Eight-time major winner James Wade kicked off his bid for a maiden World Championship title in stylish fashion, as Mensur Suljovic and Robert Thornton also won through to round-two at the Alexandra Palace on Wednesday evening.
Wade began his World Championship campaign in convincing fashion with an impressive straight sets victory over experienced Belgian Ronny Huybrechts. ‘The Machine’ averaged 93.83, registered 12 scores of 140 or more and hit 56% of his attempts at double to record an emphatic first-round triumph.
‘The Rebel’ made a strong start by breaking Wade in 15 darts, but the left-hander struck back instantly on D9. Wade then converted a clinical two-dart 84 kill to complete a 14-darter, before sealing the set on D10 with an average in excess of 97.
The second set followed an almost identical pattern to the first. Huybrechts drew first blood with a 69 finish, but Wade held throw with a trademark 120 checkout. ‘The Machine’ then fired in his first maximum to break in 13 darts, before following up his second 180 with an accomplished 14-darter to double his lead in sets.
Huybrechts again clinched the opening leg of three but for the third straight set, Wade prevailed; firing straight back with a 62 finish before the next two legs were shared. The sixth seed had the advantage of throw in the set decider and sealed his progression in sensational style, with a majestic 141 finish.
After his victory, Wade told Josh’s Dartistry: “I’m so nervous in the first-round that I can’t play my darts, but I’m happy to be through. Every tournament is different; it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the last two tournaments or the last 22, it’s irrelevant. Usually I’m one of the first games on; this time the schedule is in my favour to play good darts.”
Mensur Suljovic set up a second-round showdown with former world champion Mark Webster after defeating Dutchman Ron Meulenkamp in three straight sets. ‘The Gentle’ averaged 88.51, landed two maximums and converted 47% of his attempts at double to seal a relatively routine victory.
However, the eighth seed was given a minor scare in the opening set. Meulenkamp broke in the opening leg with a 116 outshot, before extending his lead with a 14-darter. Suljovic cleaned up finishes of 76 and 120 to force a set decider, which he secured on D8 after Meulenkamp wired a set dart at tops.
The second set was a case of missed opportunities for the man nicknamed ‘The Bomb’. Suljovic sealed the second set without reply, but Meulenkamp had one dart at double in all three legs and Mensur duly capitalised.
The Austrian won his seventh straight leg on his favoured D14, before Meulenkamp eventually stopped the rot on D5. The left-hander then won his second straight leg after Suljovic uncharacteristically missed three darts at D16, but Mensur stayed alive in the set on tops, before rounding-off victory with a clinical 13-dart leg.
Suljovic reached his maiden major final at the European Championship in October, although he told Josh’s Dartistry that he must improve to secure further success in the future. “It was a fantastic feeling, but for every tournament I need to get better and better.”
Finally, Robert Thornton breezed through to round-two with a straight-sets victory over Austrian qualifier Zoran Lerchbacher. The former World Grand Prix champion was far from his best; averaging 88.55 and hitting just 23% of his double attempts, but he landed four maximums and showed glimpses of his quality to progress.
Thornton clinched a topsy-turvy opening set which saw all five legs go against throw. ‘The Thorn’ punished four missed darts from the Austrian to steal the opening leg, only to see Lerchbacher level with a 56 finish. The pair then exchanged further breaks, before the ninth seed hit his second maximum and pinned D10 for a 14-darter to secure first blood.
Thornton eventually held throw for the first time in the contest with a 26-dart leg after missing an incredible TEN darts at double, but the former World Grand Prix champion regained his composure to seal the set without reply after nailing successive 68 finishes with Lerchbacher enduring a horror-show on the doubles himself.
Lerchbacher secured a 2-1 lead in the third set after Thornton missed five darts at double across two legs, but ‘The Thorn’ pinned D6 to force a set decider. The qualifier had the advantage of throw to prolong the contest, but the ninth seed followed up his fourth maximum with a two-dart 63 finish to seal his straight-sets progression.
Lerchbacher had secured his showdown with ‘The Thorn’ after edging out Simon Stevenson in an intriguing preliminary tussle. The Austrian averaged 90.35, landed two maximums and converted 42% of his attempts at double to prevail in a third and deciding set, but he was unable to replicate this type of display against the world number nine.
Thornton admitted to Josh’s Dartistry that he was relieved to have banished the demons of last year’s first-round exit. “It did add to the nerves actually. I never played badly last year; I missed a lot of doubles but Alan Norris was on fire when I played him and there was no way I was beating him. I’ve started putting the hours in recently and it seems to be working.”
Photo Credit: Press Association
William Hill World Darts Championship
Wednesday December 21
Zoran Lerchbacher 2-1 Simon Stevenson (P)
Mensur Suljovic (8) 3-0 Ron Meulenkamp
James Wade (6) 3-0 Ronny Huybrechts
Robert Thornton (9) 3-0 Zoran Lerchbacher