A review of opening night at the Betfred World Matchplay at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, as Gary Anderson and Rob Cross progressed but Gerwyn Price and Nathan Aspinall crashed out.
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Flying Scotsman's rusty wheels just about in motion
Defending World Matchplay champion Gary Anderson is through to round two but he'll need to play much better if he's to get his hands on the Phil Taylor Trophy for a second time.
Apart from lifting the World Cup of Darts for the first time last month alongside Peter Wright, the Flying Scotsman has struggled for consistency since making his return from injury this season and was fortunate tonight's opponent Danny Noppert got off to such a slow start, especially on his doubles.
Anderson charged into a 6-1 lead with a 135 checkout and moved 7-3 ahead with another from 111, but when the clash was starting to get too close for comfort at 8-6, he produced a crowd pleasing finish from 160 before sealing victory in the next leg.
Noppert, who averaged just 87.77 and missed 13 of his 19 double attempts, will be disappointed with his Winter Gardens debut despite a spirited comeback which saw him reduce the deficit to 7-6 after losing six of the opening seven legs.
Anderson recently admitted he lacks match practice in his bid to rediscover a consistent high level of performance to challenge again but this was at least a better display than the one he produced in a shock defeat to world number 181 Nico Kurz at the German Darts Masters last week.
He averaged 93.75 and hit two more 180s than Noppert with four while he'll need to sharpen up on his doubles against Mervyn King on Tuesday night after missing 19 of them in his opener.
"I was a bit nervy up there but I got through it and it's good to be in the next round," said Anderson. "I probably made it harder for myself than it could have been. I was great on the practice board but it wasn't as good on stage and my finishing pulled me through at times there.
"I'm still getting back into it. People know I've not played much this year and there were some dodgy darts there, but also some good darts."
Voltage warms up Winter Gardens
Rob Cross produced a commanding display as he cruised into the second round with a 10-8 victory over debutant Chris Dobey.
Voltage even threatened a nine-darter in the ninth leg after back-to-back 180s but his seventh dart missed the treble 20 bed and he ended up taking it in 13 for a 6-3 lead.
Cross, who hasn't won a title since last August despite statistically being one of the most formidable players on the circuit in 2019, averaged 100.6 and hit five 180s while he pinned 10 of his 18 attempts at doubles including one on two eights to complete a match-sealing 130 checkout.
Dobey just never got going apart from a match high finish from 145 that was much too little too late at 6-1 down and ended up with an average of 91.34.
Iceman melts in sudden death
Gerwyn Price crashed out of the World Matchplay after losing an enthralling battle with Stephen Bunting that went all the way to a sudden death leg in front of a captivated Blackpool crowd.
Leading 9-8, the Iceman missed a match dart when attempting to finish a 140 checkout on double 10 as Bunting forced extra-time before going on to spurn four victory chances of his own at 12-11 up.
Price kept his cool to force the sudden death leg, in which he threw first, but despite kicking it off with his sixth 180, three successive visits of 100+ from Bunting kept him in touch.
The Welshman had the first opportunity to snatch it only for his his attempt at the bullseye to finish off 87 hit 25 and the St Helens man made him pay - and raised the Winter Gardens roof - when pinning double 11 at the second attempt to complete a match-winning 79 checkout.
Grand Slam of Darts champion Price, who has won two Players Championship titles this season, flew out of the blocks with an early 4-1 lead and managed to keep his nose in front at 8-6 thanks largely to superior finishing to that of his opponent.
The crowd urged Bunting on against the pantomime villain of darts and after surviving match dart at 9-8, the pair would then share the next six dramatic legs, which including an 11-darter from the St Helens man and those four missed darts.
He missed a fifth in the sudden death but with Price anxiously waiting on 25, he held his nerve with his last dart in hand to pin double 11.
Bunting told www.pdc.tv: "It's probably one of the biggest wins I've ever had in the PDC. To win any game here is special, but against one of the best players in the world was extra special.
"He hit some good scores at the start of legs to make it difficult for me, and I was chasing the game for a long time - but I hung on in there.
"To come through a game like that against a fantastic player like Gerwyn is a boost to my confidence. I've got a nice break now until Wednesday so I'll have a break on Sunday and then get back on the practice board."
King rules over Aspinall
Mervyn King rolled back the years to spring a minor upset in the tournament's curtain raiser as Nathan Aspinall endued a miserable Blackpool debut.
The Asp, 28, has become one of the fastest rising stars in darts after following up his stunning run to the World Championship semi-finals last December before winning his maiden major title at the UK Open and a second televised crown at the recent US Darts Masters.
Aspinall was therefore a warm favourite to beat veteran King, who is 25 years his senior yet has no televised titles to his name, but despite averaging 102.96, he crumbled to a 10-5 defeat that owed much to his sloppy finishing of 14 missed doubles from 19 attempts.
But much credit must go to his opponent as King fired seven 180s compared to the 13th seed's four in an impressive average of 100.55 while he pinned 10 of his 16 double attempts and made two ton + checkouts including one from 160 when level at 5-5.
King made a blistering start by winning four of the opening five legs which including a 104 finish and a 12-darter but it wasn't long before the Stockport man, who managed a 127 checkout, hit back with four on the spin to level matters.
Aspinall, however, seemed to be rocked by King's 160 and didn't win another leg as the 2009 semi-finalist went on to complete the job with a fine 11-darter.
The Norfolk thrower will now face defending champion Gary Anderson, who beat Danny Noppert, on Tuesday night.
"I'm very pleased with that," said King. "I started well, fell asleep in the middle and woke up at the end.
"I think I shoot him a little bit at the start and he played some excellent darts in the second session. After that first break my first dart was dropping low, but I refocused myself at five-all.
"The 160 was a big moment to show that I wasn't going away. My game is always there and it's all about whether it comes out, but if Mervyn King turns up then I'll win."
Saturday results & Sunday schedule
- Nathan Aspinall 5-10 Mervyn King
- Gerwyn Price 12-13 Stephen Bunting
- Gary Anderson 10-6 Danny Noppert
- Rob Cross v Chris Dobey
Sunday July 21
Afternoon Session (1300 BST)
First Round (best of 19 legs)
TV Channel: Sky Sports
- Darren Webster v Krzysztof Ratajski
- Dave Chisnall v Max Hopp
- Ian White v Joe Cullen
- Michael Smith v Jamie Hughes
Evening Session (1900 BST)
First Round (best of 19 legs)
TV Channel: Sky Sports
- James Wade v Jeffrey de Zwaan
- Mensur Suljovic v Jermaine Wattimena
- Michael van Gerwen v Steve Beaton
- Adrian Lewis v Glen Durrant