Broken Power tools?
Sid Waddell says Phil Taylor's out of sync with his darts, so James Wade is now the man to beat.
Last Updated: 13/07/11 4:59pm
The 2011 World Matchplay is going to be one of the most exciting and competitive darts tournaments you're ever going to see.
This event is full of tradition. The Winter Gardens in Blackpool is the longest-running venue for a PDC major and there's always a very special party atmosphere in the crowd.
Remember, the fans are often there on their holidays. The likes of Phil Taylor and Dennis Priestley used to go to Blackpool as kids, so they love to return as competitors.
They play on a stage that has been graced by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, George Formby and the great Josef Locke, whose songs would make people weep back in the 1950's. The venue's musical tradition was further enhanced when myself, John Gwynne and Dave Lanning performed a tribute to The Bachelors back in 1994!
The Winter Gardens has also been used for major political conferences. Margaret Thatcher, Hugh Gaitskell and Harold Wilson have all given speeches on that stage.
But more recently it's been the home to some classic darting moments. I remember the last televised singles competition that Jocky Wilson took part in was here in 1995. His 70-yard walk-on lasted eight minutes (we had to play 'Loch Lomond' by Runrig three-and-a-half times), but he still managed to beat world number one Rod Harrington.
The Matchplay is also renowned for some tight matches and some amazing turnarounds. In the first ever final, Dennis Priestley went to pieces and threw away a lead to Larry Butler of America. I also recall that Rod Harrington won in both 1998 and 1999 with a score of 19-17 on each occasion.
Because you have to win by two clear legs, it often comes down to who can handle the pressure when there's only one leg in it. It gives us some incredible tension.
And of course, we've seen many magic moments from Phil Taylor, who has won this event 11 times since 1994. He won 28 consecutive matches here between 2000 and 2005 and in 2009 he averaged 106 for the whole tournament, losing just 20 legs in five games.
And there was also the famous first televised nine-darter in 2002 when he was in a close match with Chris Mason, a feat that was repeated by Raymond van Barneveld last year.
It all happens in Blackpool, so expect ups and downs and swings and roundabouts again in 2011.
No title for Taylor?
The last major tournament, the UK Open, was very high quality and if the players bring that sort of form in then anything could happen. The better-known names could be in for another serious test.
According to the rankings, the final should be between Phil Taylor (1) and Adrian Lewis (2). However, I shall give you a few reasons why I don't expect that to be the case.
In brief, Taylor is out of sync with his darts. He's in limbo like he was when he changed them in 2008. Back then he took a while to get used to his new arrows and he only averaged 93 in the early weeks of that season's Premier League. I think he's in that place again.
He has done some amazing things with these tools - he peaked with two nine-darters in the 2010 Premier League Final - but when the pressure is on I think these darts exaggerate his nervousness. These are the most complex darts ever designed and he's not as crisp as he needs to be with the minute alterations of weight. As a result, he sometimes misses by half an inch.
As a measure of his vulnerability, he lost to six different people in five weeks last autumn including the likes of Joe Cullen and Steve Beaton, which seems to have been in the back of his mind ever since.
We've seen him do some amazing things in Blackpool over the years, but we haven't seen the best of him lately. He's not getting any younger and I don't see how he's going to put it right.
We saw it with Eric Bristow. After he suffered from dartitis, he lost the instinct to take out big shots. I'm not saying Taylor's problems are as severe as that, but I'm not sure he can dig as deep as he used to be able to.
That's why I don't think he will be the man in Blackpool.
I'm also not backing Lewis because I have seen signs of a lack of concentration. It's an old problem with him and it could come back to haunt him.
In fact, he might even get a run for his money in his first-round match with Kevin Painter.
The likely lads
So I'm ruling out the top two and instead my prediction is that the final will be contested by James Wade and Gary Anderson.
Wade kicked his much-publicised psychological problems out of the window in Bolton as he won the UK Open in style. Unlike some, he had to play eight games and he impressed me most when he stormed back from 7-3 down to win his semi-final 10-9 against Mark Webster.
In fact, he only showed a brief flash of weakness in the final when he missed eight attempts at his signature double-top. Even after those early struggles, he didn't flinch and went on to win the title.
Like Anderson, his success is based on a very simple technique and that has taken him to two of the last four majors (the UK Open and the World Grand Prix) and six overall in his career. He is also very strong - I'd say he has the strongest arms in the game - but as a former motor mechanic he's also very dexterous.
He commented before last year's Grand Prix final that while Lewis hits more 180's, he hits more doubles and his shot-outs are one of the key factors in his success.
Conversely that's the major weakness in Anderson's game. He lets a few missed doubles get to him.
The Scotsman is in fabulous form, but I think the doubles could be the decisive factor in this tournament. I expect to see him lose to Wade in the final.
The key outsiders
There are also a few guys who could upset the apple cart. Paul Nicholson is in Wade's half of the draw and could be very dangerous.
This is the guy that came back from 5-1 down to beat Anderson at the UK Open - and then went and beat Taylor later in the day. Those two matches showed that he is capable of winning a major.
I think he might bump into Wade too early to realise that dream in Blackpool, but he's the only guy I can see troubling him in that half of the draw.
Also, look out for the Raymond van Barneveld v Steve Brown match in the opening round, as the Englishman played well here last year. The winner of that game could cause a few problems.
In the top half, keep an eye on Wes Newton, who is having his best ever season.
He got to the UK Open final and is playing extremely well. The only problem is that he tends to concentrate on the left-hand corner of the 60 and, as a result, loses some darts into the treble five.
Also watch out for Colin Lloyd, who is on a charge of good form and could give Anderson a few problems in the second round.
When all is said and done, I'm tipping Wade to win it - but I expect plenty of tension along the way!