PDC World Championship: Gary Anderson says Michael van Gerwen is player to beat
Two-time defending champion Gary Anderson says Michael van Gerwen is a clear favourite to win the PDC World Championship, which starts on Thursday.
Van Gerwen has not reached the final of either of the past two World Championships, both won by Anderson.
But the Dutchman, 27, has won 25 tournaments in 2016 and is aiming to regain the world title he first lifted at London's Alexandra Palace in 2014.
"He's been a monster over the past two or three years," said Anderson, 45.
"He's the odds-on favourite and he'll be hungry for it, along with half a dozen other boys."
Van Gerwen lost to Anderson at the semi-final stage in 2015 before being beaten by fellow Dutchman Raymond van Barneveld in the last 16 a year later.
"Before, you could pick two or three that were going for the title," continued Scotland's Anderson, ranked number two in the Professional Darts Corporation's Order of Merit.
"Nowadays there are 32 boys that could quite easily turn up and walk away with that title. They're all classy players now.
"There are always players who can sneak under the radar, so it's getting harder and harder every year. We'll just have to see what happens."
Seventy-two players will compete for a record first prize of £350,000, with the final being played on 2 January.
'The second time was just as good'
Anderson beat Phil Taylor 7-6 in the 2015 final and avenged his 2011 defeat by Adrian Lewis to retain his title in January.
"The second time was just as good, but the first time playing Phil on that stage in the final - that meant everything," said Anderson, who will play qualifier Mark Frost in round one during the tournament's opening session.
"In my eyes he's the best there's ever been, so to beat Phil in the final was amazing and then get Adrian back for 2011 was just as good."
Anderson could become only the third player in darts history to achieve three consecutive World Championship wins.
Eric Bristow (1984-86) did so before the sport split into two governing bodies, after which Taylor (1995-2002) and (2004-2006) twice achieved the feat in the PDC version of the World Championship.
"I'm just going to turn up and play darts and I'm not going to think about it," Anderson added. "Once I've finished playing darts, I'll probably start to recognise what I've actually done.
"I never really think about it now and I don't mention it to people that don't know me. They ask what I do for a job, I say I play darts, they ask if I'm any good, and I say I can hold my own. But I never ever mention what I've won."
'I'm not unbeatable,' says Van Gerwen
Van Gerwen has been dominant in 2016, with the UK Open, Premier League, World Matchplay, World Grand Prix and Grand Slam of Darts among his multiple tournament wins.
In addition, he posted the highest televised three-dart average in history - 123.40 - in a Premier League group match against Michael Smith in February.
Asked if he felt unbeatable after the most successful year of his career, Van Gerwen replied: "Sometimes I feel that way but I'm not unbeatable. Everyone can beat me but they need to play really well if they want to beat me.
"I feel phenomenal at the moment. I hope I can keep that progress going into the World Championship.
"Even if I don't win it, I've still had a fantastic year, but it would be a nice finishing touch on a fabulous year."
Finding the work-life balance
Van Gerwen has earned more than £1.5m in prize money over the past two years.
The sport's appeal is growing globally, with the PDC staging events in Europe, Asia, and Australia in 2016, and the constant travelling required to feature in those tournaments means Van Gerwen does not get to spend much time in his native Netherlands.
"That's the price you pay for being famous for being a good darts player," he said. "To be fair, it's not a bad position to be in.
"I made the choice a few years ago to make any sacrifice to be at the top of the game and it's one of those things. I don't really mind."
Van Gerwen continued: "Sometimes I do have a short break and I have to tell myself that I need to have a break because I play in nearly everything and I always go far in tournaments, so I don't get many days at home.
"You need to find a good balance in between tournaments and make sure you're fresh for the next one.
"There are great financial benefits for winning tournaments and it gives you great confidence, but sometimes there's not enough money in the world for a bit of rest for the next tournament."