Phil Taylor began his pursuit of a 17th World Title with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Japanese qualifier Keita Ono, whilst Ricky Evans produced a miraculous comeback to stun former-World finalist Simon Whitlock on Saturday night at the Alexandra Palace.
Whitlock and Evans contested arguably one of the best first-round matches in the tournament’s history, but a lot of the focus was on Taylor changing his equipment prior to his World Championship campaign. Taylor has altered his darts from 26g to 22g, although he was never seriously tested by Ono, dropping just one leg.
Earlier in the evening, Ono comprehensively defeated Alex Tagarao 2-0 in the preliminary tie, dropping just one leg in the process. The Japanese soft-tip star averaged a very respectable 91.79, hitting a tremendous 75% on his doubles. Unfortunately, Keita wasn’t able to replicate his performance against Phil.
Taylor won the first set, albeit in unconvincing fashion. ‘The Power’ broke throw in the opening leg; converting 82 for a 15-darter, before he was handed a major reprieve in the second.
Ono missed four clear darts for an instant break, enabling Taylor to extend his advantage. Ono opened his account on D10 in leg three, but Taylor pinned D16 to clinch the set with an 89 average.
Ono narrowly missed D14 for a 108 checkout to break Taylor in the early exchanges of set two, but Taylor exploited Keita’s profligacy, before then breaking in the following leg with an excellent 13-darter. The 16-time World Champion was gradually growing in confidence; securing the second set with an 81 finish for a 14-darter.
In the third set, Taylor illustrated precisely why he is a 16-time World Champion. He took out a majestic 167 to hold throw, before moving to the cusp of victory with a stunning 11-darter. The Stoke-on-Trent man finished the job in sensational style, taking out 121 to seal an emphatic win.
Taylor averaged 98.39, although if you discount his mediocre first-set, he was comfortably over the 100 mark. Nevertheless, his doubling, which has been a major vulnerability for the past 18 months, was mightily impressive. He posted 60% on the doubles, and he hit D16 with conviction.
Meanwhile, Ricky Evans produced an extraordinary comeback from two sets and two legs down to stun a beleaguered Simon Whitlock, who is now out of the World’s Top 16. It was a gripping encounter; there were 17 maximums, moments of genius, missed doubles and drama aplenty.
Whitlock began strongly, producing a 14-darter to break Evans’ throw, before he clinched the set in the fourth leg, thanks largely to a couple of maximums.
The second set was a much tighter affair. Whitlock was scoring with tremendous fluency but his profligate doubling was presenting Evans with opportunities. As a consequence, Evans was given a chance to take out 76 and level up proceedings, but he slightly pulled his solitary dart at D20, enabling Whitlock to post D2 for a 2-0 advantage.
This seemed to deflate Ricky, whereas Whitlock began to grow in confidence. He broke Evans’ throw with a 14-darter in the opening leg of set three, before following that up with his fifth maximum and a sumptuous 121 checkout.
Whitlock appeared destined to close out victory with a third-set whitewash, but he missed two match darts and out of nowhere, Evans rallied. He broke Simon with an impressive 64 checkout, before posting a 177 en route to a 13-darter to reduce the arrears to 2-1 in sets.
Evans had the momentum and continued his charge, breaking Whitlock’s throw with a fabulous two-dart 68 checkout. The World Number 10 missed 124 for a break in the following leg, and Evans claimed his fifth leg in succession on D10.
The 2010 World finalist was shell-shocked, but he almost bounced back with a 170 finish, again bending the bullseye wire. Ricky capitalised; hitting D10 once more to win his sixth straight leg to restore parity, which seemed a distinctly unlikely prospect 20 minutes prior.
Whitlock finally halted Evans’ momentum, taking out 68 to break Ricky in the opening leg of set five, but Ricky responded magnificently, breaking straight back with a nerveless two-dart 60 kill.
The 25-year-old from Kettering then moved ahead for the very first time in the contest with D10, before he came agonisingly close to sealing victory in magnificent fashion.
Evans required 132, and hit two bullseyes, yet his match-dart at D16 missed by millimetres. Whitlock forced a tie-break situation by hitting D20, before the next four legs all went with throw.
The quick-fire youngster took out 78 with consummate ease to edge 5-4 ahead in the deciding set and we appeared poised for a sudden death-leg. Nevertheless, Ricky illustrated his class, taking out a spectacular 130 to complete a quite-remarkable comeback.
In his post-match press conference, Ricky was understandably in jubilant mood. Speaking to Josh’s Dartistry, he admitted: “I don’t know how I won. I’m chuffed to bits mate. I’m speechless. “
He also expressed his satisfaction at his doubling tonight. Evans hit 15 doubles from 31 attempts, and maintained his composure at crucial moments. “48% is really good for me. My scoring is strong, but it’s usually my doubles that let me down,” he added.
‘Rapid’ is joined in round-two by his good-friend Dave Pallett, who defeated 12th seed Kim Huybrechts yesterday. Ricky quipped: “He knocked out a top seed yesterday, and I thought, I can’t have him taking the limelight off me! No, he’s a top lad, a top player, and when I saw what he did against Kim, I thought; I can do that!”
Elsewhere, Last year’s quarter-finalist Vincent van der Voort eased into the second-round with an emphatic 3-0 win over Loz Ryder, dropping just two legs in the process. Loz didn’t do himself justice, but Vincent was extremely professional throughout.
Van der Voort coasted to the first set, despite averaging just 87. Ryder won the solitary leg courtesy of an 86 checkout, but he was completely outscored by Vincent. The second set followed a very similar pattern; the 40-year-old Dutchman won the opening two legs, before posting his third maximum and taking out 68 to extend his advantage to 2-0 in sets.
Vincent was in complete and utter control and he almost kicked off the third-set with an eye-catching 144 checkout. However, he returned to hit D12, before moving one leg away from the second-round with a quality 13-dart-leg.
The Australian claimed only his second leg of the contest by taking out 60, but this simply delayed the inevitable, as Vincent sealed a comprehensive triumph on D20. It was an assured performance from the 15th seed, who averaged 95.70 and hit 39% on his doubles.
Vincent claimed he was just relieved to progress in comfortable fashion. He stated: “The most pleasing part is to get over the line. In the first-round, averages don’t mean anything, as long as you feel good on stage. But I’m feeling good and I feel I can do a lot of damage this year.”
Vincent also expressed his pride at the consistency he’s shown here over the years, as he’s yet to be beaten in round-one at Ally Pally.
“It’s a big achievement I think, because the first-round is the most nervy one. I’ve played against really good players like Jelle Klaasen, Mark Hylton and John Henderson, so I’ve had some tough first-rounds and still managed to win those, so that makes me really proud,” he added.
Tomorrow, Five-Time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld takes on his compatriot and close friend Dirk van Duijvenbode, whilst Stephen Bunting, Andy Hamilton, Mervyn King and Jamie Caven are also in action.