ADRIAN Lewis opens the defence of his Ladbrokes World Darts Championship title on tonight, when he faces Nigel Heydon as the £1m tournament begins at London’s Alexandra Palace.
But Fleetwood’s Wes Newton is bidding to end his best year yet on the Professional Darts Corporation circuit on a high.
Lewis, the 26-year-old from Stoke claimed the first major title of his career back in January, creating history by hitting the first nine-dart finish in a World Championship final during his 7-5 defeat of Gary Anderson.
Lewis returns to Alexandra Palace to open the World Championship amongst five games being played in the opening session.
The world No.2 plays Nigel Heydon in his first round game, with the undertaker from Leamington Spa having taken a 6-5 victory in their most recent clash during a Players Championship in Dublin in October.
The 15-day tournament kicks off when Derby’s Jamie Caven meets Holland’s Roland Scholten, the 2004 UK Open champion who is challenging to return to the world’s top 32 after overcoming serious shoulder problems.
Phil Taylor, the 15-time World Champion and tournament favourite at Evens with sponsors Ladbrokes, enters the fray tomorrow night when he meets the winner of the preliminary round clash between Japan’s Haruki Muramatsu and Dennis Nilsson, a former winner of Sweden’s Strongest Man.
“It’s a different challenge not knowing who your first round opponent is but I’ll be concentrating on making sure my preparation is right,” said Taylor.
“I know Muramatsu qualified a couple of years ago and is a good player, and Dennis might throw me off the stage if I beat him! I’ve got to make sure I get the job done and then I can go and prepare for the second round after Christmas.”
Friday’s second night also sees June’s UK Open finalist Newton, who has risen to world No.7 this year, playing Belgian debutant Kurt Van De Rijck, while Co Stompe meets St Helens’ young prospect Michael Smith and in-form Justin Pipe – a three-time Players Championship winner this autumn - plays Australian Sean Reed.
Saturday sees two sessions take place at Alexandra Palace, including Blackpool’s Ronnie Bazter looking to regain top form at the perfect time in his opening clash with Steve Farmer.
Last Sunday’s Cash Converters Players Championship winner Kevin Painter, the 2004 World Championship runner-up to Taylor, will begin his challenge for a second successive major title when he plays Arron Monk on Monday night, with world number three James Wade, Mervyn King and Andy Hamilton also in action.
The first round concludes on Wednesday December 21, with three-time World Champion John Part playing John Henderson and Simon Whitlock making his return from a broken bone in his ankle against Dennis Smith.
The pre-Christmas play in the World Championship concludes with two evenings of second round games on Thursday and Friday, with play resuming on Tuesday December 27.
After the second round concludes and third round is played, the quarter-finals take place on Friday December 30, with the semi-finals on January 1 and final on January 2.
A record number of over 40,000 fans are expected to descend upon Alexandra Palace throughout the course of the 15 days, with tickets still available through www.seetickets.com/darts or by calling 0844 871 8807.
A total of 72 players from 24 countries are competing in the Ladbrokes World Darts Championship, including Portugal, Serbia and Malaysia for the first time, with the £1m prize money including £200,000 for the champion.
There is also a £10,000 bonus on offer for a nine-dart finish during the event, with Ladbrokes offering odds of 11/8 for a player to repeat the feat, which has achieved for the past three years in the World Championship, with Raymond van Barneveld (2009 and 2010) preceding Adrian Lewis in hitting a perfect leg.
The in-form 34-year-old Newton has odds of 40/1 with tournament sponsors Ladbrokes, while Baxter is among the outsiders at 150/1.