Jonny Clayton crashed out in the first round of the World Matchplay after losing 10-7 to inspired debutant Rowby-John Rodriguez…
Jonny Clayton crashed out in the first round of the World Matchplay after losing 10-7 to inspired debutant Rowby-John Rodriguez in Blackpool.
Struggling with a blocked tear duct in his right eye, the world number eight became the first seed to bow out at the Winter Gardens this year as he came unstuck against a player ranked 65 places lower on the PDC Order of Merit.
The Ferret, who was cleared by a doctor to play earlier on Saturday, arrived seeking only a second win in five appearances in the tournament.
But despite a top checkout of 130, the Welsh thrower’s poor streak continued as Rodriguez fully embraced his Blackpool bow.
The Austrian hit a 13-darter and two 14-darts on the way to establishing a 5-3 lead, before combating Clayton’s 130 finish by crashing in a stunning 156 to regain the two-leg buffer.
The European Darts Matchplay runner-up then won two of the next three legs, but a resurgent Clayton threatened to cut the deficit to 8-7.
However, the five-time Major winner wired double 16 for a 106 checkout and Rodriguez pinned double 10 to move to the brink of a memorable victory.
The world number 73 was made to wait as two missed match darts enabled Clayton to stay alive, but he responded in the next with a 13-dart leg to set up a second-round showdown with Dimitri Van den Bergh.
Rodriguez told Sky Sports: “I am confident. In my mind, I can beat everybody, and that shows here.
“I’m in really good form at the moment. I’ve been doing good the last couple of months.
“My life is happy at the moment; that shows on the dartboard.”
Van den Bergh – champion in 2020 and runner-up 12 months ago – delivered a real statement of intent as he put Callan Rydz to the sword 10-2.
Rydz took out Glen Durrant and Rob Cross to reach the quarter-finals on his debut in this event last year.
However, the Bedlington thrower’s hopes of claiming another notable scalp quickly diminished as the Dream Maker hit the ground running with an 11 and 12-darter putting him 4-1 to the good.
A wonderful 116 finish followed before he crashed in a magnificent 137 to round off his 10th victory in 11 matches in the competition with a 100 average.
Meanwhile, reigning champion Peter Wright is adamant he will retain the title after launching his defence with a 10-4 win over debutant Madars Razma.
Wright is aiming to become only the fourth player to successfully defend the World Matchplay crown after Rod Harrington, Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen.
The world number one quickly raced into a 5-0 lead – hitting two 13-darters and checking out 100 along the way – as the nerves appeared evident in Razma.
But a lapse in concentration from Snakebite enabled the Latvian to stop the rot and cut the deficit to 8-4.
However, he pulled out a brilliant 157 checkout to weather the storm, before taking out 62 to seal the deal.
“It’s great to be back in this arena, back in the Winter Gardens and getting the show on the road,” he said.
“[There are] loads more 180s to come, maybe nine-darters as well.
“I will [win it]. Everyone who thinks they’re good enough, you’re not; get on the practise board!”
“My mind’s ready. It doesn’t matter what person turns up; they’ve got to be consistent from the first leg all the way through. There are not many players in this tournament that can do that.”
Aiming to stop Wright in the second round will be last year’s semi-finalist Krzysztof Ratajski, who averaged just under 100 as he overcame former Lakeside champion Stephen Bunting 10-6.
After the first eight legs were shared, the Polish Eagle pulled away by reeling off the next four – hitting back-to-back 15-darters along the way.
Looking to avoid a sixth first-round exit in eight appearances in this tournament, Bunting stopped the rot with an 11-darter cutting the deficit to 8-6.
But Ratajski regained control with an 11-darter of his own, before the 16th seed checked out 90 to kick-start his quest for another deep run in Blackpool.
Betfred World Matchplay 2022 Day One Results
Saturday July 16
Krzysztof Ratajski 10-6 Stephen Bunting
Dimitri Van den Bergh 10-2 Callan Rydz
Peter Wright 10-4 Madars Razma
Jonny Clayton 7-10 Rowby-John Rodriguez