Phil Taylor survived a scare to begin his final professional tournament before retirement with a battling 3-1 victory over Chris Dobey, as Rob Cross and Dimitri van den Bergh produced ton-topping averages to triumph on an entertaining night of darts at the Alexandra Palace on Friday evening.
Taylor kicked off his farewell World Championship campaign by fending off a valiant fightback from Chris Dobey. The Newcastle ace trailed 2-0, but missed two darts to force a fifth and final set, although ‘The Power’ made the most of his good fortune to prevail with a 96.33 average, three maximums and a 44% checkout success rate.
The pair exchanged scrappy holds to kick off proceedings, before Dobey converted a clinical 98 kill to regain the lead, despite averaging a poultry 76. However, Taylor then made his move; pinning tops with his last dart in hand, before landing his second maximum and producing a classy 12-darter to clinch the opener.
‘The Power’ drew first blood in the second set by pinning tops with his last dart in hand, but Dobey replied with his third maximum and tops for a 15-dart leveller. Nevertheless, ‘Hollywood’ was struggling for consistency and Taylor registered successive legs of 13 and 14 darts to continue the procession and double his lead.
The 16-time world champion appeared destined to close out a routine straight sets triumph, but Dobey continued to battle valiantly, claiming a 2-1 lead in the third set. Taylor converted a nerveless 105 checkout to force a set decider, but Dobey responded with his sixth maximum and a brilliant 11-darter to reduce the arrears to 2-1.
The Stoke-on-Trent ace began the fourth set with a 14-dart hold, but Dobey levelled on D10 after Taylor wired the bull for a 135 outshot. The Bedlington ace then produced a brilliant 104 finish to break throw and suddenly we appeared on the verge of a nervy fifth and final set.
However, Dobey spurned two set darts at D16, which proved an extremely expensive error. In typical Taylor fashion, ‘The Power’ sank D16 with his last dart in hand to break back, and although Dobey left 36 after just 12 darts to pressure Taylor, the 57-year-old completed a 14-dart hold on D16 to continue his World Championship swansong.
Taylor wasn’t at his vintage best but produced the goods when it mattered, and admitted he was relieved to have come through a tricky opener: ‘There was a lot of pressure on me, but to get through Chris Dobey… when they keep on about the future of darts, that’s your fella I think.”
Rob Cross produced a scintillating display on his World Championship debut to defeat preliminary qualifier Seigo Asada in straight sets. The Japanese star acquitted himself impressively, but Cross was imperious; averaging 104.12, landing six maximums and dispatching 50% of his attempts at double to safely progress to round-two.
Earlier in the night, Asada set up his clash against Cross with an impressive comeback win against Australian qualifier Gordon Mathers. Mathers clinched a scrappy opening set, but Asada responded superbly; landing two ton-plus finishes and winning six of the final eight legs to prevail with an 86.65 average.
However, in tonight’s finale, ‘Voltage’ won a scrappy opening set, in which Asada wasted opportunities. The Japanese star missed a dart to break in the opening leg, before finding D18 to level moments later. However, Cross found the same target to regain the lead, before pinning D8 to complete a 15-dart break and secure the early advantage.
Whilst the first set was a nervy affair, the second was of real high-quality. Cross drew first blood with a 13-darter, but Asada responded with successive 15-darters. Nevertheless, he was unable to restore parity, as Cross produced two quality legs; firing in consecutive 12-dart legs and completing 87 and 121 finishes to move 2-0 ahead.
Asada crashed in fine checkouts of 70 and 120 to establish a cushion in the third set, but Cross fired back sublimely. He kept his hopes alive with a 13-darter, before following up back-to-back maximums with an 11-darter to break throw.
Cross subsequently had the advantage of throw in the decider and it paid dividends. The former electrician piled in his sixth 180 to leave 45 after just 9 darts, and although he endured some late double-trouble, he returned to post D8 and secure an emphatic triumph.
Elsewhere, Dimitri van den Bergh continued his magnificent form to dump out former Lakeside world champion Stephen Bunting in a high-quality affair. The newly crowned World-Youth champion was in rampant mood; averaging 104.17, landing five maximums and converting 36% of his attempts at double to record a stunning 3-1 victory.
Van den Bergh stormed into an early lead, following up five perfect darts with a 13-dart opening salvo. Bunting then seized control after the Belgian squandered four at double, but Van den Bergh responded; clinching the opening set with back-to-back 13-darters after ‘The Bullet’ had missed tops for a 148 checkout and the set moments earlier.
The World-Youth champion upped the ante further in set two, averaging 116.40 in a blistering four-leg spell to double his lead. He piled in clinical 127 and 72 finishes to seize command, and whilst Bunting landed a sensational 170 kill to stay alive, Van den Bergh responded with his second 177 and completed a majestic 11-darter to move 2-0 ahead.
‘The Bullet’ was shell-shocked, but he fought back valiantly in set three; securing an early break via D4, before doubling his lead on D10 after the Belgian squandered four darts at double. Van den Bergh piled in a 13-darter to remain in contention, but the St Helen’s star held his nerve and completed a tidy 15-dart hold to halve the deficit to 2-1.
This galvanised Bunting, who kicked off the fourth set with a spectacular 144 checkout. The pair then exchanged assured 14 and 15-dart holds, before Van den Bergh crashed in his fourth maximum and dispatched a fine 76 kill for a 12-dart hold to force a set decider.
Bunting had the advantage of throw to force a fifth and final set, but he registered just one treble in his first nine darts, and Van den Bergh duly pounced. The 23-year-old fired in his fifth maximum at the most opportune moment, before pegging D3 to round-off a 15-darter which sealed his progression into round-two.
Van den Bergh’s average of 104.17 is the fifth highest first-round average in World Championship history and he admitted: “Winning today on my father’s birthday means a lot to me. He definitely inspired me because he’s the reason I play darts. I’m ready for something big, I’ll keep on working and I hope for the quarter-finals at least.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
William Hill World Darts Championship
Friday December 15
Seigo Asada 2-1 Gordon Mathers (P)
Stephen Bunting 1-3 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Phil Taylor 3-1 Chris Dobey
Rob Cross 3-0 Seigo Asada