Gabriel Clemens ended the reigning of Rob Cross as World Matchplay champion with a 10-8 victory in the First Round on Sunday, as Peter Wright battled back to deny Jose De Sousa.
Cross, who claimed the Phil Taylor Trophy for the first time in Blackpool 12 months ago, became the first defending champion since Colin Lloyd in 2006 to surrender the Matchplay crown at the first hurdle.
The world number four struggled to get to grips with the unique behind-closed-doors environment, which features artificial crowd noise, as he slumped to an early exit at the hands of the German debutant.
Clemens finished 127 on his way to leads of 2-0 and 3-1 as he punished Cross’ early missed doubles, with ‘Voltage’ hitting back with legs of 14 and 12 darts to level.
Clemens produced a show-stopping 170 checkout as he regained a two-leg cushion, only for Cross to respond in style with a three-leg burst which included finishes of 94 – for an 11-darter – and 113 as he led for the first time at 6-5.
Clemens took out a clutch 72 on the bull and finished 80 as he moved back ahead, and though Cross kept his hopes alive with a 110 combination, the emerging German sealed the biggest win of his career on double eight.
“It’s a big moment for my career and I’m really happy,” said Clemens.
“The feeling is very good but it was not a good game from both players.
“Rob had a lot of pressure this year and I didn’t play very well – normally I am a good scorer on the tour.
After the 170 my scoring became better and I was the lucky man on the day.”
Another seeded scalp was also on the cards later in the evening at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes when Portugal’s De Sousa led World Champion Wright 8-5.
De Sousa performed superbly as he took charge of the contest, finishing 161 in the early stages and moving into a three-leg cushion with the aid of a 101 checkout.
Wright, though, changed to a set of darts with a shorter point and also removed his glasses – which he was wearing for the first time in a televised game – before taking out a huge 144 checkout in leg 15 to turn the tie on its head.
He then produced a key double 16 to level, which was sandwiched between two breaks of throw as the Scot moved 9-8 up before going on to seal the win on tops.
“I’m relieved to get over the line but I’m really disappointed with the way I played,” said 2017 runner-up Wright.
“Jose is a brilliant player who’s shot up the rankings and is a potential Premier League player but I wasn’t even playing him – I was playing myself.
“I was trying to get used to the glasses on stage, and I started off the game with a dart with a longer point, but I switched back to the dart I won with in the Summer Series last week.
“At 8-5 I was fed up – I took the glasses off because I was battling the glare from the lights. I couldn’t see properly but I was aiming in that sort of the direction and the darts went in.
“In the World Championship I had a bit of luck in the first round and went on to win it, and this could spur me on this week.”
Wright now faces another tough test in Round Two after Glen Durrant produced a devastating display to race past Jeffrey de Zwaan 10-3, averaging 107 in the process.
Although De Zwaan took the opening leg, three successive 14-darters from Durrant helped him into a 4-1 lead as he took control of the game, before extending that cushion to 6-2.
De Zwaan – who reached the last four in 2018 – took out 71 to hit back in leg nine, but Durrant reeled off the next four legs in just 55 darts to complete a brilliant display.
“I’m delighted with that,” said Durrant. “I had a lot of nerves because Jeffrey is a player that you don’t want to face in the first round, but I was focused on doing my own thing and I enjoyed that.
“The PDC and Sky have done an unbelievable job and it felt like I was playing in front of a Premier League crowd, it was marvellous.
“I feel good, I feel healthy and I’m playing well, so that’s a big win for me. I feel that my finishing now, round about the 112-120 mark, is as good as anyone’s at the moment.”
Mensur Suljovic, the 2018 finalist, battled back from the brink to overcome Jamie Hughes 12-10 in a thrilling tie-break tussle.
A high-quality contest saw both players average over 100 and Suljovic land ten 180s to Hughes’ eight, with the Austrian’s early 4-1 lead cancelled out when his rival took six of the next eight to move 7-6 up.
Hughes then took out 118 as he moved into a 9-7 advantage, but Suljovic followed up earlier checkouts of 101 and 108 by winning three straight legs to move 10-9 up and then finishing 127 and 112 to complete a gutsy win.
“It feels brilliant,” said Suljovic, who now plays Michael Smith. “I came back well but I never gave up. It was a hard game but I was focused.”
“At 4-1 it was okay, but then at 9-7 I said to myself that you never give up, and I won the game.”
Smith, last year’s beaten finalist, also impressed by finishing 63% of his doubles and averaging over 101 in his 10-3 victory over Welshman Jonny Clayton.
Clayton took out 126 on the bull in leg two to level, but Smith reeled off checkouts of 103 and 126 as well as a string of 13-darters in seven successive legs to move 8-1 up.
The Welshman landed a 13-darter in back-to-back legs as he pulled back to 8-3, but Smith won the next two to seal a crushing triumph.
“I’m just glad to get the win tonight because I want to do go one better than last year,” said Smith. “Today was a stepping stone and hopefully by Sunday I can be lifting the trophy.
“Jonny let me off in the first session and he could have been ahead when it was 4-1 to me, but he missed doubles and I punished him.
“My finishing was good but I didn’t think I played as well as the stats show – I felt I struggled and I wasn’t as free-flowing as I can be. As long as my doubles go in, I know I can improve my scoring.”
Sunday July 19
Mensur Suljovic 12-10 Jamie Hughes
Glen Durrant 10-3 Jeffrey de Zwaan
Gabriel Clemens 10-8 Rob Cross
Peter Wright 10-8 Jose De Sousa
Michael Smith 10-3 Jonny Clayton