Sky Live: PDC World Darts Championship
The World Championship kicks off on Thursday at 6.30pm, live on our dedicated Sky Sports Darts channel
By Josh Gorton
Last Updated: 12/12/18 8:35pm
The PDC World Darts Championship gets underway at the Alexandra Palace on Thursday evening, as Rob Cross aims to defend his title in darts' biggest ever event, with 96 players battling it out for the Sid Waddell Trophy this year.
Only eight men have ever won the PDC World Championship since its inception in 1994, and Cross followed in Raymond van Barneveld's footsteps last year - clinching the world title on his debut by beating Phil Taylor in the final.
'Voltage' is second seed at this year's event but has struggled for form over recent months, while world No 1 Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson represent the biggest dangers - with both men bidding to win their third world title.
Van Gerwen and Anderson are undeniably the best two players in world darts at present, but there will be no dream final between the pair, as they are scheduled to meet in the semi-finals.
'The Green Machine' is top seed at the Alexandra Palace for the fifth consecutive year, whilst Anderson remains fourth seed, despite winning three major televised titles in 2018.
Van Gerwen plays either Alan Tabern or Raymond Smith in his opener, whilst Anderson could take on Paul Nicholson, if 'The Asset' overcomes Kevin Burness in round one.
However, MVG faces a potential last 16 showdown against either Adrian Lewis or Van Barneveld, with Barney having dethroned his compatriot at the same stage back in 2016.
Meanwhile, Anderson could meet Daryl Gurney in the quarter-finals, in a repeat of this year's World Grand Prix quarter-final, which Gurney won 3-0.
The Northern Irishman also collected his second PDC major title at last month's Players Championship Finals, and the winner of that event has gone on to win the World Championship in four of the last six years.
The bottom half of the draw is wide open, with both Cross and Peter Wright flattering to deceive over recent outings.
Cross faces a potential second-round showdown with World Matchplay semi-finalist Jeffrey de Zwaan, if the Dutchman overcomes Indian qualifier Nitin Kumar in the tournament's curtain-raiser.
Mensur Suljovic and Michael Smith are on a collision course to meet in the last 16, with the winner due to face Cross in the quarter-finals.
'The Gentle' has been the epitome of consistency in PDC majors in 2018, registering semi-final appearances at the Champions League, World Grand Prix and Grand Slam, whilst also reaching the World Matchplay final.
However, Suljovic has never reached the quarter-finals at the Ally Pally, therefore Smith is highly fancied to come through the bottom half of the draw and reach his third televised final of the season.
Wright has Ian White, Joe Cullen, Kyle Anderson and recent Grand Slam of Darts champion Gerwyn Price in his quarter of the draw, after the Scot was recently dethroned as world No 2.
He suffered a second-round defeat to eventual semi-finalist Jamie Lewis 12 months ago, and 'Snakebite' will be desperate to recapture his rampaging 2017 form - having scooped the solitary ranking title this year.
There will be 23 players making their PDC World Championship debuts this year, including four-time BDO women's champion Lisa Ashton.
'The Lancashire Rose' will make her Alexandra Palace bow alongside the returning Anastasia Dobromyslova, who originally competed at this tournament back in 2009.
The pair both progressed through the respective women's qualifiers which were introduced following the tournament's expansion, and both have been handed difficult draws.
Ashton faces former Lakeside semi-finalist Jan Dekker in her opener, for the right to take on Mervyn King, whilst Dobromyslova could take on Simon Whitlock if she defeats Pro Tour qualifier Ryan Joyce in round one.
Former Lakeside runner-up Danny Noppert, who reached the semi-finals at the recent Players Championship Finals, is another high-profile debutant, and he could meet Max Hopp in the second round.
The Season So Far
In terms of televised events, it's been one of the most unpredictable seasons in PDC history, with six different major televised winners.
Following on from Cross' fairytale World Championship triumph, Van Gerwen sealed his fourth straight Masters crown and a third successive Premier League title.
However, Anderson has claimed a hat-trick of majors this season, winning maiden titles at the UK Open, World Matchplay and the Champions League of Darts.
Van Gerwen regained his World Grand Prix crown in October, before James Wade returned to the winner's circle after a four-year hiatus; winning consecutive titles at the European Championship and World Series of Darts Finals.
Gerwyn Price became the latest first-time major winner after beating Anderson in a controversial Grand Slam final, while Gurney clinched his second major at the Players Championship Finals, 14 months on from his World Grand Prix triumph.
Despite enjoying a trophy-laden 2018, MVG's dominance in major events has wavered, and his tally of three TV titles is his lowest since 2014, which evidences the growing strength-in-depth within world darts.
Van Gerwen remains favourite to win a third World Championship crown on New Year's Day, but with Lewis, Van Barneveld, Wade and Anderson all potentially in his path, it promises to be one of the most open World Championships in recent memory.
Attention now switches to the World Championship with 16 days of coverage, kicking off with a live preview show from Alexandra Palace at 6pm on Thursday, December 13 right through until the final on New Year's Day.
Keep up to date with the news as the tungsten enters its busiest time of year with the PDC World Championships just around the corner get all the latest at www.skysports.com/darts and join in the conversation@SkySportsDarts