Michael van Gerwen will kick off the defence of his World Grand Prix title against debutant Jamie Hughes while Rob Cross faces Mensur Suljovic.

With 32 of the very best players in world darts set to descend on the Citywest Hotel just outside Dublin, Friday’s draw was eagerly anticipated and it didn’t disappoint with a host of big-name first-round match-ups for the unique ‘double-to-start’ tournament.

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The opening round is a quickfire race to two sets and has been notable in the past for big-name early exits with Van Gerwen toppled by John Henderson in the first round a couple of years ago and Phil Taylor beaten by Andy Callaby in 2004.

Van Gerwen is chasing a fifth Grand Prix crown, but has never managed to defend the title which gave him his first major tournament success in 2012 when he beat Mervyn King in the final.

The Dutchman headlines the top half of the draw but in a competition that often throws up a surprise, MvG faces a very early test of his credentials against Hughes, who has made a stellar start to his career in the PDC having earned his card at Q-School in January.

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Hughes won the Czech Open earlier this year and finished fourth on the list of Pro Tour qualifiers to get into the event; the winner of their first-round encounter will face either Jeffrey de Zwaan or Steve Beaton in the second round.

Van Gerwen beat Peter Wright in last year’s final and Snakebite, seeded seventh, will face Germany’s Max Hopp in the first round.

Also in the bottom half, Matchplay champion Cross has been handed a tough test against world No 9 Mensur Suljovic, who was the non-seeded player the top eight in the field would have wanted to avoid.

And whoever prevails from that contest will face another stern examination with dangerous unseeded pair Krzysyztof Ratajski and Glen Durrant also facing off in the opening round.

Third seed Daryl Gurney, who delighted the Dublin crowd with victory in 2017, meets Dutchman Danny Noppert, while Gary Anderson is seeded fourth and faces Keegan Brown in the first round.