The StanJames.com World Matchplay begins this evening as 32 players battle to take the £100,000 title at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool
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The 17th staging of the World Matchplay sees arguably the strongest field in the event's history battling for £400,000 prize money from July 17-25.
Reigning champion Phil Taylor, who won his tenth title last summer with a record margin of victory in defeating Terry Jenkins 18-4 in the final, enters the fray on Tuesday when he plays Barrie Bates in the first round.
However, world number two Raymond van Barneveld is in action in one of four games on the opening night of the event on Saturday, when he takes on in-form Denis Ovens, the 53-year-old who reached his first ever televised semi-final in last month's Rileys Darts Zones UK Open.
Dutch star van Barneveld failed to qualify for the UK Open and returns to action in Blackpool having had a two-month break from darts since the end of the Whyte & Mackay Premier League - which included a trip to South Africa to cheer on the Netherlands in football's World Cup.
"The break has been really good for me," said van Barneveld. "The time off was nice for me and I had a relaxing time watching the World Cup, first at home but then last week in Cape Town and at the final in Johannesburg.
"I've practice a lot during my break and I'm full of confidence. I noticed too during the break that I missed the darts and I'm really looking forward to playing in the World Matchplay.
"I've known Denis for years and he is one of the most dangerous players in the floor tournaments but he is playing really well on TV now and has more self-confidence so I know what I'm going to face."
The tournament will open when veteran Dennis Priestley, who turned 60 on Friday, faces Vincent van der Voort, the fast-throwing Dutchman who reached the quarter-finals in Blackpool last summer.
"Vincent is probably the fastest player on the circuit and I'm classed as very sedate," said Priestley, wryly referring to his slow but deliberate action.
"He's going to have to adapt and play at my pace, because it's not going to bother me one bit. I won't be rushing about because you can soon get into that rhythm and it's no good to me - I'd be out of breath!"
He added: "It would be nice to be the oldest player to have a good run in one of these events and still play well.
"The problem I have now is that I'm not consistent. Obviously I can still play a bit because I've won a few tournaments in the last year, and to do that shows I can still play but it was on a good day.
"When it comes to the televised events you've got to be on a good day five times and it's about achieving that consistency."
Colin Osborne, the 2009 UK Open runner-up, faces Wayne Jones and Blackpool's Ronnie Baxter takes on Jamie Caven in Saturday's other games on the tournament's opening night, which will be played in front of a sell-out 2,000-strong crowd.
World number three James Wade, the 2007 World Matchplay champion, begins his challenge for a second Winter Gardens title on Sunday night, when he takes on Andy Smith.
Wade has also reached two finals in the World Matchplay since 2006 and admitted: "It's my favourite tournament, I've had Plenty of success in it and it's a venue I love, but this is a new year.
"I've got to look ahead now and focus on facing Andy on Sunday. He's a really good player who's in form after winning an event recently, and it should be a very good game."
Sunday's play also features Andy Hamilton against Co Stompe, the PDC ProTour's most recent Players Championship winner, while Adrian Lewis faces Mark Webster, the former Lakeside Champion who is making his World Matchplay debut, while the night concludes when local favourite Wes Newton meets Alan Tabern.
Monday's play features World Championship runner-up Simon Whitlock against Tony Eccles, two-time World Matchplay finalist Terry Jenkins facing debutant Steve Brown, the all-Scottish clash between Gary Anderson and Robert Thornton and Mervyn King's contest with Jelle Klaasen.
Essex-born pair Colin Lloyd - the 2005 World Matchplay champion - and Kevin Painter kick off Monday's final night of first round action, with Mark Walsh meeting 2004 runner-up Mark Dudbridge, debutant Paul Nicholson facing Steve Beaton and reigning champion Taylor facing Wales' Barrie Bates.
Taylor hit an historic two nine-darters on his way to winning the final of the Whyte & Mackay Premier League Darts in May, an achievement he followed up with a world record televised average of 118.6 in defeating Kevin Painter on his way to the Riley's Darts Zones UK Open last month.
"It will be a little bit wierd watching everyone else in action for three days before I play but I'll enjoy watching everyone else," said Taylor.
"It gives me a couple of extra days to prepare, although my game's been in good shape in the last couple of months and the World Matchplay seems to bring the best out of me too.
"It's a great tournament and a venue I love to play at, and I can't wait to get on stage on Tuesday.
"I'll have a hard game against Barrie. He's a real battler of a player and it's great to see him back in form after his injuries, but I'm determined to win this title again and will be focused on doing that."
The semi-finals on Saturday July 24 will also be followed by the final of the inaugural PDC Unicorn Women's World Championship, with America's Stacy Bromberg facing England's Tricia Wright to battle for the £10,000 first prize.
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