Gary Anderson began his world title defence with an emphatic straight sets victory as Michael Smith, Kevin Painter and Jamie Lewis also tasted victory on the opening night of the 2017 PDC World Championships at the Alexandra Palace on Thursday evening.
Anderson began his title defence with a routine whitewash triumph against debutant Mark Frost. ‘The Flying Scotsman’ averaged 96.16, landed five maximums and converted 38% of his double attempts to record an emphatic victory over the PDPA qualifier, who entertained the Ally Pally crowd despite averaging a miserly 74.
Anderson clinched the first set without reply despite averaging a modest 79. He wired the bullseye for a majestic 170 finish in the first leg before eventually cleaning up on D4. The Scot hit the same target to extend his cushion after ‘Frosty’ missed three darts to break, before the world champion eventually hit D1 to secure a scrappy opener.
‘The Flying Scotsman’ kicked off the second set with his first maximum before pinning tops for a 13-darter and his fourth successive leg. Frost was floundering and Anderson clinically converted a 116 finish on tops to continue the procession, before registering back-to-back maximums and pinning D10 for a 12-darter and a two-set lead.
Anderson began the third set by hitting his fourth maximum but spurned two darts at double for his seventh straight leg. Frost capitalised, hitting the bull to complete a 73 finish which sparked ironic celebrations from ‘Frosty The Throwman’.
The world champion responded by landing a stunning 171 before levelling on tops with a 13-darter, but Frost doubled his tally via tops to the delight of the Ally Pally crowd, after Anderson had missed one dart to break.
However, Frost’s hopes were soon extinguished as the Scot converted a clinical 91 kill to move within a leg of victory, which he duly sealed after landing his fifth maximum and hitting tops to complete a 14-darter.
Anderson is looking for a third successive world title triumph but is under no illusions that it will be very tough. “All these boys now can play the game. It’s very hard. We’ve been here and done it but starting again; it’s like starting at the bottom. We’re here in the first-round and it’s terrible to go up on that stage, but once you get on that stage it’s alright; you get going.”
Last year’s quarter-finalist Michael Smith produced an impressive fightback from 2-1 down to defeat former World-Youth finalist ‘Rapid’ Ricky Evans in the match of the opening night. Smith prevailed when the pair met in the 2013 World Youth final and ‘Bully-Boy’ again triumphed after averaging 96.78 and posting seven maximums.
‘Rapid’ lived up to his nickname as he raced into an early advantage. Evans won the opening leg with a classy 120 checkout before hitting tops for the second leg in succession to secure a 13-dart break. Smith opened his account with a 14-darter, but Evans broke Smith’s throw once again with a 15-darter to seal a high-quality opening set.
Smith responded by holding throw at the start of set two, but ‘Bully-Boy’ missed three darts to break Evans in the following leg and ‘Rapid’ exploited this reprieve by pinning D10 to level the set. The world number eleven recovered impressively however; regaining the initiative with a 68 kill before pinning D5 to restore parity at one set apiece.
Evans secured first blood in set three with a 65 kill, before the next three legs went with throw to force a crucial fifth and deciding leg. The pair traded maximums but the Kettering ace Evans held firm; pinning D11 to complete a 13-darter and move within a set of a second-round spot.
Evans secured a pivotal break by hitting D4 in the opening leg of set four, but he was unable to cement this advantage as Smith hit D16 to level. The St Helen’s star then fired in a magnificent 143 finish before clinching the fourth set in dramatic circumstances, after Evans had squandered five darts to force a deciding leg.
‘Bully-Boy’ was firing on all cylinders and secured an early break in the fifth and decisive set. The pair once again traded maximums but Smith converted a brilliant 94 finish on the bull, before moving to within a leg of victory after eventually pinning D3.
Evans had the chance to stay afloat after Smith spurned multiple match darts but ‘Rapid’ was unable to threaten a 97 finish, which allowed last year’s quarter-finalist to complete his comeback victory by hitting D2 with his last dart in hand.
Former world finalist Kevin Painter was the first man to book his place in the second-round of the World Championship with a hard-fought victory over 29th seed Jamie Caven. Neither player were near their best, as Painter prevailed 3-1 with an 85.13 average and 36% on the doubles, punishing Caven’s miserly 81 average and 27% double success ratio.
Caven clinched a scrappy opening leg on D18, before Painter posted his first maximum to level up the set. Jabba then spurned four darts at double as Painter took out 72 to break throw, before ‘The Artist’ followed up his second maximum with a clinical 76 finish to clinch the opening set.
Painter’s dominance continued as he won his fourth straight leg to seize an early initiative in set two. Nevertheless, the 2004 World Championship finalist suddenly began to show vulnerability in the finishing department, missing darts at double in three consecutive legs as ‘Jabba’ gratefully capitalised to level up proceedings at one set apiece.
‘The Artist’ was becoming visibly frustrated and Caven extended his winning run to five legs to move to the cusp of a 2-1 lead. However Painter fought back valiantly. He hit his third maximum and took out 76 to stay alive, before exploiting two mediocre legs from Caven to complete an unlikely comeback and regain the lead in sets.
The topsy-turvy nature of this contest continued as Painter won his fourth straight leg by hitting D6 at the sixth attempt. Caven’s game had disintegrated and Painter pounced; hitting his fourth maximum and hitting D10 to move within a leg of victory, before sealing his progression with a classy 124 finish culminating on the bullseye.
Painter hopes this victory could spark a reverse in fortunes for him. He admitted: “Getting in this tournament is a turning-point, as it looked at one stage like I wasn’t going to be in it which was painful.
“Our last event was in November and then the Pro Tour doesn’t start again until Febtuary, so that would have been a couple of months of not doing anything. To miss this tournament for me personally would have been a disaster,” he added.
Finally, Jamie Lewis secured his first ever victory at the World Championships with an impressive deciding-set victory over experienced Irishman Mick McGowan. The Welshman averaged 91.08, fired in five maximums and converted 50% of his doubles to set up a potential second-round meeting with third seed Peter Wright.
Lewis cruised to the first set of the contest as McGowan endured a nightmare start. The Irishman averaged just 68.19 in the opener and Lewis wrapped up the set without reply after posting three 140’s and a solitary maximum.
The procession continued for the Welshman after the break as he won his fourth straight leg with a 15-dart break. However, McGowan suddenly found some form and reeled off consecutive legs with clinical 90 and 84 finishes, before pinning tops to round off a 13-darter and restore parity at 1-1, with an average of 102.58 in the second set.
However, the momentum shifted after the interval as Lewis stopped the rot on tops as McGowan squandered four darts at double to break. The Welshman then extended his cushion in set three after a woeful leg from ‘The Magnet’, before registering his third maximum and coolly converting an 84 outshot to regain the lead.
McGowan claimed an early lead in set four, but Lewis drew level after following up his fourth maximum with a clinical 68 finish. The next two legs both went with throw as Lewis moved to within a leg of victory the Irishman held his nerve to convert a 95 finish and force a dramatic fifth and deciding set.
The Welshman hit the front in the decider with a cool 80 finish, before McGowan levelled on D4. Lewis then moved to within one leg of victory once again with a fine 14-darter; having earlier wired the bull for a spectacular 161 finish.
In the following leg McGowan posted his third maximum as he fought desperately to stay alive, but Lewis produced a stunning match-winning salvo; landing his fifth maximum before converting a nerveless 108 finish on D16 to secure his maiden Ally Pally triumph.
The 25-year-old was understandably relieved to have banished his Ally Pally demons, insisting: “I know how well I can play. When you believe in yourself and know how well you can play, it’s all about going up there and doing it. I’m just chuffed to get over the line. I’ve got that win here now so hopefully I’ll go up there next time and play like I can.”
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
William Hill World Darts Championship
Thursday December 15 (7pm)
Jamie Caven (29) 1-3 Kevin Painter
Jamie Lewis (30) 3-2 Mick McGowan
Gary Anderson (2) 3-0 Mark Frost
Michael Smith (11) 3-2 Ricky Evans
Best of five sets