown and Bradley Brooks, before being denied a place in the last eight of two of the qualifiers when defeated by Peter Wright and Michael van Gerwen.
But the Plymouth thrower not only qualified for the prestigious tournament, but he had done enough to be seeded as a top 32 player, an excellent achievement against the best players in the world.
In February, Stevenson qualified for both the Austrian and German Opens, leaving seasoned campaigners in his wake as he remained undefeated throughout, one of just seven players to qualify for both Euro tourneys.
In Players Championship Two Stevenson boasted a 6-0 victory over Daryl Gurney and carried that form into Players Championship Three, winning his way to the last 32 before being defeated by Gary Anderson, despite leading 2-1.
Players Championship Four saw Stevenson drawn once again against Gurney, but the 2017 World Grand Prix champion found the Plymouth marksman too good for a second time and was edged out 6-5.
Once again Stevenson got to the last 32 before losing to Josh Payne but finished the day having hit seven maximums, achieving an overall average of 97.60, the 12th highest of the 128 competitors.
Players Championship Five took place at Arena MK in Milton Keynes the following Saturday and for the second weekend on the spin, Stevenson took the scalp of the World’s No.5 ranked player Daryl Gurney.
The £75,000 event was delayed for 45 minutes due to a fire alert but that didn’t distract Stevenson from the job in hand as he won his first match 6-1 against Scotsman Jamie Bain before meeting Gurney once again.
Simon sweeped into the last 32 with wins in 13, 17, 14, 15, 13 and 14 for an excellent 100.20 average but was denied a spot in the last 16 when edged out 6-5 by James Wade.
But it was another good performance from the Plymouth marksman whose 96.9 average bettered that of Wade’s 95.9 and he finished the day with an overall average of 96.30 having hit 10 maximums and increasing his ranking by another 1,000 points.
The Mirrorman returned to Milton Keynes to contest Players Championship Six and finished with an overall average of 95.2, having hit 10 maximums in his three matches.
At the end of April, Simon was at the Robin Park Tennis Centre, Wigan, for Player Championship Nine, hoping to improve on first round defeats in his last four tournaments and he bounced back to form with gusto.
Wins over Steve Lennon and Robert Thornton put him into the last 32 where he defeated Peter Wright 6-5.
This excellent victory caught the eye of a lot of admirers, none more so than the Media platform Darts News, who reported: “We are through to the last 32 at the 9th Players Championship event in Wigan and although Michael van Gerwen still remains, multiple big names have gone home.
“These include Peter Wright who was dumped out by Simon Stevenson. Stevenson is known as one of the most formidable players on the floor and showed that when defeating him in a deciding leg”.
Unfortunately, Simon’s form dipped in the last 16 and he went out 6-2 to an in-form Adrian Lewis who took out three ton plus checkouts, finishing with a 96.2 average.
In April, less than 24 hours after being put out of two European qualifiers, Stevenson had a change of fortune and put in a creditable performance to boost his Players Championship ranking by another 1,000 points.
He took the scalp of Jamie Caven in the opening round of Players Championship 11 before defeating Justin Pipe 6-5, taking the 11th and deciding leg in 12 with a checkout of 120.
His opponent in the last 32 was Paul Nicholson who was good value for his 6-2 victory when achieving an average of 102.80.
Fine margins have always defined professional sport and those margins cost Simon what should have been a place in both the European Darts Matchplay and the German Darts Championship when competing in June.
The Plymouth marksman paid the price for missed doubles at crucial times but still gave a good account of himself, evident in the fact that from the four matches he played, he hit 14 maximum scores, finishing with a 91.42 average.
The long summer lay-off took its toll on the Plymouth marksman as he failed to qualify for either the Dutch Darts Championship or the International Darts Open, but he bounced back to form in Players Championship 18.
Stevenson hit a 97.2 average when stopping Mickey Mansell’s progress, coming from 5-2 down to win the next four in 16, 17, 18 and a leg in 12 which he finished with a kill of 136 to progress to the next round.
The Plymouth marksman then had to come face to face with the current world champion Rob Cross (pictured right), but he took it all in his stride to win 6-3, before losing 6-4 in the last 32 to Dutchman Ron Meulenkamp.
The PDC calendar moved on to the Citywest Convention Centre Dublin towards the end of September and Stevenson began a wonderful weekend by qualifying for the final European event of the year, namely the 2018 European Darts Trophy which was to take place at Lokhalle, Gottinghen in Germany.
He then defeated Alan Tabern in Players Championship 19 the following day, achieving a 94.80 average and notching five maximums.
Simon was then drawn to meet Ian White a winner of no fewer than nine Players Championship events and achieved a 6-2 victory, posting a 96.50 average.
That put The Mirror Man into the last 32 where he came from behind to defeat Cameron Menzies 6-4 before being defeated by Andrew Gilding, despite posting a 95.00 average.
In October Simon did himself proud in the first round of the European Darts Trophy, despite losing 6-3 to Vincent van der Voort in the PDC’s final European event of the year which was held at Lokhalle, Gottinghen in Germany.
The Dutchman had not been in the best form on recent PDC showings but had a sensational start against the Plymouth marksman when he went 3-0 up in 13, 11 and 13, boasting a three-dart average of 121.86.
Stevenson took three excellent legs of his own in 14, 14 and 15 but further wins in 16, 14 and 15 were enough to give van der Voort a 6-3 victory to progress to the next round.
He finished with a 103.96 average against Stevenson’s mark of 94.36, and the high scoring thriller produced nine maximum scores, four 180s of which were achieved by The Mirror Man.
In November Simon was one of 64 players contesting the Ladbroke’s Players Championship finals at Butlins Minehead Resort but was disappointingly defeated in the opening round by Mervyn King, a player that he defeated 6-4 back in February in Round Three of European Qualifier Four.
But it’s been back to the practice board ever since as he gears up for the big one and will face Ted Evetts, live on Sky Sports tomorrow evening with the winner playing Adrian Lewis on Thursday, December 20.
Rob Cross will begin the defence of his World title tonight and the line-up will also include Lisa Ashton who defeated Plymouth's Maria O'Brien in the final of the UK and Ireland Women’s qualifier at Milton Keynes last month.
Tonight's full line-up
Jeffrey de Zwaan v Nitin Kumar (R1)
Martin Schindler v Cody Harris (R1)
Jan Dekker v Lisa Ashton (R1)
Rob Cross v De Zwaan/Kumar (R2)