STARS TO COLLIDE AT WEMBLEY IN 888.COM PREMIER LEAGUE DARTS PLAY-OFFS

PHIL TAYLOR, Raymond van Barneveld, Gary Anderson and Adrian Lewis will do battle for the 888.com Premier League Darts title in Thursday’s Play-Offs at the Wembley Arena.

The quartet will compete for the £125,000 first prize and the prestigious trophy after finishing the 14-week league phase of the tournament as the top four.

Reigning Premier League Darts champion Phil Taylor – who hit two nine-darters at Wembley in last year’s final – will meet World Champion Adrian Lewis in an all-Stoke semi-final, before Holland’s Raymond van Barneveld takes on Scottish ace Gary Anderson.

Lewis inflicted Taylor’s only defeat in the regular season, taking an 8-2 win at The O2 on the opening night before the world number one picked up 13 straight wins to reach the Play-Offs in top form.

“I’m really excited about Thursday and it will be a brilliant night,” said Taylor. “We’ve been the four players who’ve been the best throughout the league season and there will be some great match-ups.

“I’m not looking any further than playing Adrian because I know I can’t. I’ve been preparing for this in my head for the last couple of weeks and building up to it.

“I’d like to go at Adrian as hard as I can, and that’s what I’m going to do. He’s a great player, a great kid and I love him – but there’s no love lost up there on stage.

“He’s the World Champion, I’m not, and it’s man against man on Thursday.”

Taylor admits he was inspired by his loss to Lewis on February 10 – and he has hit back from his heaviest ever Premier League defeat with 13 win.

“One thing about Adrian, when he beats you he never lets you forget about it, he keeps reminding you – and that’s good,” added Taylor. “He is inspiring me week-in and week-out.

“I do like him as a player and as a person, but there’s a massive rivalry, the same as me and Eric used to have, and I’m not going to let him take my mantle, simple as.

“It’s a brilliant thing and has given me a newness of life, and I’m probably playing as well as I’ve ever done at the moment.”

Taylor became the first player in darts’ history to hit two nine-dart finishes in one game as he defeated James Wade 10-8 in last year’s final.

“That was an incredible night, one of the greatest of my career, and it’s a brilliant feeling coming back to Wembley,” said Taylor.

“There’s no reason why we can’t see more nine-darters tomorrow, not just from me but also the other guys because Adrian, Gary and Raymond are all capable of it.”

Lewis is seeking to add the 888.com Premier League Darts title to the World Championship crown he won in January – when he hit a nine-dart finish in defeating Anderson.

“To leave Wembley with this trophy as well would be an incredible achievement,” said Lewis. “I think I’ve got a really good chance – even though I play Phil first.

“Phil has won 13 games out of 14 and his form’s obviously good, but I’m World Champion and I’m not World Champion for nothing.

“I can go up there and hit a 110-111 average and that’s what I’m expecting to do. If I do that, I think I’ll win, if I don’t I’ll try again next year.

“Since I won the World Championship title, I’ve been winning ugly, and if you can do that it’s a good thing to have on your side.

“I think I’ve still got a lot more in the locker yet and I haven’t shown anywhere near my best – if I can go up there and perform like I can do, I’ll win it.”

Van Barneveld missed out on last year’s Play-Offs for the first time in five Premier League seasons, but a strong finish this term saw him end the campaign second after being unbeaten in his final five matches.

“Last year I missed the Play-Offs but that was caused by some very sad times for me and my family, but you can see that if my mind is clear I’ve reached the semi-finals five times out of six,” said van Barneveld.

“I still believe in myself. Gary will bring the best out of me, I’m pretty sure of that.

Five-time World Champion Van Barneveld has defeated Anderson twice in the league season, but said: “Just because I finished second, you don’t have anything guaranteed.

“I beat Roland Scholten twice 8-3 in my first Premier League in 2006, then he beat me 11-3 in the Play-Offs.

“Terry Jenkins beat me in the Play-Offs, James Wade beat me twice, so you can’t take anything for granted.”

Anderson has impressed in his debut season, winning his first four matches and continuing the form which saw him reach the World Championship final in the New Year.

“I’ve got nothing to lose,” said Anderson. “I’m in the Play-Offs and it’s been a great season, but I’d love to top it off by winning the title on Thursday.

“Even though he won twice in the league I’ve got to be confident. If I thought Raymond van Barneveld was going to beat me every time I played him then I wouldn’t be playing the game.

“I won’t be sitting down to him. Barney’s got to play me now and he’d better have had a good week practising since last week because I’ll be ready for him!”

Taylor enters Thursday’s Play-Offs as the 4/11 favourite to win the title with 888sport.com, Anderson is the 9/2 second favourite, while van Barneveld is 11/1 and Lewis is the 12/1 outsider.

888sport.com are also offering 10/1 on a nine-dart finish in the Taylor-Lewis semi-final, and 12/1 on a perfect leg in the Anderson-van Barneveld contest.

Thursday’s semi-finals will be followed by a Third-Place Play-Off and the Final at Wembley Arena, with over 6,000 fans already snapping up tickets for the event.

The remaining tickets are still on sale on 0844 815 0 815 or via www.wembleyarena.co.uk, and can be purchased from the Box Office at Wembley on Thursday in person.

The event will be screened live on Sky Sports HD and also on the Sky 3D channel from 7pm (UK time).

888.com Premier League Darts Play-Offs
May 19 – Wembley Arena, London (7pm)
Semi-Finals
Phil Taylor v Adrian Lewis
Raymond van Barneveld v Gary Anderson
Best of 15 legs – first to eight

Third-Place Play-Off
Best of 15 legs – first to eight

Final
Best of 19 legs – first to ten
Tickets: 0844 815 0 815 or www.wembleyarena.co.uk

888sport.com Match Odds
Semi-Finals
Phil Taylor 1/7, Adrian Lewis 4/1
Raymond van Barneveld 11/8, Gary Anderson 8/15

There will be a bull-off in the practice room before each game to determine which player throws first in each match.

Source – PDC/Lawrence Lustig

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