Reigning champion Michael Van Gerwen believes that just one player should have replaced Gary Anderson in the forthcoming Premier League but is ready to beat whoever he comes up against.
Anderson pulled out of the tournament earlier this week due to a back injury and the Professional Darts Corporation opted to give nine local-based players the chance to play one round each, with Chris Dobey getting a run out in Newcastle.
Van Gerwen, who is eyeing a fourth consecutive title, says the Premier League is a poorer place without the Scot.
“It is a huge miss with Gary Anderson not being here,” the Dutchman told Press Association Sport.
“No one can really replace Gary, because Gary is Gary and he is a phenomenal player.
“But it gives other young players a huge opportunity to get more experience.
“I would pick one player, but who am I to make a decision? I need to make sure I keep performing and whoever I play I have to beat.”
Having already won the World Championship and the Masters this year, Van Gerwen will be expecting to beat most players he comes up against on the oche.
Anderson’s absence robs the tournament of a strong rivalry against the 29-year-old, but there could be a new one brewing as Van Gerwen takes on Michael Smith in the opening week.
That is a quick reunion of the World Championship final at Alexandra Palace last month, where the world number one won at a canter.
Smith still said in the aftermath that he is better than the all-conquering Dutchman when he is playing at his best and Van Gerwen accepts he is a contender.
“With his talent and ability Michael Smith could be a good contender for me but you never know what is going to happen,” said Van Gerwen, who also beat Smith in last year’s Premier League final.
“It could be a rivalry that develops, but you can never see what is going to happen in the future. I just have to make sure I play as good as I can.
“I am in lovely form at the moment, but there is always room for improvement, I can’t really complain, I am enjoying what I do and I just want to keep my performances going.
“I am not back to my best yet, but there is always room for improvement, you always need to keep the bar further away because people are trying to get you, so you need to perform as well as possible.”
Van Gerwen’s countryman, Raymond Van Barneveld, is playing his final Premier League ahead of his retirement.
Van Gerwen added: “It will be nice to play him again, of all the players I have played against we have had some great battles and it is going to be his last year, it is going to be hard for him.
“It is his last year, I wish him all the best.”