Ross Smith reacts to a memorable win over MVG (credit:Kais Bodensieck/PDC Europe)
Ross Smith pulled off the biggest win of his career to date by edging out Michael van Gerwen in a deciding leg on a dramatic opening night of the 2019 European Championship which also saw Jonny Clayton whitewash James Wade.
Van Gerwen, the number one seed, was bidding for a fifth Unibet
European Championship crown and a third consecutive televised title, but suffered a shock early exit at the hands of inspired debutant Smith.
There was never more than a leg between the two players in a capitivating contest which went down to the wire, but it was Smith who shredded the script by sinking a 114 checkout in the decider to claim a famous victory despite a 105 average from the Dutchman.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d be experiencing a night like this from where I was a couple of years ago,” said Smith, who took a sabbatical from the sport in 2017.
“I made the decision to just keep on going with my career in darts and tonight it all came together.
“I’ve been preparing for this game for two weeks in my outdoor cabin, just focusing on playing the board rather than Michael.
“If you play Michael you lose, it’s as simple as that. He’s the best player in the world by a mile so if you start thinking about beating him then you won’t.
“You’ve just got to play the dartboard and that’s what I did tonight. I showed everyone how well I know I can play.”
With both players averaging over 110 at 3-3, Smith threw a 14-dart leg to hit the front for the first time and go within touching distance of a huge upset.
Van Gerwen kept his cool exterior and kept up his usual high standard to take the match to a deciding leg.
With the world number one waiting on 88, Smith produced a stunning 114 checkout when he needed it most to seal his first ever win against Van Gerwen.
An unpredictable night also saw Wade’s reign as European Champion ended by Clayton, who produced a scintillating display to run out 6-0 winner with a 111 average and six doubles from eight attempts.
The victory saw him become the first player in the tournament’s history to knock out the reigning champion in Round One.
“I know I’ve got the game, it’s just about being consistent and confidence is key in darts,” admitted Clayton.
“I’m so happy with how I played tonight, it’s a massive step in the right direction for me.
“I knew what I had to do and it went well. I know James didn’t play to his best at all but that’s when you’ve got to take your chances and that’s what I did.”
Simon Whitlock proved too strong for Adrian Lewis in the battle of the former European Champions, averaging just under 100 in a convincing 6-1 win.
Dave Chisnall and Joe Cullen also impressed in their victories against Dimitri Van den Bergh and Mervyn King respectively, while Rob Cross sealed his passage to round two in style with a 154 checkout to end Darren Webster’s fightback.
Daryl Gurney claimed a hard-fought 6-4 win over William O’Connor in the final game of the evening and Ricky Evans survived two match darts to make it a European Championship debut to forget for Glen Durrant with a 6-5 triumph over the World Matchplay semi-finalist.
Unibet European Championship 2019 Results
Thursday October 24
Joe Cullen 6-2 Mervyn King
Dave Chisnall 6-3 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Glen Durrant 5-6 Ricky Evans
Adrian Lewis 1-6 Simon Whitlock
Rob Cross 6-3 Darren Webster
James Wade 0-6 Jonny Clayton
Michael van Gerwen 5-6 Ross Smith
Daryl Gurney 6-4 William O’Connor