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World Matchplay review: Nathan Aspinall all smiles after crushing Clayton

Nathan Aspinall had a golden smile on Blackpool's Golden Mile on Sunday night after crushing Jonny Clayton 18-6 to win the World Matchplay for the first time.

The No.9 seed reeled off 11 straight legs to turn a potential battle into a stroll in the park at the Winter Gardens, cruising to a win which saw him pick up the Phil Taylor Trophy, a £200,000 winner's cheque and also move up to fifth in the world rankings.

He's still some way behind the Big Four of Michael Smith, Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright and Gerwyn Price, none of whom got past round two in Blackpool.

So does the 2023 World Matchplay represent a changing of the guard or merely a demonstration of the PDC's strength in depth? Only time will tell.

What2024 PDC World Darts Championship
WhereAlexandra Palace, London
When15th December, 2023 - 3rd January, 2024
How to watchSky Sports
OddsMichael van Gerwen 7/2, Gerwyn Price 7/2, Michael Smith 4/1, Peter Wright 16/1, Luke Humphries 16/1

'The Asp' ends four-year wait in gritty style

There was no shortage of drama, excitement and unlikely storylines over the course of the week in Blackpool, and ultimately a second major triumph for Aspinall, one of the game's true grafters.

'The Asp' has been through his share of ups and downs since winning his first major, the UK Open back in 2019.

Since then he had reached three major finals, two last year, losing them all before putting that right against Clayton.

And given how strong Aspinall had looked throughout the tournament, out-scrapping Krzyzstof Ratajski, Danny Noppert and Chris Dobey before breezing past Joe Cullen and finally Jonny Clayton - all done with averages in the high-90s - you were left wondering why the second major success had taken so long in coming.

Blackpool highlights strength of the game

But you only had to look at the depth of the field in Blackpool to appreciate how hard it is to win big titles nowadays.

Since Aspinall won his first major, the UK Open, four years ago there have been 15 different winners of major televised PDC titles and 14 of those players toed the oche at the Winter Gardens last week.

And several players will feel they missed an opportunity, especially after the early demises of Van Gerwen, Smith, Price and Wright.

Clayton, for example, had seen off three seeds in Dimitri Van den Bergh, Ryan Searle and Luke Humphries to reach the final and was throwing superbly with a barrage of three-figure checkouts.

Humphries, a prolific winner on the European Tour, would have reckoned this was his time to prove it on TV, only to endure messy moments at the wrong time against Clayton and come unstuck.

That left darts fans wondering whether or not that might always be the case with 'Cool Hand', though it wasn't so long ago the same negative thoughts entered critiques of Smith and he's now the world champion.

It was also great to see Daryl Gurney returning to form by reaching the last eight while the much-touted arrival of Josh Rock remains on hold - for now. He was seen off by Damon Heta in round one, but it was his debut and all part of the learning curve.

Purge of the big guns a one-off?

Set aside Aspinall's win, and the big news from Blackpool was the failure of the top four seeds to get past round two, though in the cases of Van Gerwen, Price and Smith there is no need to over-react, instead laud the strength in depth in the game.

Dobey could have wilted against Smith, Cullen likewise against Price, but the past two Masters champions believe they can beat the very best nowadays and occasionally they will. As happened at Blackpool.

Van Gerwen is recovering from surgery and in any other circumstance would surely never have lost to Brendan Dolan.

The odds-setters haven't over-reacted with Van Gerwen 7/2, Price 7/2 and Smith 4/1 for the end-of-year World Championship, though it will be interesting to see how those prices move if there are further failures at the Grand Prix, Grand Slam and the other autumn showpieces.

Wright most worried of the not-so Fantastic Four

Definitely concerned, however, should be Wright, who is 16/1 for Alexandra Palace glory and some distance from being attractive even at those odds.

'Snakebite' got past Andrew Gilding in round one but lost to Searle in round two and basically hasn't looked himself for the best part of 12 months now.

He continues to tweak equipment to find that missing ingredient and will occasionally click. He won the Czech Open earlier this summer as proof of that.

But the Scot is 53 now and only he knows whether the appetite is still there or not after a troubled year or so.

And if Blackpool showed us anything, it's that if you stand still there are an awful lot of next-generation stars who will race past.

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