THE world’s top stars will descend on Cardiff this weekend for the second staging of the Unibet Champions League of Darts.
The BBC-televised tournament sees their eight stars competing across four sessions at the Motorpoint Arena, with a round-robin group stage followed by the semi-finals and final on Sunday evening.
Group A features four World Champions as Michael van Gerwen, reigning champion Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis and Raymond van Barneveld do battle in an eagerly-awaited series of fixtures.
Their rivals in Group B are headlined by two-time World Champion Gary Anderson and reigning UK Open champion Peter Wright, alongside Champions League debutants Dave Chisnall and Mensur Suljovic.
Taylor defeated Van Gerwen in last year’s final and will meet the World Champion during the Group Stage, although he begins his title defence on Saturday afternoon against Lewis.
“It was fantastic to win the Champions League last year and it would be wonderful to win it again this weekend,” said Taylor. “It’s a great event and it should be a good weekend in Cardiff.
“It’s eight great players and our group’s fantastic with Michael, Adrian and Barney, so it should be exciting. I want to get off to a good start against Adrian and then see what happens from there.”
Lewis is making his first appearance since the World Matchplay after recovering from a back operation, having battled through to the semi-finals in Blackpool early in his recuperation.
“I can’t wait to get back playing again – it feels like ages since Blackpool but I’m excited,” said Lewis. “To get so far in the World Matchplay despite it only being a couple of weeks after the operation showed what I can do.
“This will be tough because there are three other great players in my group but I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been working hard in practice in the last couple of weeks and I want to get back up on stage now.”
Van Gerwen takes on Van Barneveld in an all-Dutch opener on Saturday afternoon, with the world number one aiming to erase the memory of last year’s defeat in the final.
“I’m really looking forward to the Champions League event for many reasons,” said Van Gerwen. “One is because it is something I haven’t won yet and that makes me very motivated.
“I have been playing very well since my month’s break, and becoming a dad has made me focus more and be more relaxed at the same time – that is when I play my best darts.
“Of course, I want to put right what went wrong in my last TV tournament when I lost to Phil Taylor in Blackpool and I’m going to get the chance to do that in Cardiff.
“Everyone will be talking about that match between myself and Phil but I am not concentrating just on that – it would be silly to write off Adrian Lewis and Raymond van Barneveld.
“They haven’t won World Championships for no reason and whoever wins that group will deserve it.
“I think that it will be me because if I play near to my best game then I can win any match against any opponent, and I expect myself to win any tournament I play in.”
Group B’s opening matches see Scottish star Anderson taking on Austrian ace Mensur Suljovic, the 2016 European Championship finalist, while world number three Wright faces heavy-scoring Chisnall.
“My preparation has been good and I’m really looking forward to the Champions League now,” said Wright. “I’ve been working really hard in practice and my aim is to win the group and hopefully take that into the semi-finals.
“It’s a great tournament with the top eight in the world, so it would be massive for me to win it.”
The Unibet Champions League of Darts, offering £250,000 in prize money, will be broadcast live on BBC1 and BBC2 throughout the weekend, as well as through the PDC’s series of international broadcast partners.
Tickets for the Unibet Champions League of Darts are available through motorpointarenacardiff.co.uk or by calling 029 2022 4488.
Unibet Champions League of Darts
Schedule of Play
Saturday September 16
Afternoon Session (1.15pm) – live on BBC1
First Group Matches
Peter Wright V Dave Chisnall (B)
Gary Anderson V Mensur Suljovic (B)
Phil Taylor V Adrian Lewis (A)
Michael van Gerwen V Raymond van Barneveld (A)
Evening Session (6.45pm) – live on BBC2
The afternoon session’s winners face each other, and the losing players face each other.
Sunday September 17
Afternoon Session (1pm) – live on BBC2
Final Group Matches
Evening Session (6.30pm) – live on BBC2
Group Matches – Best of 19 legs
Semi-Finals & Final – Best of 21 legs