German teenager Max Hopp produced a sparkling performance to knock out Mervyn King in a last-set thriller at the World Championship on Tuesday, as big guns Adrian Lewis, Vincent van der Voort and Stephen Bunting also progressed into round two at Alexandra Palace.
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The final night of pre-Christmas action concluded the preliminary and first rounds, as 18-year-old Hopp stole the limelight.
November’s Masters finalist King was visibly struggling with a bad back – having suffered a slipped disc earlier this week – but he battled admirably throughout and missed one match dart to wrap up a 3-1 win.
Hopp, however, overpowered King with ten 180s and a 96.6 average en route to claiming the biggest win of his career on his third outing on the sport’s biggest stage.
Finishes of 120, 108 and 106 demonstrated King’s determination, but the emerging star produced the two big finishes of the match, taking out 103 to send the fifth set into a tie-breaker and then a brilliant 161 on the bull to seal victory.
“I think I played well,” said Hopp. “I didn’t expect to win the match because he’s a brilliant player but I just had a little feeling that I could do well.
“When I had that 161 I just had a feeling it was going to go in, so I just thought just go for it and when it did it was just amazing, I don’t really have words for it.
“I’ll just take every game as it comes; to me every game is a final and I’ll be fighting as hard as I can to beat Vincent, we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes, but why not?
“I can’t wait to go and enjoy this win now with my family, then we’ll fly home to Germany and I can enjoy Christmas with them before coming back to the second round,” he added.
After Hopp took the opening leg with a composed 13-darter, a hobbling King had enough to hit a 180 and take out 96 for an 11-darter before later hitting a “Shanghai” 120 finish in the deciding leg to snatch the opening set.
Hopp hit back by taking a high-quality second set 3-2, with a pair of 14-darters putting him ahead before King fired in a 13-darter as he levelled, only for the German to land a 180 in the decider as he levelled the game.
King showed his grit by opening the third set with a 13-darter before hitting a 108 finish to take the set 3-1, and he added a 106 finish in the fourth only to see Hopp follow up two earlier 180s by prevailing in a decider as the Norfolk ace missed a match dart at double 16.
Double top and double eight helped King to move 2-1 up in the fifth set, and both men hit 180s as King looked to claim the match, but a 103 checkout from Hopp sent the game into a tie-break.
The next three legs all went against the throw as Hopp edged into a 4-3 cushion before he finished in style with a sensational 161 checkout for a decisive 12-dart leg.
Van der Voort confirmed a second round clash with Hopp with a tie break win of his own as he twice came from a set down before edging out John Henderson.
The rapid Dutchman trailed twice as the first four sets went with throw, and he was staring down the barrel as he pulled out a wonderful 157 finish send the match into a tie-break.
From there he took over and hit a 14-darter for a crucial break of throw, before completing the win 4-2 in the final set as he ended the game with an average of 93.39 and seven 180s.
“I never felt comfortable up there, I was just fighting all the way,” said van der Voort. “I’m in the next round so that’s good, and that’s all that counts really.
“I’ve been playing well and I felt good in the practice room but it just didn’t turn out that well on the big stage, but I’m through now. A 94 average is pretty good, it felt like 67 or something up there but its a big relief just to get through.”
Two-time World Champion Adrian Lewis laid down a marker as he began his bid for a third Alexandra Palace triumph with a comfortable 3-0 victory over David Pallett in just 23 minutes.
Lewis, who won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012, recorded the highest average of the tournament so far with his 101.9 as he hit four 180s and ten 140s, but it could have been even better after he made a blistering start.
Debutant Pallett – another emerging star on the PDC circuit – had the audacity to take out 161 in his very first leg on the Alexandra Palace stage, and he made the most of his celebration to the crowd.
That, though, only sparked Lewis into life, and his response was emphatic with 180s in the next three legs and finishes of 127 and 53 helping him to legs of 13, 12 and 11 darts and an incredible 123 average for the first set.
Lewis landed three 140s in the second set’s opener and, after Pallett levelled in leg two, the Stoke ace took out finishes of 72 and 74 to claim the second set.
Pallett took the first leg of the third set with a 13-darter which featured two 180s, but that was as good as it got as Lewis rattled off the next three legs – including back-to-back 14-dart finishes -to book a second round tie with Keegan Brown.
“I wanted to send out a warning shot to the rest of the field tonight and I think I did that,” said Lewis. “After that first set when I came off the stage and saw I was on 123 average I fancied having a go at the record, but I missed a few doubles in the second set and it slipped away.
“No tournament really gives me a buzz like this one does, I’ve put a lot of work in over the last few weeks and I’ll be practising more over Christmas as well because this is the one I want to win.”
Stephen Bunting enjoyed a comfortable debut as the reigning Lakeside Champion overcame Robert Marijanovic 3-1 in the first round, with the Croatian having earlier edged out Holland’s Jermaine Wattimena 4-3 in their dramatic preliminary round clash.
Bunting claimed the opening set 3-0 with the minimum of fuss, and hit his stride as he won the second in the same manner with the aid of legs of 13 and 14 darts and an 82 finish.
Marijanovic got off the mark by taking the first two legs of the third set, and after Bunting hit back it was the Croatian who sealed the set with a fine 13-darter.
There was to be no shock though, as Bunting fired in a second 180 in taking the first leg of set four, and he claimed the next on double ten before sealing the win in style with a 124 checkout to secure a tasty second round tie with James Wade.
“It’s been a fantastic year, and to get through to the next round here is a dream come true,” said Bunting. “I was a bit nervous at the start, and in the practice room it wasn’t going as I’d liked it to but I’ve got a lot of friends and family here and they helped me through.
“From the first week I stepped foot in the PDC this is what I’ve been looking forward to. I’m still Lakeside Champion and to be World Champion over here in the PDC would be like all my Christmases come at once.
“I’ve got plenty of time now to get ready, and I will be ready for James Wade because he’s a great player and I’ll need to be at my best to beat him, but I know if I am at my best I’ll be hard to beat.”
The tournament now enjoys a three-day break over the Christmas period before resuming on Saturday December 27 with the start of the second round action at Alexandra Palace in London.
Tuesday December 23
Preliminary & First Rounds
Vincent van der Voort (23) 3-2 John Henderson
Jermain Wattimena 3-4 Robert Marijanovic (P)
Mervyn King (10) 2-3 Max Hopp
Adrian Lewis (3) 3-0 David Pallett
Stephen Bunting (27) 3-1 Robert Marijanovic