The 2021 Premier League darts competition will kick off with a high-profile night that will see it opening with a repeat of the 2020 Premier League decider between reigning champion Glen Durrant and Nathan Aspinall.
The tournament Premier League starting later tonight in Milton Keynes will see ten of the world’s top darts stars checking in for one of the sport’s most coveted titles.
Premier League glory in October was the crowning moment of a remarkable first two years in the PDC for Durrant, but a downturn soon followed.
The three-time Lakeside Champion contracted Covid-19 the following week, missing the year’s final European Tour event and the European Championship before falling at the first hurdle in the Grand Slam and Players Championship Finals.
Defeat in the last 16 of the World Championship to Dirk van Duijvenbode brought a disappointing end to the year for Durrant, who took a fortnight’s break from playing during January to recharge his batteries.
“The past six months have been really difficult,” admitted Durrant.
“If I was a racehorse, my last three races would be nowhere, fell, pulled up. I need a spark from somewhere to reignite my career, and the Premier League is just that so I’m looking forward to Monday.
“You dream about being in the Premier League and it’s a joy to be involved, and if I get off to a good start then it could be the beginning of the real me.”
The season’s opening night will also see Gerwyn Price play Gary Anderson in a repeat of January’s World Championship final.
Having claimed glory at Alexandra Palace, Price completed his stratospheric rise from amateur to number one in just seven years, and the Welshman is relishing the chance to reach the Premier League’s Play-Offs for a first time.
“It’s good to get back into action and despite the circumstances I’m looking forward to it,” said Price, the 5/2 joint-favourite with sponsors Unibet.
“Obviously everything’s still behind closed doors and we all want to get back to normal – especially with the Premier League, which is so important for fans and we miss them.
“It’s going to be a difficult tournament so it would be nice to get some points on the board early on and take some of the pressure off and give me some confidence.
“I’ve finished fifth in the last two years but I’m in a lot better place now and playing well. I want to try and make the Play-Offs this year and give it a good crack, because I’ve not made the top four before.
“I’m a world number one and the World Champion, and I believe in my ability; I’m not just there to make the top four, I want to top the table and win the trophy too.”
Five-time Premier League winner Michael van Gerwen opens up against Dimitri Van den Bergh, the World Matchplay champion who is competing in his debut season.
Van Gerwen endured a difficult 2020 campaign, missing out on the Play-Offs for the first time having topped the league phase each year since his 2013 debut.
The Dutchman comes into this year’s event as world number two, but insists he is hungrier than ever to claim his first TV title since November.
“Last year was unusual I think for a lot of players, and I played really poorly, but now it’s totally different. I think I’m in better form than I was and I’m looking forward to it,” said Van Gerwen.
“Playing day after day on the highest level is what we all want. I always want to perform at the highest level I can, but you need to be positive and focused and I think I am at the moment – I feel good.
“Everyone knows that if I’m on my form, no-one will beat me. This tournament is perfect to get back in your rhythm.
“The Premier League is a lovely tournament and I know what it’s like to win – I want to do that again.”
Former Premier League finalists Peter Wright and Rob Cross come up against debutants Jonny Clayton and Jose de Sousa respectively as the 2021 Masters and 2020 Grand Slam of Darts winners begin their Premier League journeys.
Clayton is the sport’s in-form player heading into the tournament, having picked up three titles already in 2021, including his first televised title at The Masters which secured his place in the Premier League for the first time.
“I’m playing well, my confidence is high and I’m looking forward to it big-time,” said an excited Clayton. “It’s one of the best competitions in the world of darts and I cannot wait.
“I had a taste of it last year as a Contender and I’m a happy man to be in it. To be a part of it as a full-time member is a dream come true.
“It’s going to be difficult because it’s an excellent field. I won’t look to far ahead, I’ll try and go step by step and try and win each game as it comes along.”
Fellow debutant Van den Bergh has recently moved to the UK, basing himself in Leicester and practising with PDC ranking event winner Damon Heta.
The popular Belgian will be playing without a leg brace for the first time since the World Matchplay, following surgery on a knee problem.
“I’ve worked hard on the knee and I’m feeling good. The main goal was the Premier League and I’m still being careful,” Van den Bergh explained.
“I’m still building the strength in the muscles, working on the balance and building my trust in my leg. Walking around without a knee brace is such a relief – it’s been a long road but I feel like I’m reborn.
“I’m very excited. It’s a dream come true to be a part of the Premier League and I definitely believe I can win it. Hopefully it can be something similar to the World Matchplay.”
Night Two will see Van Gerwen and Wright face off in the headline tie, while former World Cup team-mates Wright and Anderson meet on Night Three.
The world’s top two players clash on Night Four as Price takes on Van Gerwen, and Night Five sees the World Champion take on the Premier League champion when Price plays Durrant.
The event will resume on Monday April 19, with ties including the meeting of the only two players in this year’s event to have previously topped the league table, as Durrant meets Van Gerwen.
Night Seven sees Wright take on Price before Night Eight includes a repeat of the 2020 World Matchplay final between Van den Bergh and Anderson and the all-Welsh meeting between Price and Clayton.
Judgement Night sees the players competing in their ninth league match before the bottom two are eliminated.
The remaining eight players will then play each other across a further seven nights from Wednesday May 5-Friday May 7 and Monday May 24-Wednesday May 26.
The top four will then compete in the Play-Offs on Thursday May 27 where the champion will be crowned.
Opening night matches: Nathan Aspinall v Glen Durrant; Rob Cross v Jose de Sousa; Peter Wright v Jonny Clayton; Gerwyn Price v Gary Anderson; Michael van Gerwen v Dimitri Van den Bergh