Reigning champion Michael van Gerwen aims to move a step closer to retaining his world crown by overcoming Scottish star Robert Thornton in a last eight show-down on New Year’s Day.
Dutch sensation van Gerwen remains on course to join an elite crop of only two players to have successfully defended the PDC World Championship title since 1994, having navigated his way to a ninth consecutive victory at Alexandra Palace.
The world number one, who finished runner-up in 2013, before going a step further with victory over Peter Wright 12 months later, has lost just once on this stage since 2011.
MVG has taken the added weight of expectation in his stride so far, fending off brave challenges from Joe Cullen, Sascha Stein and Terry Jenkins for the loss of just one set in each game.
The 25-year-old has not yet hit the dizzy heights of years gone by, with his tournament average standing at 98.8 to date, but he secret weapon of raising his game as the rounds progress spell danger for number nine seed Thornton.
Thornton, the former UK Open champion and 2013 Grand Slam finalist, is entering uncharted territory having previously never progressed beyond the last 16 stage of this competition.
The Ayrshire ace is one of three Scotsmen still standing in the sport’s show-piece and is yet to drop a set along the way – powering past Andrew Gilding, Ronnie Baxter and Benito van de Pas.
Renowned as one of the sport’s most tenacious competitors, ‘The Thorn’ produced a memorable double-start nine-darter on the eve of his mother’s funeral at the World Grand Prix in October, and will hold no fear heading into one of the biggest matches of his long career.
The duo have met a total of 15 times in previous major competition, with van Gerwen having claimed victory on ten of those occasions to Thornton’s four plus one Premier League draw.
Mighty Mike has not suffered defeat to Thornton in front of the television cameras since the 2008 UK Open, and it looks like taking something special if he is to be denied over the extended sets format.
Either 2014 finalist Peter Wright or 2011 finalist – Gary Anderson – will await the winner in a Semi-Final show-down later in the week.
The match gets underway at around 7.10pm GMT and will be played over the best of nine sets (best of three legs per set) from the Alexandra Palace in London.
Green machine: Michael van Gerwen (Photo by Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
Van Gerwen: “I’m confident I can go all the way in this tournament. I know when I play well I can beat everyone, but you need to prepare your game against everyone.
“It’s my trophy and I hope I can keep it for another year, that would be nice.”
Thornton: “Michael and I have had a few battles and I don’t see this one being any different.
“I’ll need to tidy up my scoring a bit, it was a bit ragged up there at times, but I’m just glad that Benito didn’t really turn up in the last round.”
Live Darts verdict:
Van Gerwen’s clinical scoring power should see him make all the running in this contest, although Thornton is likely to be on-hand to punish any key missed doubles.
Thornton is yet to be truly tested in this tournament so far and will be looking to catch the Dutchman cold in the early stages, but must crucially contain his opponent’s trademark mid-game surge if he is to have any chance of keeping his title hopes alive.
Our top three betting tips:
- Thornton +2.5 sets handicap @ 11/8 with Paddy Power
- Van Gerwen to hit the most 180s @ 20/21 with Betfair
- Under 17.5 total match 180s @ EVS with SkyBet
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