Raymond van Barneveld produced a magnificent comeback from 3-0 down against world number 8 Michael Smith, to reach his third World Championship semi-final in the last four years, at the Alexandra Palace.
On the anniversary of van Barneveld’s iconic 2007 World Final victory against Phil Taylor at the Circus Tavern, where he also trailed 3-0, Raymond repeated the feat to secure a nail-biting 5-4 triumph in an enthralling tussle at the Palace.
Smith made a blistering start to the contest, winning nine of the opening twelve legs to establish a commanding advantage, but the Five-Time World Champion showed his class to complete a masterful recovery, just 72 hours after his heroics against his compatriot Michael van Gerwen.
The contest began at a rip-roaring pace. Raymond van Barneveld took out 121 on the bullseye for a crucial break of throw in the third leg, but Smith delivered an instant riposte, taking out 97 in unorthodox fashion; D19 D20, with Barney sat on D20 to clinch the set.
Smith had the advantage of throw in the fifth leg and kicked off proceedings with a maximum, missing two darts at D20 for an 11-darter. However, van Barneveld missed the bull for a magnificent maximum 170 finish, before ‘Bully Boy’ returned to claim the opener in 13-darts.
Smith took out 114 to secure the initiative in the second set, and missed doubles from Raymond proved decisive, as Smith took out another ton-plus shot, 110, to extend his advantage to 2-0 in sets.
In the third, van Barneveld responded well, but the St Helen’s star was rampant. Smith held throw in the opening leg of the set, before Barney left himself on D20 after 12 darts to level the third.
However, Smith denied the Dutchman, taking out 94 on D6 for a 12-darter, before hurting RvB further, just moments later.
Producing a majestic scoring leg to leave 58 after 9 darts, van Barneveld attempted to claw his way back, yet he was denied a shot, as Smith converted 121 on the bull for a three-set cushion.
The former World-Youth Champion was throwing exquisite darts, but van Barneveld is a tenacious campaigner, and is notorious for producing inspired comebacks on the World Championship stage.
Barney began the comeback trail by pinning D9 to stop the rot, before posting his second 121 finish of the contest, to gain some breathing-space in the fourth set. He made no mistake, holding throw comfortably on D20 to reduce the arrears to 3-1 in sets.
The first leg of the fifth set was absolutely pivotal. There were three consecutive 180’s between the pair, but Smith squandered four darts at double, enabling van Barneveld to secure a crucial break on D20.
The 48-year-old Dutch legend won his fifth consecutive leg with a clinical 76 checkout, and suddenly, the 25-year-old St Helen’s ace was rattled.
Smith temporarily halted van Barneveld’s growing momentum with D20 to halve the deficit in the set, but Barney’s response was emphatic. For the third time in the match, he produced a terrific 121 checkout to clinch the set, provoking passionate celebrations from the amiable Dutchman.
Raymond was intensely focused on restoring parity in the sixth set, and he began it impressively, taking out 104 for a strong hold. Astonishingly, for the FOURTH time in the contest, he again delivered a 121 checkout, again on D14, to edge closer to drawing level.
RvB then won his ninth leg out of the last ten, to level up proceedings, and the Ally Pally crowd were rallying behind their Dutch darting hero. Smith composed himself admirably however, and claimed an early advantage in the seventh set with an effortless 11-dart hold.
Despite this, just moments later, Smith squandered a golden opportunity for a precious break, missing two darts for a 68 kill. Barney capitalised on this reprieve, pinning D20, before breaking Bully Boy’s throw with a nerveless 64 checkout.
Barney was throwing for a 4-3 lead in sets, which seemed distinctly unlikely just 30 minutes previously. The Five-Time World Champ made no mistake, converting D16 to complete an astonishing turn-around.
Raymond had the advantage of throw in the eighth set, but any inclination that he would comfortably ease to a 5-3 triumph were dispelled instantly, as Smith broke via D10.
RvB hit six perfect darts in a bid to preserve his hopes of winning the set, but Smith closed out the set in an assured manner, winning it three legs to one, to force another deciding set; van Barneveld’s third consecutive last-set decider of this year’s competition.
Nevertheless, Barney’s hopes of reaching another Ally Pally semi-final were hanging by a thread, as Smith made a stunning start to the decider. He held throw with a crucial 82 checkout, before breaking van Barneveld with a wonderful 130 finish.
Michael was on the verge of his first ever World semi-final, but he missed one match dart, wiring D20 for a 113 checkout. Raymond van Barneveld was sat on 96, the shot he hit to defeat Michael van Gerwen. It simply had to go, but once again, Barney produced the goods, hitting D8 to preserve his hopes.
It was the shot of a Five-Time World Champion. Under such pressure, it was simply remarkable, particularly as it appeared he was beginning to fatigue due to his previous gruelling exploits in this year’s competition.
Van Barneveld comfortably held throw on D16 in the following leg, to force a tie-break situation, where the match had to be won by two clear legs. Raymond won his third consecutive leg, and secured a pivotal break of throw, by hitting D15 for a classy 13-dart leg.
Barney had the darts, and hit four straight tons to leave 101 after 12 darts. He had one dart at D16 for the match, but just wired it. Smith was sat on 122 and hit T18 with his first dart, but an unfortunate deflection into the single four left him unable to have a shot at double.
The legendary Dutchman returned to the oche, and made no mistake on this occasion, taking out D16 to cap a memorable comeback against one of the most talented players in world darts.
Given the considerable toil he went through to defeat both Bunting and MvG in deciding sets, it was an immense show of strength and self-belief from Raymond, who will now meet Adrian Lewis on Saturday night for a place in the final.
Lewis, vying for his third World Championship crown, defeated Peter Wright 5-2 in a high-quality contest. Heading into this encounter, Jackpot was yet to drop a set in this year’s tournament, and this looked like continuing as he established a 3-0 advantage over a misfiring ‘Snakebite’.
However, Wright showed his class in the remaining four sets, as his scoring power improved immeasurably. Wright was producing combination finishes at will against Dave Chisnall 48 hours ago, but these shots evaded him against the Two-Time World Champion.
Wright narrowly missed 164 to reduce the arrears to 4-3 in sets, before missing D20 for a 120 checkout in the following leg.
Although these shots are certainly not formalities, you must produce these types of finishes against a player of Lewis’ calibre. Adrian did take advantage of Peter’s missing, clinching the match to secure a reasonably comfortably 5-2 win.
In Friday’s afternoon session, reigning World Champion Gary Anderson kept alive his hopes of retaining his title, thanks to a comprehensive 5-1 victory over a below-par James Wade.
‘The Machine’ averaged below 90 and claimed he was ‘disgusted’ and ‘humiliated’ by his performance, but Ando averaged over 105 and came within millimetres of hitting a perfect nine-darter. The Scot is favourite to retain his crown, and on that evidence, he’ll take some stopping.
Anderson will take on 2006 Lakeside Champion Jelle Klaasen in the last four on Saturday night, after Klaasen came from 3-1 and 4-3 down to defeat Alan Norris in an epic quarter-final on Friday afternoon.
Like Anderson, Norris came agonisingly close to hitting the first nine-darter of this year’s competition, wiring D12 in the eighth set of the pulsating clash. Norris was throwing for a 5-3 victory at one stage, but successive 11-darters from ‘The Cobra’ forced a deciding set.
Klaasen produced an inspired comeback to defeat Phil Taylor in the last 16, and he replicated such heroics against the 2014 Lakeside finalist, winning the ninth and deciding set without reply, to reach his first ever PDC World Championship semi-final.
William Hill World Darts Championship
Friday January 1 2016
Afternoon Session (1pm)
Alan Norris 4-5 Jelle Klaasen
Gary Anderson 5-1 James Wade
Evening Session (7.30pm)
Raymond van Barneveld 5-4 Michael Smith
Adrian Lewis 5-2 Peter Wright
Saturday January 2 (8pm-11.30pm)
Raymond van Barneveld v Adrian Lewis
Gary Anderson v Jelle Klaasen