It’s that time of year again when fans will chuck on their wackiest wigs and scribble out their “Hello Mum” placards as the fifth Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters heads to Garhoud from Wednesday May 24 to Thursday 25.
Bringing eight of the world’s finest exponents of arrows action to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, the two-day tournament promises more of the fireworks seen previously.
Last time out, Gary Anderson dethroned three-time champion Michael van Gerwen in a thrilling finale, producing a stunning comeback from 8-4 down to clinch the title 11-9. The Flying Scotsman’s decision to swap his 23g darts to the heavier 25g ones proved a masterstroke as he took full advantage of his Dutch rival’s loss of accuracy in the latter stages to secure his first Dubai winner’s trophy.
Having had his run of three straight wins in Garhoud finally ended, van Gerwen will be determined to wrest back the Dubai crown he holds so dear. However, he and Anderson will both face a stern test of their mettle as they join six of the best players of the planet.
But the event is also well known for its sense of fun, epitomised by the array of fancy dress on show. So without further ado, here’s our lowdown on what to expect at this year’s event.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium is one of the best-loved arenas on the world tennis circuit. Officially inaugurated in February 1996, the venue has hosted the great and good of the tennis world, with Swiss legend Roger Federer the undisputed king of the 5,000-seater centre court, having clinched no fewer than seven titles here. British hero and world number one Andy Murray finally broke his Dubai duck this year by defeating Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in straight sets, making up for the disappointment of a 2012 final defeat at the hands of Federer. But for two days, the rackets will be in the bag as the darts stars take to the fore with doubles, trebles, bulls and 180s raining in from all angles.
The defending champion will go into this year’s Masters as one of the hot favourites and will be looking to avenge his defeat to van Gerwen at the 2017 World Championships, which deprived him of a third successive title at London’s Alexandra Palace. Something of a late bloomer, it took “The Flying Scotsman” the best part of 15 years to reach the top of his game after turning pro in 2000. But with two world titles now under his belt and his inherent ability to score heavily, the 46-year-old is almost unbeatable on his day.
Walk-on music: Jump Around by House of Pain, preceded by the intro to Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who.
Voted the Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) Best Newcomer back in 2012, “Chizzy” has been a regular in the latter stages of premier events over the past few years. A broken foot forced him to swap his amateur football career for the arrows, but thankfully for the Lancastrian, he proved a total natural on the oche. He announced his arrival on the PDC scene with a stunning 4-1 triumph over Phil Taylor at the 2012 World Championships, and last year, he was runner-up at both The Masters and the Players Championship Finals. Although something of an outsider, the 36-year-old will be hoping he can build upon his undoubted promise here in Dubai.
Walk-on music: Dizzy by Vic Reeves and The Wonder Stuff.
Price used to play hooker for Welsh rugby union sides Neath and Cross Keys before ditching the scrums for the oche full time in 2014. The youngest of the Dubai line-up, “The Iceman” has already made his mark in 2017, reaching the final of his first PDC major, the UK Open, where he lost 11-6 to Peter Wright. The 32-year-old knows what it takes to win tournaments though, having triumphed in two Players Championship events last year. Can he cause an upset at the Masters? Only time will tell.
Walk-on music: Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice.
Taylor is the greatest player to have ever graced the game. Anyone questioning such a statement only has to look at his 16 World Championships titles to know “The Power” is a phenomenal force. Respected and feared by his rivals in equal measure, Taylor won the inaugural Champions League of Darts last year. Sadly, the 56-year-old English star has decided to retire after the 2018 Worlds, so if you want to catch him in Dubai one last time, make sure you grab a ticket.
Walk-on music: The Power by Snap!, preceded by intro to Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland.
Raymond van Barneveld
One of the sport’s most-loved characters, “Barnie” is one of only three players to have captured five World titles (Taylor and “The Crafty Cockney” Eric Bristow being the others). His perennial ding-dong battles with “The Power” are the stuff of darts folklore and the Dutchman continues to produce top-notch performances, especially on the biggest stage. Now 50, van Barneveld has reached the semi-finals at the last three Worlds, including the 2017 edition, when he lost out to fellow countryman Michael van Gerwen in the highest-scoring game the tournament has ever seen. There’s no doubting he’d be a popular winner in Dubai.
Walk-on music: Eye of the Tiger by Survivor.
Michael van Gerwen
The Dubai Masters king might have lost his crown to Anderson in 2016, but that will only fire him on this time around. Having secured his second World Championships trophy in January, “Mighty Mike” comes to Dubai full of confidence and his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it style is spectacular to behold. A third successive Masters win followed his Alexandra Palace triumph and the Dutchman currently holds all seven PDC major titles. If he can continue to show such stunning form, it would take a brave man to write off his chances of a fourth win out of five here in Dubai.
Walk-on music: Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes preceded by the riff from Shine On You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd.
“The Machine” has a slew of major titles to his name including two UK Opens and two World Grand Prix. The left-hander is still chasing his first World crown, but if he can recapture his past form when nine-dart finishes were a regular occurrence, Wade’s moment in the sun can surely only be a double-top or two away.
Walk-on music: The Boys Are Back In Town by Thin Lizzy, preceded by a riff from Baba O’Riley by The Who.
Instantly recognisable for his multicoloured Mohawk, which he dyes a different hue for each tournament, the Suffolk-based Scotsman has far more about him than an eye-catching hairstyle. “Snakebite” has started 2017 with a bang, reaching the World Championships
semi-finals before winning his first major trophy with victory in the UK Open. He followed that up with further successes at both the German Darts Championship and German Open. Now sitting at number three in the world (his highest ever ranking), Wright will be one to watch in Dubai.
Walk-on music: Don’t Stop The Party by Pitbull, preceded by intro to Baba O’Riley by The Who.
Top-level darts tournaments are well known for their carnival atmospheres and the fans in Dubai are no less colourful than their counterparts across the world. The dress code is very much fancy for the two-day jamboree, with Homer Simpsons and spacemen regularly rubbing shoulders with Smurfs and superheroes. Noise levels can reach cacophonous as the fans cheer on their heroes. The walk-on music never fails to get the crowd pumping. “Oh, Michael van Gerwen!” to the tune of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army is one of the most famous numbers. Expect his own army of fans to belt this out at full volume. And if you’re a group of ten and book a VIP table (Dhs7,999), you’ll even get enough food and beverages to help you achieve that portly, Jocky Wilson-esque look you’ve been striving for.
THE FINE PRINT
Dhs150 (per day); Dhs250 (Wed and Thu); from Dhs7,999 (VIP table for ten), May 24-25, gates open 6pm. Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Garhoud, www.800tickets.com.