The opening night of The Masters sees the 16 players ranked between 9-24 in the world rankings battling it out over the best of 11 legs in Milton Keynes on Friday, with the aim of reaching six first and setting up a clash with a seed on Saturday.
We might have to wait until Saturday for the likes of Luke Humphries, Michael van Gerwen and Michael Smith to come to the party but while we wait the defending champion Chris Dobey, Jonny Clayton and Stephen Bunting are among the class acts on show in the first round.
First Four Matches
We begin the tournament with what could have been a heavy scoring contest had Dirk van Duijvenbode been fully fit. The fact that the evidence suggests that he isn’t could well be music to the ears of Ryan Searle, his opponent on Friday. Jonny Clayton had a bit of a 2023 to forget so he’ll be looking to start 2024 off in the right way when he takes on Krzysztof Ratajski. When they are done Dave Chisnall will look to build on a fine 2023 campaign when he meets the German player Martin Schindler before we reach the halfway point of the evening with Damon Heta facing the other player from Germany in Gabriel Clemens.
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Later Four Matches
We enter the second half of the evening with a potentially cracking clash as Dimitri Van den Bergh looks to set up a 2024 where he will be aiming to rise up the rankings again. He meets James Wade in the pick of the matches on the night. The defending champion Chris Dobey then gets his title defence up and running when he faces the UK Open winner Andrew Gilding before the 2022 champion Joe Cullen goes up against the tournament debutant Josh Rock. The evening concludes with Stephen Bunting facing the former European champion Ross Smith.
I’m never one to go deep into these best of 11 leg matches but that is even more the case here when you consider that pretty much everyone on show on Friday evening will be playing for the first time in over a month and in some cases six weeks. They might need a few legs to get up and running but this format doesn’t really allow for that. That leaves me looking down the list to see if there is an favourite and outsider the wrong way around and there might well be one with Joe Cullen against Josh Rock.
Rock has been talked of highly in the game for a while and it might be no bad thing that Luke Littler has emerged to take the hype away from him but the last time we saw Rock he hugely disappointed at the World Championship after coughing up that lead to James Wade at the Grand Slam the month before. Cullen could be standing here as world champion given that he ran Luke Humphries close and should have beaten him in that epic final contest of 2023. If Cullen plays like that here and is sharper on the doubles I think he takes some beating. Cullen has won this tournament in the past whereas Rock is tasting it for the first time so there is enough in the even money on ‘Rockstar’ to justify backing him here.
Back J.Cullen to beat J.Rock for a 3/10 stake at 2.00 with William Hill
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