Michael van Gerwen kept his hopes of winning his maiden World Matchplay alive, as he came back from 6-1 down to edge out Ian White in a thrilling quarter-final at the Winter Gardens.
Van Gerwen did not lead until the 21st leg of the match, but he demonstrated why he is the World Number 1; producing the goods in the decisive moments, to secure a 16-13 victory against a valiant White.
Van Gerwen will meet old adversary Peter Wright in Saturday’s semi-final, after Snakebite produced a fine performance to secure a comprehensive 16-7 victory over Gerwyn Price.
The Welshman couldn’t replicate his heroics from his match against Adrian Lewis, but Wright was outstanding; averaging over 110 for certain parts of the contest.
After his quarter-final victory, Wright claimed that he believed White would defeat van Gerwen and the Scot’s judgement appeared correct in the early stages, as ‘Diamond’ romped into an emphatic early lead.
The Dutchman struggled to impose himself in the early stages of the contest, allowing White to cruise into a comfortable 3-0 lead. ‘The Green Machine’ posted his first 180 in leg four, before taking out D6 to open his account, but he missed three darts at D18 to break back in leg five, allowing the 44-year-old from Stoke, to establish a 4-1 advantage at the first interval.
Any inclination that White would fail to maintain this high standard was quickly diminished, as he produced successive 105 checkouts to forge 6-1 ahead, leaving van Gerwen stunned.
Nevertheless, the top players manage to respond when faced with adversity, which is exactly what the 25-year-old Dutchman did. He capitalised on indifferent scoring from White to win back-to-back legs, before punishing White’s failed 76 checkout attempt, to hold his throw and reduce the arrears to 6-4 at the second intermission.
White remained unperturbed by MvG’s mini-fightback during the latter stages of the second session, checking out 87 in two darts to regain his three-leg advantage. MvG responded tremendously; hitting back-to-back 180’s and checking out 44 for a fine 11-darter.
The 13th leg was one of the most dramatic legs in the entire contest. MvG threw six perfect darts to threaten a break and a potential 9-darter, but he missed 4 darts at double 16. However, White failed to convert his opportunity, missing three darts at D20. Van Gerwen finally converted D2 to ensure the game was back on throw.
MvG held comfortably to gain parity in the contest for the very first time, before White held his nerve to hold throw and move 8-7 up at the interval, which provoked uncharacteristically animated celebrations from the Stokie.
This encounter was a captivating spectacle, with the constant momentum shifts simply intensifying the drama. After MvG held throw for 8-8, White posted his seventh maximum to regain the lead, before producing a nerveless 80 checkout to break the Dutchman’s throw and forge 10-8 ahead.
Van Gerwen had seemingly squandered his chance to break White in the 19th leg, after a distinctly ordinary visit of 28, but the enigma that is ‘Mighty Mike’ demonstrated his class in the very next visit, nailing a seemingly effortless 156 checkout (which is a personal favourite of his compatriot RvB) to break once again.
Van Gerwen reeled off three successive legs as White gradually began to lose his radar on the T20. But this blip was short-lived, as the Diamond came back winning three successive legs to claim a 13-12 lead. The 24th leg was incredible; there were 3 successive maximums hit, before van Gerwen wired D10 for a stunning 140 finish.
After the former World Champion held comfortably on tops for 13-13, White had a chance to regain his lead, but he missed D11 for a 102 checkout. The Dutchman edged 14-13 ahead, and extended his advantage moments later, after the 9th seed missed D18 for a 108 finish.
White appeared to be in control of the 29th leg, but unfortunately the pressure became too much; White missed a cluster of doubles, eventually ending up on D1, which allowed van Gerwen to post D20 for a 16-13 victory, which completed a terrific fightback.
It was an absolutely intriguing spectacle and White deserves immense credit for his performance, which contributed to a Winter Gardens classic. He threw some terrific darts under pressure, and even when MvG eventually reeled him in, he remained unfazed and refused to surrender.
But essentially, champions are defined by their ability to win tight, classic affairs. Van Gerwen did just that. He will take immense satisfaction from his fightback, particularly given that by his own admission, he was ‘below-par’. Quite how you can average 102.5 after 29 legs and be disappointed with your performance is beyond me, but it simply illustrates the astronomical standards MvG is setting for himself and the other top professionals.
Despite this, he will have to perform at his very best to defeat Peter Wright. Van Gerwen has enjoyed recent dominance over Snakebite, however the former World finalist secured a memorable last-leg victory over the World Number One in the Japan Darts Masters semi-final last month, producing an incredible 141 checkout to win it, with MvG ominously poised on a two-darter.
Wright averaged 108 in his first-round demolition of Kim Huybrechts in Blackpool, whilst he cruised past Andrew Gilding 13-7 in round two. Snakebite was incredible for the opening ten legs of the quarter-final against Price, hitting 14 scores of 140 or more, whilst his doubling was clinical.
At one stage, Wright had hit 10 doubles from just 13 attempts, although as the contest progressed, he lost a bit of focus due to his sizeable lead. Irrespective of this, Wright is throwing with the composure and conviction of a potential major-winner. He has the scoring capacity to live with the very best, whilst his finishing prowess is undeniable. Van Gerwen will remain favourite for the last-four clash, and rightly so, but Wright cannot be under-estimated. It promises to be a special semi-final!