Michael van Gerwen continued his quest for a first title in 2021 with a hard-fought victory over Damon Heta as 2,000 fans filled Winter Gardens following the lifting of coronavirus restrictions in the UK.
The world number three was forced to dig in with five straight legs to turn the match around having found himself trailing 6-4 after surrendering four legs in a row.
Awaiting him in the second round is Ian White, who prevailed in an enthralling opening match against Daryl Gurney in which both provided a flurry of ton-plus finishes.
Nathan Aspinall weathered a storm against Mervyn King to put his name in the second round and set up a meeting with 2020 finalist Gary Anderson after the Scot overcame Stephen Bunting in a low-quality affair to close out the night.
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“Of course this was a relief, I didn’t play my own game, I didn’t play my own pace, I was trying to follow into his game and it didn’t really work,” admitted the victorious Van Gerwen.
“I think after the second break I started to play my own game and started to hit the trebles and from there on I had a good game.
“Everybody knows I’m capable but you still have to do it on stage. It’s been so long since I’ve played with crowds like this, it’s been unrealistic, it’s not normal for us anymore. Of course I had to change my game to adjust a little bit but I’m looking forward to the next one.
“It’s amazing (to have the crowd back), everybody knows I’m a crowd player. It gives me more energy but today was a tough one, it’s the first night you can have crowds here in the UK tonight so you have to make the most of it.”
World Matchplay: Evening Results
Relieved Van Gerwen edges past Heta to reach second round
A determined Van Gerwen reacted bullishly to a minor scare to turn on the style and send Heta packing with a 10-7 win amid a mission to get himself back among the silverware.
It was all business for the snarling Dutchman early on as he eased to a 3-2 lead at the break while visibly unhappy with a performance that had seen him averaging in the 90s up to that point. Though failing to light up the stage, Heta had quietly kept himself in it amid a bid to exploit the Green Machine’s animated start.
A double eight to go 4-2 up was met by a huge roar from MVG, whose frustration then grew at the sight of Heta breaking back to stay within touching distance of the three-time world champion. The Winter Gardens first-timer took further encouragement, locating double eight to level things up before punishing Van Gerwen’s miss on double 16 for 106 by finding double eight once more for a go-ahead break.
The upset looked on the cards when Heta made it four successive legs with an 84 checkout on double 12. Van Gerwen’s response? A 12-darter to snap the streak in a bid to get himself back on track before levelling it up at 6-6 moments later on a two-dart 84 finish to match that of Heta’s two legs earlier.
Heta was left to rue four missed darts at tops, Van Gerwen making amends for his own miss on double 20 in between by pinning double 10 for 8-6. After a 97 checkout made it 9-6 after five straight legs, six perfect darts teased a nine-darter until Van Gerwen finally wrapped it up on double one.
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White holds nerve to beat Gurney in dramatic opener
White put his disappointing run of form behind him as he edged out Gurney 10-7 in a thriller to book his place in the second round in the night’s opening match.
In a blistering start Gurney reeled off 101 and 130 checkouts to which White hit back with a 117 finish before swooping in on a rare missed double to take out 48 for the first break.
Gurney’s early momentum subsequently faded as White powered on to take a 6-4 advantage after first punishing the Northern Irishman’s miss on tops for a 120 checkout to rescue a hold and then a miss on double 16 to secure another break of throw.
‘Diamond’ refused to let up, pinning double 16 for 8-3 to prompt an inspired response from Gurney, who kept himself alive with a clinical 116 checkout for a 12-dart leg followed by an 80 finish to reduce the deficit to 8-5 and threaten a late scare.
Gurney’s revival continued when he nailed double four while staring at 76 to snatch the leg away from White after the 50-year-old had missed three at double 16. He then squandered the chance to move within one moments later, missing five darts to win a fourth straight leg and opening the door for White to mop up under pressure with a huge dart at double two for a 9-6 lead.
Needing 44 for the match, White could only watch as Gurney pulled out a stunning 121 checkout on the bullseye. He didn’t help his cause moment later with three missed match darts, but finally finished the job on double six to let out an enormous sigh of relief.
Anderson downs Bunting in laboured affair
It was far from pretty but it didn’t need to be from Anderson as a 94 average helped him towards a 10-5 win over Bunting with both men undoubtedly far from their best on the night.
Anderson started strongly, following up an immediate break of throw by killing 64 for a 2-0 lead, before scuppering a chance to go 4-1 up as he failed to finish off 96 to invite Bunting to return for 3-2 having missed double 16 on his previous visit.
Bunting pounced on Anderson’s failure to earn a 5-2 cushion to move within one, but that only seemed to spark The Flying Scotsman into life as he won the next three legs for 7-3 after improved his finishing significantly.
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What an atmosphere at the Winter Gardens! 🔥
Gary Anderson receives an amazing ovation as he looks ahead to a showdown against Nathan Aspinall! 👀
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A hold for The Bullet warranted a quickfire response from Anderson, whose 14-dart leg restored his four-leg cushion at 8-4 and left him needing just two more for the win.
Bunting returned with another hold however again struggled to put pressure on the Anderson throw, amounting to 9-5 after a timely maximum had put the two-time world champion in command.
The match and a place in the second round was finally the Scot’s thanks to a 70 finish after Bunting had missed double four to keep himself in it.
The Asp keeps his cool to fend off King
Aspinall held off a fightback from King to win 10-6 and progress to the second round of the World Matchplay for the first time in his career.
The 30-year-old was in cruise control from the off, breaking King in the opening leg of the match before sinking double 18 for a 2-0 lead, taking out 52 for 3-0 and then using his six darts in hand to purposely bust to set up double 12 for a four-leg cushion.
King managed to pull one back before the first break, finding double four after Aspinall had missed double 16 while needing 68 for a fifth straight leg. One soon became two on a 62 checkout for his first break, before the 2019 quarter-finalist found double 16 for his third on the bounce.
The Asp responded well, taking a moment to compose himself before burying one in double 18 to keep himself in control at 5-3. Back came King, keeping the pressure on with a 14-dart hold but then failing to punish Aspinall’s miscue to gift the former UK Open champion a chance to save himself on double eight for a break and 6-4.
King continued to lurk as he claimed the 11th leg but then missed tops followed by three at double 10 to open the door for Aspinall to scrape by with a hold for a 7-5 lead.
A third break of throw arrived right on time for Aspinall courtesy of a clutch double 18 to leave himself throwing for the match, which he would proceed to do via double six to see off 72.
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