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DEFENDING WORLD MATCHPLAY CHAMPION MICHAEL VAN GERWEN heads to Blackpool in search of a third consecutive triumph at the Winter Gardens, where Simon Whitlock, Robert Thornton, John Henderson and Steve West will be competing in of Darts’ most prestigious tournaments.

Van Gerwen, who defeated Phil Taylor to claim his second Matchplay title last year, takes on Stephen Bunting in round one on Monday – and the world number one is determined to continue his success in the popular event.

“I want to dominate all the big tournaments and winning this for the third time in a row would show that I can do that,” said the World Champion, who could face Whitlock in the second round.

The Australian ace would need to get past compatriot and World Cup team-mate Kyle Anderson first but ‘The Wizard’ is in a confident mood.

He said: ““It’s a huge tournament and one I really enjoy but this match adds a little extra spice because I want to show that I’m still the top player from Australia.”

Former UK Open and World Grand Prix winner Thornton believes he can use his underdog status to produce his best ever World Matchplay performance.

The Scotsman had never won a game in Blackpool until last year and believes his two PDC major victories as an outsider will make him a dangerous force this year.

“I think I’ve proved over the course of my career that I should never be written off,” said Thornton, who takes on in form Spanish star Cristo Reyes in round one.

“I am quite comfortable going in as an underdog and it’s probably a fair tag for me to have at Blackpool.

“But I don’t have the pressure of never having won there before anymore and my form has been picking up lately. I’ve got the game to upset anyone.”

Fellow Scot John Henderson will take on Mensur Suljovic on Sunday evening, while Steve West makes his debut in the opening match of the tournament, meeting Michael Smith on Saturday.

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