Michael Smith whitewashed Zoran Lerchbacher 6-0 to prevail in the third Coral UK Open qualifier, having ended nine-dart hero Michael van Gerwen’s unbeaten start to 2018 on a day of shocks at the Robin Park Tennis Centre in Wigan.
‘Bully Boy’ reached the final of Friday’s opening qualifier before succumbing to an imperious Van Gerwen, but he gained retribution in emphatic fashion; ending the world number one’s 23-match unbeaten run in 2018 to claim the eighth PDC title of his career.
Yet whilst Smith’s win over MvG was his most notable scalp of the day, he claimed his first title of 2018 courtesy of a comprehensive whitewash win over Lerchbacher, averaging 97 en route to scooping the £10,000 winner’s prize.
The Premier League ace drew first blood with a 78 checkout after Lerchbacher had missed one dart at D16, before doubling his lead with a two-dart 66 combination. Smith then dispatched an effortless 111 finish to clinch his third straight leg, before continuing the procession with a clinical two-dart 86 outshot.
The Austrian was being completely outscored and his only dart at double came in the opening leg. Smith rounded-off a 15-dart hold to move to the cusp of victory, which he duly sealed by virtue of another clinical combination finish; taking out 89 in two darts to triumph in style.
Smith was thrilled with his performances and admitted: “My aim this year was to win four titles. Michael stopped me on Friday and that hurt me because I thought I was playing well, but I got my own back on him today.
“My ranking is based on my floor events, not on TV – but this is my eighth title now and I can concentrate for the rest of the year now. I’m not chasing a win, I’ve got it in the very first weekend,” he added.
Earlier in the day, The St Helen’s star had kicked off his campaign with a comprehensive 6-0 win over Mark Wilson; averaging 101.3 in the process. He then eased past Adam Hunt 6-2, before claiming another whitewash win over ‘The Bronzed Adonis’ Steve Beaton.
The former World Youth champion then booked his spot in the last eight with a fine 6-3 win over German star Gabriel Clemens. It was a high-quality affair, with Smith averaging 104.10 to Clemen’s 101.60, with Smith’s winning legs coming in 15, 14, 12, 13, 15 and 12 darts.
This set up a quarter-final showdown against Michael van Gerwen, in a repeat of Friday’s final. ‘Mighty Mike’ was bidding for a third successive UK Open qualifying victory and dropped just nine legs in defeating Kevin Edwards, Tytus Kanik, Vincent van der Voort and Jermaine Wattimena to reach the last eight.
‘The Green Machine’ also landed the third nine-darter of the weekend in his last 16 win over his compatriot Wattimena. The nine-darter came in the opening leg of the match and Van Gerwen kicked off leg two with a maximum, which meant that he incredibly began the match with twelve perfect darts.
Nevertheless, MvG’s astonishing unbeaten run was finally halted by Smith in the last eight. The St Helen’s star averaged 100.70 and dispatched finishes of 96, 120 and 81 to close out a sensational 6-1 victory, with his final five winning legs coming in 14, 15, 12, 13 and 13.
This set up a semi-final tussle against David Pallett, who defeated Martin Schindler, Bradley Brooks, Peter Hudson, Jamie Lewis, Kim Huybrechts and Joe Cullen to equal his best run in a PDC event since September 2015. However, Smith ran out a 6-4 winner in a hard-fought contest, sealing the win with a sublime 132 finish (Bull, Bull, D16).
However, on the other side of the draw, Zoran Lerchbacher reached the second Pro Tour final of his PDC career to confirm his place in the UK Open. The Austrian failed to register any prize money across the opening two events, but pocketed £5,000 to guarantee his spot at Minehead for the second straight year.
Lerchbacher came through a gruelling last-leg decider against Tony Newell in the preliminary round, before easing past Dennis Smith 6-2. He then averaged 102.70 to defeat Robbie Green 6-3 in a high-quality contest, which he followed up with a 6-1 drubbing of Matthew Edgar.
‘The Hypercane’ then recorded a convincing win over Paul Nicholson, before sealing his spot in the last eight with a fine 6-3 win over Dave Chisnall, winning five of the remaining six legs and converting two ton-plus finishes. Lerchbacher then thrashed an off-colour James Wilson 6-1, to set up a last-four tie against John Henderson.
The World Grand Prix semi-finalist saw off Martyn Turner, Paul Rowley, Mick McGowan, Dave Prins and Jamie Hughes to mark his best Pro Tour showing since September 2016, but he was unable to overcome Lerchbacher. Neither player was at their best, but the Austrian prevailed with an 86.30 average to reach his first final since July.
Former BDO star Jamie Hughes followed up his stunning win over world champion Rob Cross on Saturday by reaching the last eight, which sealed his qualification for next month’s UK Open Finals.
Joe Cullen, Mervyn King and Kim Huybrechts were the other men to reach the last eight on Sunday afternoon, whilst Dave Prins sealed his second last 16 appearance of the weekend. Prins is poised to make his third UK Open appearance in just four years- having previously qualified twice as an amateur.
Nevertheless, for the third successive day, Rob Cross suffered a shock opening-round defeat. The world champion lost out 6-5 to Suffolk youngster Ryan Meikle after spurning a handful of match darts, and ‘Voltage’ is under pressure to perform in the final three qualifiers next weekend in order to qualify for the UK Open.
However, there were a host of other high-profile stars who crashed out at the first hurdle. World number two Peter Wright was beaten 6-4 by Cody Harris, whilst Premier League stars Simon Whitlock and Daryl Gurney were dumped out by Robert Marijanovic and Jeffrey de Zwaan respectively.
Yet the shocks didn’t end there. James Wade, Benito van de Pas, Ian White, Alan Norris, Darren Webster, Robert Thornton and Dimitri van den Bergh were also condemned to opening-round exits at the Robin Park Tennis Centre.
Elsewhere, Premier League stars Raymond van Barneveld and Gerwyn Price both pulled out of Sunday’s event. Van Barneveld is yet to claim any money towards the UK Open Order of Merit having suffered consecutive opening-round defeats to World Masters winner Krzysztof Ratajski, although Price’s spot at Minehead is already assured.
The full list of results from today’s third UK Open qualifier can be viewed via the following link: https://www.pdc.tv/node/7673
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC