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The Speedy Services UK Open gets underway on Thursday evening, with James Wade preparing to begin his defence of the £40,000 title.

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

‘The Machine’, who is bidding for his third UK Open triumph and eighth major title, will start his campaign in round two, where he will face one of four potential qualifiers, after the preliminary and first rounds have taken place.

“I know people say they only take one game at a time but that’s literally all you can do because you’ve no idea who you’ll play in the next round if you get through,” said the world number three.

“I’m fortunate enough to have won twice in Bolton and it would be fantastic to do it again, but I know I’ll have a tough weekend ahead of me.”

Paul Nicholson, who was one of the stars of the tournament last year, will need to win two matches on Thursday to be part of the third round draw at the end of the evening.

‘The Asset’, who beat Phil Taylor and Gary Anderson during a blistering run to last year’s quarter-finals, starts in round one against one of two amateur qualifiers.

“I’m going to try and keep a slightly lower profile and then, if the fight warrants it, I’ll try and lift the profile by making some fireworks go off,” said Nicholson, who is known by many for his ‘bad boy’ image.

“That will only happen if it suits me though, I’m not going to do it for SKY or the crowd this year. I’m going to do it for myself and try and gain some confidence by playing good darts instead of doing it in other ways.”

Last year’s semi-finalist Mark Webster is also in action on the opening night. He enter’s in the second round, where he faces Johnny Haines.

Mervyn King enters the tournament at the same stage as ‘Spider’, where he could face a high-profile clash with Ted Hankey.

“There’s no guarantee that Ted will make it,” said King. “Whether it is him or one of the other players, I’ll give it my best shot. I know I have the game to beat anybody on my day. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”

One of King’s potential opponents is Andy Jenkins, who would meet Hankey in round one if both players make it through their preliminary games.

“I’ve known Ted for over 20 years,” said Jenkins, who made the cut for the tournament after competing in just two qualifying events.

“We are good friends and I probably taught him most of the tricks he knows.”

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

“It would be great to play him on TV in his first major tournament since coming over from the BDO, but I’m not looking that far in front. We both have games to win before that can happen.”

Also in first night action are young guns Arron Monk and Adam Smith-Neale, as are Co Stompe and John Henderson, who faces amateur qualifier Lee Bryant in the preliminary round.

“It doesn’t really matter who I play, getting to the Friday would be an achievement for me,” added Henderson.

“I know I’m capable of beating anyone on my day, so hopefully I can win three tough games on Thursday and take it from there.

“I won’t be taking anything or anyone for granted because a lot of the qualifiers will be very good players. I’ll just go out there and do my best and hopefully it’s good enough.”

On completion of the prelims and first two rounds, the top 32 qualifiers join the second round winners in the open draw for round three.

Amongst the players entering in the third round are Raymond van Barneveld, Simon Whitlock, Michael van Gerwen, Vincent van der Voort, Robert Thornton and World Youth Champion James Hubbard.

By Chris Murphy

See four of the world’s top professional darts players go head to head in the Charlton Masters on Thursday 19 July.


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