DUBAI // The world's leading darts players say they are stepping into the unknown by playing outdoors for the first time this weekend.
The top eight players in the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) Order of Merit will play for a £50,000 (Dh183,600) first prize on an open-air oche at the Dubai Tennis Stadium, starting Thursday evening.
The conditions at the Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters could represent a challenge for players who are used to competing in air-conditioned arenas.
Phil Taylor, the reigning 16-time world champion, is well-known for being fastidious in preparation for major events.
However, he concedes he has never played a match outside and, before yesterday evening, had not yet practised in the open air either.
Rather than the heat of early summer in Dubai, Taylor said it is the possibility of a breeze which will concern the players most.
"It is always warm on stage, so I don't think the heat will affect me," Taylor said. "Although it might affect some of the others, everyone is looking forward to it.
"I had a walk outside at 8pm [on Tuesday night] and it wasn't overbearing, it was nice.
"If the wind picks up I don't know what we are going to do. It is exciting and the first time I've had butterflies for a long time."
It is not totally uncommon for leading darts players to be concerned by a breeze blowing across the 7ft 9.25 ins oche.
Most memorably, Mervyn King claimed his darts were being blown off course by air-conditioning at the World Darts semi final of 2003.
Taylor tipped Michael van Gerwen to be the most adaptable of the eight players here if the wind does play a part due to the Dutchman's firmer throwing-style.
The world No 1 said he and Raymond van Barneveld, the five-time world champion, might suffer the most.
"We don't know what to expect on stage," Van Barneveld said. "First of all it is very warm, we have even been sweating in the air conditioning. After the match it will be straight to the shower.
"Then secondly there is the wind. We were stood on the roof [on Tuesday] and there was a wind.
"I don't know what it is going to be like in the stadium."
Barry Hearn, the PDC chairman, thinks the conditions will make for a unique competition in Dubai.
"We're expecting big and lively crowds and some fabulous darts," Hearn said. "I believe we're doing to see something very special over the next few days."
PROS EXCiTED ABOUT POSSIBILITIES PRESENT IN DUBAI
Given its roots as an English pub game, darts and Dubai do not appear to be the most obvious love-match.
However, Taylor insists this weekend's world tour event is already proving popular with the sport's leading players.
The world No 1 says he has felt more excited about competing in the first Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters than he did before the World Championships.
"I love the place - it's Las Vegas times 100," Taylor said.
The Englishman acknowledged the players do not know how they will be received by the crowd at the Dubai Tennis Stadium this evening, but he expects the atmosphere to be less raucous than they are used to back at home.
"They are going to be very respectful," he said. "I think it is going to be great and it will be a nice change for us because it is normally mental.
"It is going to be intriguing for me because it is a different set up altogether so let's see how it goes.
"I think there has been more excitement about this tournament than the World Championship. Not just among the players but from the general public, in terms of the texts and emails you get saying: 'Wow, you're in Dubai'.
"From working in Stoke on Trent to coming to Dubai is unbelievable."
The organisers of the event hope it will imitate the success the Dubai Tennis Championships has enjoyed since its inception over two decades ago.
"We started our tennis tournament here 21 years ago and it has really grown in that time," said Colm McLoughlin, the executive vice-chairman of the sponsors, Dubai Duty Free.
"I visualise the same thing happening to the [Masters] tournament."
What Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters
When Thursday and Friday
Where Dubai Tennis Stadium
Who World’s top eight will participate at the event, considered the first leg of the PDC World Series of Darts
Tickets Dh299-495. Call 04 239 5000
Best of 19 legs – First to 10
(Seeding in parentheses)
James Wade (3) v Simon Whitlock; Adrian Lewis (2) v Raymond van Barneveld; Michael van Gerwen (4) v Wes Newton; Phil Taylor (1) v Andy Hamilton
Best of 21 legs – First to 11
Winner of Van Gerwen/Newton v winner of Taylor/Hamilton; winner of Wade/Whitlock v winner of Lewis/Van Barneveld
(Follows semi-final matches)
Best of 21 legs, first to 11
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