A relieved Van Gerwen celebrates (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
Michael van Gerwen survived a major scare from debutant Jamie Hughes before booking his place in the Last 16 of the World Grand Prix on Sunday, while Michael Smith also came from a set down to deny Simon Whitlock.
Van Gerwen, the reigning and four-time World Grand Prix champion, staved off a second First Round exit in the space of three visits to the Citywest Hotel in Dublin as he denied Hughes a famous scalp.
A dramatic deciding set saw Hughes hit the front, only to miss two darts in leg two as Van Gerwen levelled – and a key third leg saw the Tipton thrower open with 160 and 180 before adding a seventh perfect dart.
However, he was unable to close out a perfect leg, and could only watch on after a missed double as Van Gerwen powered home a pivotal 135 checkout on the bull.
It proved a decisive blow as Van Gerwen moved 2-1 ahead, and the Dutchman landed a 180 and double 18 to get over the line.
“I feel really good,” said Van Gerwen. “I didn’t really perform but I did some phenomenal things in patches and that made me win this game – the 135 hurt him so much.
“Jamie played well, especially for his first time in this event. I was struggling at times and I can do a lot better than this, but it’s a short format so it’s difficult.
“I will defend the title this year, no problem,” he added.
Tournament favourite Van Gerwen now faces a Second Round tie on Tuesday against Dutch rival Jeffrey de Zwaan – who dropped only one leg in sweeping aside Steve Beaton in straight sets.
The pair shared the opening two legs of the contest, but De Zwaan followed double 11 with a 14-darter to wrap up the first set before winning the second without reply to progress.
“I thought I played really well and I felt good, but Steve didn’t play his game,” said De Zwaan. “I saw Steve struggling a little bit, but it’s always been a tough game against him in the past.
“I can look forward to the next game now because you just want to get through. I like this format but it’s also tough and anything can happen.”
Smith won past the First Round for only the second time in seven World Grand Prix appearances despite staring defeat in the face in a three-set thriller against Whitlock.
Whitlock came from a leg down to win the opening set 3-1 and moved 2-1 up in the second with the aid of 120 checkout, only to see Smith produce a huge 128 finish to save the set before double top levelled the match.
Smith then took out a huge 155 checkout – with the Australian waiting on a double – to open the third set, and the St Helens ace also led 2-0 before Whitlock hit back to force a deciding leg, punishing two missed match darts from the World Championship finalist.
However, Whitlock missed six starting doubles in the final leg, with Smith pulling clear before pinning double 16 at the first time of asking to grab a hard-fought victory.
“My scoring wasn’t quite there but I got the win and I’m happy,” said Smith. “The 128 was a big shot and it saved the match, and I knew that hurt him and then the 155 killed him.”
Two-time World Grand Prix champion James Wade won his first game in the event for five years with a 2-1 defeat of John Henderson.
The 2007 and 2010 winner showed glimpses of his best form by finishing eight from 13 on the doubles, including a superb 142 checkout to secure the opening set 3-1.
Henderson finished 100 with two double tops as he moved 2-0 up in the second set, with Wade levelling only for a timely 180 to help the Scot secure the deciding leg on double six.
Wade, though, raced through the third set without reply as he moved through to face Mervyn King on Tuesday.
“John played far better than I thought he would but I did enough at the right times,” said Wade. “I finished well and it’s a relief.
“I’ve had no result for the last four years so tonight was a massive thing for me.”
King, the 2012 runner-up, hit back from the brink of defeat to dispatch Dimitri Van den Bergh in a dramatic sudden-death leg.
Van den Bergh came from 2-1 down to claim the opening set, following an earlier 112 finish with a superb 105 checkout in the decider as King paid for missing four set darts.
King then came from a leg down to take set two by a 3-1 scoreline, inspired by a 112 finish, only to find himself 2-0 down in set three.
However, a timely 180 set up tops as he kept his hopes alive in leg three, a superb 133 checkout levelled and forced a deciding leg which the 53-year-old won on double 16.
“I made hard work of it but it was nice to come back and get over the line,” said King.
“The first set should have been mine but I let it go and it was very frustrating. I shouldn’t have been behind but my form appeared at the right time and hopefully that will continue.
“It would have only taken a couple of different darts from Dimitri and I would have been on my way home but I got through it and you feel like you’re in the competition now.”
Ian White produced a superb comeback from a set and two legs down against Joe Cullen to book his last 16 spot with a 2-1 victory over the Bradford ace.
Cullen raced through the first set without reply and also moved two legs up in the second after restricting White to a solitary dart at the bullseye.
However, back-to-back 82 checkouts ignited the Stoke star’s challenge, with double 16 securing set two to level the tie before he claimed the decider without reply to progress.
“I’m so relieved but I dug in and got there in the end,” said White. “I’ve got mixed emotions because I’ve been on the end of that before and missed doubles.
“I had to play my own game in the end because I think I was playing too fast at the start. It just wasn’t going for me in the first set but I started finding double top and I persevered with it.
“I had nothing to lose and I could have been out of the tournament, but now I’ve got a chance.”
Former finalist Gary Anderson raced to a straight sets victory over Keegan Brown, dropping just two legs as he moved through to the last 16.
The Scot sped through the opening set without reply, with Brown sharing the first four legs of the second only for a clinical 13-darter to book Anderson’s passage to a second round tie with Chris Dobey on Tuesday.
“The first round is very hard and a it’s the only time we play double start, so it’s very hard to get into,” said Anderson. “I’m playing with some new darts and they’re going well, so there are some good signs.
“My game isn’t 100 percent but it’s getting there and I’m happy with the way the lighter darts are going. I’m struggling to get the hunger back but when I get up there I want to play, so we’ll see what happens.”
Dobey enjoyed a winning debut at the World Grand Prix, dropping just two legs as he overcame Ricky Evans in straight sets, proving too clinical on his starting doubles.
Dobey came from a leg down to take the opener 3-1, finishing 90, then double eight to break and double 16 to secure the set.
Evans levelled in set two with a 13-darter, but Dobey restored his advantage with a 14-darter after the pair traded maximums, before tops moved the youngster into round two.
“I’m delighted to get the win,” said Dobey. “For my debut, I think a 90 average is decent and my doubles went in well.
“This is a competition I’ve watched on TV and everyone wants to play in it to test themselves. I even went back to my local leagues to practice, and it’s paid off.”
Van Gerwen and Smith battle back to avoid early World Grand Prix exit
Michael van Gerwen survived a major scare from debutant Jamie Hughes before booking his place in the Last 16 of…
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