Five-Time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld kicked off his World Championship campaign with an emphatic 3-0 victory over his compatriot and close friend Dirk van Duijvenbode at the Alexandra Palace on Sunday evening.
Ironically, it was van Barneveld who encouraged van Duijvenbode to take up darts professionally, and Raymond was key to the youngster gaining sponsorship from Unicorn. However, the master prevailed against the apprentice on this occasion.
Barney edged through in a tight opening set. There was a significant disparity in the averages, but this wasn’t reflected in the scoreline. Raymond was averaging 13 points higher than his opponent, but Van Duijvenbode took out 100, and then 110 to force a fifth and deciding leg, but van Barneveld held comfortably to clinch the set.
Van Barneveld broke van Duijvenbode in leg three of the second set and appeared poised to double his set advantage, but van Duijvenbode punished an indifferent scoring leg from Barney to force another fifth and deciding leg.
Raymond left 121 after 9 darts, with Dirk sitting on 180. The 23-year-old hit two T20s, before incredibly busting his score by hitting a maximum. Raymond capitalised and took out D8 for a 14-darter to double his lead in sets.
This visibly deflated Dirk, who left the stage at the second interval close to tears. Raymond’s scoring after the interval was excellent and his silky-smooth throw came to the fore. Although he endured a little bit of double trouble in the third set, he clinched the set without reply to seal his last 32 spot.
The 48-year-old Dutchman averaged 91.74, although it would have been far higher but for a couple of missed doubles in the latter stages of the contest.
In the second-round, Raymond will face Stephen Bunting, in a repeat of last year’s gripping World Championship quarter-final, which Barney won 5-4.
The Five-Time World Champion was delighted with his win, but Raymond told Josh’s Dartistry that his confidence had been hit by his recent results; in spite of his excellent performances.
“I remember one game in Sindelfingen where I played Joe Cullen; I hit eight 180s and average 111, but I only won two legs. That was a turning point in my career I think; I thought to myself Ray, you may as well quit the game, because this isn’t enough, what more can you do? I couldn’t believe that,” he added.
Raymond admitted his excellent run to the Grand Slam semi-finals last month was a potential turning point in his season. “Yeah the Grand Slam was big. I was eighteenth (seed) there, so that took me up into the top 16; I was 15th after that.”
Van Barneveld and Bunting have met on seven occasions, with the Dutch legend winning on six of those. However, Raymond doesn’t think his dominant head-to-head record will have much influence.
Van Barneveld admitted: “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I played Kim Huybrechts eight times, he beat me seven times; but the last time I played him I won; so next time we meet that will be in his head. It’s not so important. There are so many good players these days. I know what I can do. I know I can play.”
Bunting defeated Jyhan Artut in straight-sets earlier in the evening, although he was given a scare in the third set after missing a multitude of opportunities to close out the contest.
Bunting cruised to the opening set without reply, despite averaging around the 90 mark. Artut was struggling for consistency and ‘The Bullet’ took full advantage to storm ahead.
The second set followed a similar pattern. Artut opened his account with an impressive 13-darter, although this was an exception to the rule, as Bunting reeled off three successive legs to extend his sets advantage.
Bunting won the third set to seal a serene progression to round-two. In the second leg, on Artut’s throw, he missed 5 darts at double, yet still broke, which just evidences how dominant he was in the scoring department.
However, after switching off momentarily, the St Helen’s star was punished by the German, who converted 76 to break. The pair then missed a plethora of doubles in leg four; Bunting squandered five match darts, whilst Artut missed 7 in that leg himself.
This profligacy almost proved very costly for Bunting. Yet, he was handed a major reprieve when Artut missed two set darts and this time, ‘The Bullet’ capitalised to crawl over the line.
Speaking to Josh’s Dartistry after his victory, Bunting admitted his relief of overcoming the first-round hurdle. “The most pleasing thing is just to get the win to be honest. I can go home and have a good Christmas now!”
Elsewhere, Mervyn King survived a major scare to edge past Russian qualifier Aleksandr Oreshkin in a deciding set. King trailed 2-0 in sets and appeared on the verge of a shock exit, but he won 9 of the last 10 legs to progress.
In the evening’s opener, Oreshkin edged through a nail-biting last-leg decider in his preliminary tie against the legendary veteran, Paul Lim, to set up his tie with King.
Oreshkin was averaging over 100 at one stage, but missed five match darts in set two. However, Lim himself squandered two match darts in the decider, as the Russian prevailed.
The roles were reversed however later on in the evening. King averaged 100 in the first set, but uncharacteristic profligacy from Mervyn cost him, as Oreshkin stole the opener by three legs to one.
Mervyn appeared poised to level up proceedings as he claimed control of the second set, but the 54-year-old Russian fought back to force a fifth and deciding leg. With King sat on a two-darter, Oreshkin converted a stunning 134 checkout to stun the Ally Pally crowd and leave the former World finalist shaking his head in disbelief.
However, to King’s credit, he showed great tenacity to fightback. Oreshkin’s consistency wavered as the contest progressed, and Mervyn’s power-scoring paid dividends. He hit eight maximums and won 9 of the last 10 legs to set up a potential second-round tie against Jelle Klaasen.