Michael van Gerwen was given an enormous scare as he survived a nail-biting tie-break in the first-round of the World Championships against German qualifier Rene Eidams at Alexandra Palace on Friday evening.
Elsewhere, Dave Pallett caused the shock of the tournament thus far to dump out 12th seed Kim Huybrechts, whilst Kyle Anderson dispatched World Number 18 Brendan Dolan with consummate ease.
Rene Eidams had beaten Thanawat Gaweenuntawong 2-0 in the night’s opening preliminary-tie, but it was an abject contest; Eidams averaged just 69 in prevailing in straight-sets.
Nobody expected the 26-year-old to produce the display he did against MvG; it was a stunning performance that will certainly live in the memory!
The World Number One claimed the opening set in quick-fire fashion, although he was certainly operating in third or fourth gear. ‘The Green Machine’ upped the ante in the second set, again clinching it without reply with finishes of 61, 76 and 127.
Van Gerwen seemed destined to seal a whitewash victory, but Eidams opened his account by breaking throw with an eye-catching 122 finish on the bull. Van Gerwen broke back on D18, but Eidams wasn’t deterred, breaking MvG again on D16, and causing a major surprise by pinning a 103 checkout to steal a set off the Dutch star.
Eidams was full of confidence and van Gerwen was rattled. The German’s doubling was absolutely majestic and he reeled off three consecutive legs to force this contest into a gripping last-leg decider. It was an astonishing turn-around. From the brink of victory, van Gerwen had lost 6 out of 7 legs and Eidams was growing in self-belief.
Michael stopped the rot, winning just his second leg in eight to claim the initiative, but Eidams restored parity with a sublime 88 checkout. MvG moved to the cusp of victory with D8, but Eidams forced a tie-break by converting D4 with his final dart.
The German had the vast majority of the crowd support, but the 26-year-old Dutchman maintained his composure to regain the advantage by taking out 50 in two-darts.
Eidams’ hopes of producing the biggest shock in the history of the World Darts Championships were eventually ended in the sixth leg of the fifth set. Van Gerwen posted his 7th 180 at an opportune moment, before taking out 90 to win this gripping tussle in 12-darts.
However, to put this encounter into some context, Eidams averaged 69 in his preliminary match, yet almost defeated the World Number One in a best of five sets match.
It was an extraordinary performance and he deserves immense credit for a marvellous display. Van Gerwen remains favourite for the tournament, but he will be mightily relieved this evening.
Another major story this evening was the performance produced by David Pallett, who secured his first ever victory on the Alexandra Palace stage against Huybrechts. The Shropshire star appeared dead and buried early in set four, but he demonstrated terrific character to secure the biggest win of his career.
Pallett made a fantastic start to the encounter, posting a 180 in the opening leg and following it up with a cool 64 checkout. Huybrechts responded well, taking out 72 to level up proceedings, but Pallett won two successive legs, on D2 and D20 respectively, to secure the first set.
However, the Belgian responded well to this setback, by controlling the second set and restoring parity in the contest. Pallett’s solitary leg in the set came courtesy of a two-dart 81 checkout, but ‘The Hurricane’ held his nerve to take out 58 to level up proceedings.
The third-set was ultimately decisive in the outcome. There were significant shifts in momentum throughout the set, but the 25-year-old from Newport spurned two set darts, which was ruthlessly punished by Huybrechts. The Belgian had the one dart at D20, but made no mistake, to edge ahead in sets for the first time.
Huybrechts drew first blood in the fourth set, eventually taking out D1, and he appeared poised to complete the victory. Yet, the World Number 12 suddenly seemed to lose focus and to his immense credit, Pallett capitalised; reeling off three successive legs to force the first fifth-set decider of this year’s tournament.
The Englishman dealt the first blow in the opening set by nailing D10, before producing two spectacular finishes in succession to topple Kim. Huybrechts was poised to restore parity in the fifth set, before Dave delivered a sensational 132 checkout culminating on the bull.
With Pallett on the cusp of the biggest victory of his career, he would have been forgiven for showing signs of tangible tension. Yet, he was coolness personified as he converted 122 on D7 to clinch the match and provoke scenes of pure jubilation.
In his post-match press conference, Pallett reflected on two of the biggest finishes of his career thus far. He claimed: “The two finishes saved me massively. Kim was on a double when I took out the 132, and obviously I had to take out the 122 to deny Kim a shot, so they’re probably the best two finishes I’ve ever had, at the right time anyway.”
“I lost the darts in the third set and I was really disappointed with that, because I felt really good in that third set as well, but coming from behind to win always feels great,” he added.
Elsewhere, Australia’s Kyle Anderson began his World Championship campaign in impressive fashion, by dispatching 18th seed Brendan Dolan in straight-sets. Dolan was ranked in the Top 10 earlier this year, but he has endured a miserable run of form and the Northern Irishman is in considerable danger of slipping outside the World’s Top 20.
Anderson struck first as he held throw in the opening set. He made an outstanding start to the encounter, leaving D8 after 9 darts, before eventually cleaning up D8 in 12-darts. Dolan held throw on D16, before the Australian regained the lead with a tremendous 103 checkout.
The ‘History-Maker’ pegged back on D20, but missed the bull for a 122 finish in the following leg to clinch the set. Kyle required 60 to seal the set, and he did so in the most unconventional manner. He hit single 1 with his first dart, before hitting T19 when aiming for the single. However, with his last dart in hand, he showed admirable composure to convert D1.
The second set was a largely scrappy affair, with a leg of pure quality sandwiched in between. Dolan opened his account in the second set with a clinical 66 checkout, but he failed to extend his advantage in spite of Anderson missing a plethora of doubles. The man from Perth eventually closed out the leg on D1.
Kyle’s power-scoring is one of the most impressive facets of his game, and that was evidenced in the third leg. He followed up successive 140’s with his fourth maximum, to create a break opportunity which he duly converted in 11 darts.
However, in the fourth leg, both men missed a host of doubles; after posting his first 180 at a crucial juncture, Dolan then squandered five darts to break. This allowed Anderson to extend his lead to 2-0, courtesy of his third D1 of the contest.
Dolan has never been a particularly prolific scorer, but his biggest qualities have been his proficiency on the doubles. Nevertheless, at present, he is completely lacking in conviction on the doubles and he squandered further opportunities in the third set. Despite this, he managed to force a deciding leg in the third set.
However, Kyle showed real character to come through a potentially tricky leg. After failing to register a treble with his first visit, he hit successive scores of 140 and 180 to leave himself 121 after 9 darts, and in complete command of the leg. He finished in sumptuous style, taking out 121 for a 12-darter to seal a straight-sets victory.
In his post-match press conference, Kyle admitted to me that renewed self-belief was the catalyst behind his development over the last 18 months.
“It’s all about confidence mate. If you’re not confident, you’re not going to show your best on the floor or TV. I think my game is starting to progress. I’ll admit at the very start I was really nervous; it was like new pastures for me.”
“It’s all about growing and learning. I’ve learnt how to play; I’ve learnt how to hold myself together and it’s showing now,” Kyle added.
Kyle could face his compatriot Loz Ryder in the second-round, if the Australian can cause an upset against 15th seed Vincent van der Voort. Kyle admitted that he would relish this prospect.
“It would be two Western-Australians in the last 32; two Perth boys. It wouldn’t just be awesome for me; it would be awesome for Loz too,” Anderson added.
Tomorrow, 16-Time World Champion Phil Taylor begins his pursuit for a 17th World Title, whilst Simon Whitlock, Ian White, Vincent van der Voort, Steve Beaton and Kevin Painter are also in action.