Greater Manchester’s Nathan Aspinall begins his quest to find glory at the World Grand Prix of Darts, after being drawn a first round tie against Stephen Bunting.
The match will take place next week on 2 October at the Morningside Arena in Leicester, and will be the start of the Asp’s attempt to go one better than last year’s runners-up medal and take the crown.
In last year’s final, the man from Stockport lost in the final to Michael van Gerwen 5-3, with the Dutchman claiming his sixth World Grand Prix title.
Yet, having already won the World Matchplay earlier this year, Aspinall will be hoping to take his recent form into the tournament to build on his success in televised majors.
The world number five had a strong checkout percentage of 41.62% in his victory at the Winter Gardens, which will prove crucial at the World Grand Prix.
The event is the only televised ‘double in, double out’ tournament, in which players must commence each leg by hitting a double – or the bullseye – before starting the scoring phase of the leg.
"THE ASP SINKS TO HIS KNEES! HE WINS THE BIGGEST TITLE OF HIS CAREER!" 🏆🎯— Sky Sports Darts (@SkySportsDarts) July 23, 2023
Nathan Aspinall is the 2023 World Matchplay champion 👑 pic.twitter.com/WwzFvFQfLt
The 32-year-old must maintain his recent strong record on the doubles, if he is to improve on last year’s achievement.
He posted a photo of him practising ahead of the tournament on Instagram, with the caption, “Finally a little practice session haha”.
He added: “Looking forward to returning to some pro tours this week.”
This refers to the three Players Championship events held at the Metrodome in Barnsley this week, before the Grand Prix commences on Monday.
Those involved will be hoping to use these smaller tournaments to keep sharp ahead of the televised major.
Elsewhere in the draw, defending champion Michael van Gerwen faces young sensation Josh Rock in what looks like the standout first-round tie.
It was just over 10 months ago that the Northern Irishman hit a nine-dart leg against the Mighty Mike at the Grand Slam of Darts. But the Dutchman managed to deny the Northern Irishman on that occasion, eventually defeating him 10-8 in a blockbuster affair.
It will be the 22-year-old Rock’s debut at the Grand Prix and it is set to be a baptism of fire.
MVG will be hoping to win a seventh title at this year’s event. He is the tournament favourite at 3/1 but will have to come through a tough contest against the youngest player of the Grand Prix field.
The bookmakers make 2020 winner Gerwyn Price the biggest threat to Van Gerwen. The Ice Man has been laid odds of 7/2 to win the competition.
His recent success on the Pro Tour, having won three Players Championships in late August and early September, means he enters the competition in fine form. The Welshman faces Danny Noppert in his first game.
The World No. 1 and World Champion Michael Smith will face the resurgent Callan Rydz in his opening match.
The man from St Helens has struggled to build on his success from the start of the year. After success the World Championships and the Bahrain Masters, Smith has been victorious just once, winning on the Pro Tour in June.
The Newcastle-born Rydz’s form has picked up. He won his third ever Pro Tour title earlier this month, at Players Championship 19.
Having slowed down the speed of his throw, the Riot seems more accurate and composed at the oche, meaning he will be a tough test for the Bully Boy.
Yet Smith is still the third favourite amongst the bookies, coming in at 6/1 to win the 2023 Grand Prix.
The competition is stiff and Aspinall will have to come through some tough opponents to claim victory in Leicester.
But he is currently playing some incredible darts and, following his Matchplay victory, it is clear the Asp has the ability to go all the way this time out.