A review of Thursday's action at the Betfred World Matchplay, as Michael Smith beat Krzysztof Ratajski in a thriller to set up a semi-final with Gary Anderson.
Flying Scotsman's fast finish sees off Whitlock
Gary Anderson produced a trademark late blitz to end the gutsy challenge of Simon Whitlock and set up a World Matchplay semi-final with former protege Michael Smith.
The 2018 champion was embroiled in a real battle with his fellow veteran, who was still riding on a crest of a wave from thrashing Michael van Gerwen on Tuesday night, and when the scores were level at 12-12 it looked as if it was going down to the wire.
However, Anderson then rattled off four legs in succession to complete a 16-12 victory that sees him reach this stage of the competition for the fourth time in his career.
The Flying Scotsman threw nine 180s and averaged a tournament best 98.09 as far as this year's staging is concerned having only posted marks in the low 90s in the two previous rounds but it would have been higher still had he not spurned as many as 35 darts at double.
Whitlock, playing in his sixth World Matchplay career, managed to keep Anderson within reach due to some fabulous finishing, including a 120 checkout audaciously achieved by going 20-bull-bull to reduce Anderson's lead to 7-6.
That was his third of 100+ checkouts in the match, with his second from 108 coming in the previous leg, while he also nailed the bullseye again to complete a 90 finish when 12-10 down.
Overall, the 51-year-old pinned 50% of his doubles but crucially he only earned himself one attempt at the outer ring from 12-12 onwards and that came in the 28th and final leg.
"I've made hard work of that tonight but that's what Simon can do to you. He battles and makes you work for it so it was a slog to get it done," said Anderson after the win. "Hopefully I'm sat here on Sunday with a trophy but I'm taking it one game at a time and it's going to be another tough fight against Michael Smith on Saturday.
"He's got a good record against me recently and is playing some brilliant darts, I've been saying how good he is for years and although it's a bit late he's finally starting to come through to the top."
Brilliant Bully Boy brings down Eagle
Michael Smith came through an absorbing World Matchplay quarter-final with Krzysztof Ratajski to keep his dreams of a first maiden major title very much alive.
Indeed, on this evidence the highest ranked player left in the tournament will take some beating as he bids to go one better than last year when finishing runner-up to Rob Cross.
Smith averaged over 100 for much of the 16-13 victory thanks largely to his barrage of 13 180s and although it dropped slightly to 98.32 after the Polish Eagle mounted a late spirited comeback from 14-9 down, he'd already done most of the damage to ensure he could finish the job without wilting under the pressure.
The five-time major runner-up's finishing was also more clinical, pinning 16 of his 33 attempts at doubles as Ratajski was left to rue missing 20 of his 33 in a performance that couldn't replicate the comparative magic we'd seen from him earlier in the tournament.
Not that he played badly however, but the brilliance of his three 100+ checkouts, including a spectacular high of 161 to lead 8-7, was not backed up by consistent enough scoring power and he finished with an average of 93.82.
Bully Boy came agonisingly close to the first ever behind-closed-doors nine-darter in the 17th leg and even supplied his own boo when his seventh dart hit single 19.
He still won the leg in 11 for a 9-8 lead only for Ratajski, who'd earlier hit a 128 checkout on the bull in the fourth leg, to finish from 139 as a nail-biting conclusion looked on the cards.
Ratajski, who has eight PDC titles since the start of 2018, missed a darts at tops for 10-9 and that would prove crucial as Smith made him pay before burst clear with another four legs on the trot, including a 12-dart completing 81 checkout to move 14-9 ahead.
The former BDO World Master refused to lie down with three legs in a row of his own but after the next two were shared in 13 darts apiece, his challenge was finally ended after another spurned double attempt at tops.
Smith, who was tipped up on these pages at 25/1 pre-tournament, will now be favourite to become just the 10th different player to lift the Phil Taylor Trophy and, more importantly, achieve a real breakthrough moment in a career that promises so much more.
Of the 11 individual TV crowns up for grabs, the 29-year-old has appeared in the final of five of them – the World Championship (2018), World Matchplay (2019), Premier League (2018), Masters (2020) and the World Series of Darts Finals (2018) – and has also reached the semi-finals of four others including the UK Open, Grand Slam of Darts, European Championship and Champions League of Darts.
This latest lengthy run further demonstrates his ability to play on the big televised stage - even without fans - and maybe now is the week for him to finally break that door down.
As for Ratajski, who was also tipped here at 40/1 each-way, he can leave Milton Keynes with his head held high after his first quarter-final run at a true major since joining the PDC in 2019 and his career will go from strength to strength.
“I do like looking at the rankings and before lockdown I saw I was a long way clear of Nathan (Aspinall), but since then he has caught up with but I’m not fussed about that now I just want to concentrate on trying to make the final,” said Smith after the match.
"I want this so bad, maybe too much sometimes but I know once I get that first one like MVG did then the wins will start to flow. I put a lot of pressure on myself but today I proved I can handle it against a really classy player."
World Matchplay: Quarter-final schedule and results
Thursday July 23 (2000 BST)
Quarter-Finals (Best of 31 legs)
TV Channel: Sky Sports
- Krzysztof Ratajski 13-16 Michael Smith
- Simon Whitlock 12-16 Gary Anderson
Friday July 24 (2000 BST)
Quarter-Finals (Best of 31 legs)
TV Channel: Sky Sports
- Adrian Lewis v Dimitri Van den Bergh
- Glen Durrant v Vincent van der Voort
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- Chris Hammer's Player-By-Player Guide
- Paul Nicholson's World Matchplay analysis
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