Michael Smith and Simon Whitlock defeated talented youngsters Steve Lennon and Martin Schindler to book their spots in round-two of the World Darts Championship, as Justin Pipe came through a fifth set tiebreak to set up a second-round tie against Phil Taylor, on an eventful night at the Alexandra Palace on Wednesday evening.
Michael Smith survived a valiant fightback from Irish debutant Steve Lennon to book his place in round-two after coming through a final set decider. ‘Bully-Boy’ piled in an incredible ten maximums in an entertaining tie, but was forced to work hard as he prevailed with a 92.63 average and a 32% checkout success rate.
Lennon acquitted himself impressively after a sluggish start; averaging 94.95, firing in six 180’s and dispatching 38% of his darts at a double, but it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the 13th seed.
Smith crashed in maximums in each of the opening two legs, before converting a two-dart 68 combination for a 14-dart break of throw. The St Helen’s ace was throwing with real pace and followed up his third 180 to clinch the opening set via D7.
The former World-Youth champion drew first blood in set two via D1, but Lennon squared the set with a clinical 91 kill. Nevertheless, Smith replied with a tidy 13-darter via D12, before hammering home an effortless 150 checkout (T20, T20, D15) to double his lead in sets.
However, Lennon responded strongly early in set three, firing in maximums in successive legs to close out impressive 13 and 14 darters. The Irish star then missed seven set darts in an error-strewn third leg but Smith was unable to capitalise, and Lennon eventually sank D1 at the eighth time of asking to halve the deficit to 2-1.
‘Bully-Boy’ stopped the rot with his seventh maximum and D5 for a 15-dart hold, before moving to the cusp of victory after Lennon spurned four darts at double. However, the Carlow ace sank D8 to stay alive, fired in a brilliant 12-darter to force a set decider, before following up his fifth maximum by hitting tops to break and level the tie.
Suddenly Smith was under real pressure, but he rose to the occasion. He fired in his eighth maximum and dispatched an 84 finish for an 11-dart break, before kicking off the following leg with six perfect darts. The world number 13 was unable to produce the magical nine, but closed out a 13-darter to move to within a leg of round-two.
Lennon once again displayed spirited resistance; registering his sixth maximum and converting a two-dart combination to preserve his hopes for a 14-darter. Nevertheless, Smith didn’t relinquish his advantage on this occasion, pegging D10 to seal his progression inside 14 darts, to set up a second-round showdown against Rob Cross.
2010 World Championship finalist Simon Whitlock overcame German youngster Martin Schindler in a scrappy affair to book his spot in round-two. It was far from a magical display from ‘The Wizard’, with the pair missing an incredible 56 darts at double between them, but Whitlock prevailed 3-1 with an 87.42 average and five maximums.
The pair traded holds in the opening exchanges, before Whitlock followed up his first maximum by hitting D10. Schindler appeared poised to force a first set decider but squandered five darts to hold, as the Australian found D10 for the second straight leg to clinch the opening set.
Schindler found the same target to draw first blood in the second set, but Whitlock crashed in his second maximum to round-off a sublime 11-dart leveller. However, the tenth seed then missed a dart at D16 to break and although Whitlock found D9 to force a fifth and final leg, ‘The Wall’ closed out an assured 14-dart hold to restore parity at 1-1.
However, the third set began in bizarre circumstances. ‘The Wizard’ incredibly squandered THIRTEEN darts to hold throw, as Schindler eventually closed out a dire leg by pinning D1 for a 28-dart break. However, Whitlock replied with a D1 of his own moments later, after the German had missed three darts to double his lead.
Whitlock rectified matters with a tidy 13-dart hold via D12, but Schindler defied his struggles to force a nervy fifth and final leg by virtue of pegging D10. Whitlock had the advantage of throw and fired in back-to-back 140’s, but Schindler wired the bull to steal the set, as the recent World Grand Prix finalist returned to hit D10 and regain the lead.
The German debutant was struggling to produce the darts he’s capable of and Whitlock finally upped the ante in the fourth. He fired in maximums in successive legs to complete 14 and 16-dart legs, before conjuring up a classy 127 finish on the bullseye to seal his progression to the second-round.
Elsewhere, Justin Pipe will take on 16-time world champion Phil Taylor in the second-round of the World Championship, after surviving two match darts to scrape past New Zealand qualifier Bernie Smith in a gruelling five-set tiebreak.
Pipe led 2-0 and appeared poised to close out an emphatic straight sets triumph, but the veteran Kiwi fought back to force a fifth and final set, before spurning two match darts. Pipe’s big-stage experience ultimately paid dividends, as the Taunton ace sealed his progression with an 89.24 average.
Earlier in the evening, Smith set up his showdown against Pipe after defeating Chinese youngster Xiao Chen Zong in straight sets in the preliminary round. The Kiwi averaged 87.47, converted 50% of his attempts at a double and dispatched finishes of 80, 74 and 146 as he dropped just one leg en route to victory.
In his first-round tie, Smith landed a maximum in the opening leg, but failed to register another score of 140+ as Pipe cruised to the set without reply, despite averaging a modest 84. ‘The Force’ dispatched a 90 outshot on D5 for his fourth straight leg to kick off the second, until Smith opened his account with a composed 68 kill to square the set.
However, Pipe claimed the third consecutive break of throw after following up his first maximum by hitting D8 for a 14-darter, before finding the same target to complete a 15-dart hold to extend his lead.
The pair traded breaks of throw on D8 to kick off set three, before the 53-year-old New Zealander conjured up a fine 121 outshot on the bullseye out of nowhere to break throw, which enabled him to clinch the third set and halve the deficit.
Smith continued his resurgence as he registered 117 and 104 finishes to seize control of the fourth set, and although Pipe converted a 96 finish for a 12-darter, he squandered one match dart in the next leg and the qualifier capitalised to send the match into a fifth and final set.
Smith drew first blood in the decider with a brilliant 86 finish on the bullseye, but then wasted a crucial dart at D16, which enabled Pipe to draw level via D8. The Kiwi then dispatched a nerveless 66 kill to move to within a leg of victory, but once again he was plagued by missed doubles.
The 53-year-old spurned two match darts in a nervy fourth leg and this ultimately proved to be his undoing. Pipe stayed alive via tops, before registering a 14-darter to move to the brink of victory himself. Smith produced an abject scoring leg, which enabled ‘The Force’ to prevail with his fourth match dart at D8.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
2018 PDC WORLD DARTS CHAMPIONSHIP
First Round – Best of five sets
Xiao Chen Zong 0-2 Bernie Smith (P)
Michael Smith 3-2 Steve Lennon
Simon Whitlock 3-1 Martin Schindler
Justin Pipe 3-2 Bernie Smith
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