Michael Smith moved clear at the top of the 2018 Unibet Premier League with a 7-3 victory over Simon Whitlock on a record-breaking night at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, as Michael van Gerwen, Rob Cross and Mensur Suljovic also registered victories.
As the Premier League headed to Germany for the very first time, Smith maintained his 100% record in this year’s competition after defeating Simon Whitlock in the top-of-the-table clash. ‘The Wizard’ topped the table prior to this encounter, but ‘Bully Boy’ ran out a convincing 7-3 winner with an 87.32 average and five maximums.
Whitlock secured an immediate break of throw via D18 after Smith missed two darts at double, but the St Helen’s ace then reeled off four consecutive legs to seize control; converting a clinical 106 kill in the fifth leg to lead 4-1.
Whitlock responded to reduce the arrears to 4-3, but then spurned three clear darts to restore parity at four apiece and he paid the price. Smith regained his composure and registered three more legs on the spin to close out a comfortable win, to make it four wins from four on his Premier League return.
Smith reflected: “As soon as I got on stage the hairs on my arms stood up because of the crowd, that was amazing out there. I’m not playing well and I’m winning. To have four wins out of four is great and when I start playing well it will be even better!”
World number one Michael van Gerwen is up to second in the table after dispatching Daryl Gurney 7-2. Van Gerwen averaged 103.42, landed three maximums and dispatched 44% of his attempts at double to prevail, as Gurney’s wait for a first Premier League win continues as he was punished for a disappointing 22% checkout success rate.
‘Mighty Mike’ made a blistering start; storming into a 2-0 lead with an average of over 115. However, five missed darts at double from the Dutchman allowed the Northern Irishman to open his account with a tidy 68 outshot. Despite this, ‘Super-Chin’ struggled to make further inroads.
Van Gerwen regained his two-leg buffer with a 106 checkout, before pinning D8 and D16 in the following legs to establish a commanding 5-1 cushion. The world number one then guaranteed himself a point as his average rose to 105, and although Gurney claimed his second leg via D12, MvG wrapped up the victory moments later.
‘The Green Machine’ said: “I think I played okay and I did the right things at the right moments to get the two points.I didn’t make a lot of mistakes and my confidence is good at the moment. This was amazing tonight and darts is getting bigger and better all over the world. I love what I do and that’s very important, and this was a special night.”
Elsewhere, Mensur Suljovic delighted the partisan Berlin crowd by claiming his first ever Premier League win with an impressive 7-3 triumph over Gerwyn Price. The Austrian was in magnificent form; averaging 106.02, firing in three maximums and converting 64% of his attempts at a double, as Price’s wait for a win continues.
‘The Gentle’ secured an early 2-0 lead with clinical 86 and 111 finishes, before Price halved the deficit after Suljovic squandered two darts at double for a 2-0 lead. The Austrian then followed up his second maximum by pinning tops to restore his two-leg lead, before dispatching an effortless 118 finish to stretch his cushion to 4-1.
Suljovic continued his clinical finishing by converting a two-dart 78 combination, but Price responded with a brilliant 11-darter to keep his slender hopes alive. The next two legs were shared as the Champions League winner missed one match dart for a 7-2 win, but he made amends in the following leg, to move out of the relegation zone.
Suljovic was understandably thrilled to kick off his campaign and beamed: “The crowd is amazing and I’m so happy to be here with my friends and family. I was nervous for the first week, and nervous for the second but I am playing well and starting to feel better. It is good to win and amazing to be in Germany. It was a perfect night.”
World champion Rob Cross made it back-to-back victories by defeating an off-colour Raymond van Barneveld 7-3 to move into fifth position. The opening six legs were shared before the five-time world champion missed a multitude of opportunities, as Cross ran out a convincing winner with a 96.46 average and a 70% checkout success rate.
Van Barneveld kicked off proceedings with a tidy two-dart 78 kill to break throw immediately, but Cross responded by piling in a brace of maximums and nailing tops to break back inside 14 darts. Barney then dispatched 72 and 112 finishes on his own throw, with the scores locked at three apiece at the half-way point.
Cross then punished some indifferent scoring from RvB to move 5-3 ahead, before Van Barneveld incredibly spurned six darts at D4 to reduce the deficit. ‘Voltage’ gratefully capitalised to guarantee himself a point on D10, before crashing in a majestic 128 checkout (T18, T18, D10) to complete victory inside 12 darts.
The world champion admitted: “Raymond didn’t play his best and he wasn’t himself tonight, but the doubles went well for me and I’m happy with that. I’m feeling more comfortable and I’m getting there. Every week I’ll keep getting better and I feel like me again.”
In the final match of the evening, Gary Anderson fought back superbly from 6-3 behind to salvage a point in a high-quality contest against his compatriot and world number two Peter Wright. Wright averaged 104.65 and fired in four maximums, whilst Anderson averaged 105.25, hit five 180’s and converted an incredible 86% of his attempts at double.
‘Snakebite’ landed three maximums in the opening two legs but incredibly Anderson won both legs; taking out a sublime 150 checkout in leg two. Wright bounced back impressively; reeling off three straight legs to lead 3-2, only for ‘The Flying Scotsman’ to fire in an 11-darter and level proceedings at three apiece.
Wright regained the initiative after following up a superb 177 by pinning D12 to hold, before completing a classy 12-darter to lead 5-3. Anderson then left 24 after just 12 darts as he looked to break back, but the UK Open champion conjured up a tremendous 120 checkout to guarantee himself at least a point.
Anderson appeared to be heading for his third defeat in four weeks, but the two-time world champion fought back valiantly to salvage a point. He posted brilliant 12 and 11 darters in successive legs to force a decider, where he capitalised on a missed bullseye from his opponent to hit the same target and secure a point.
After the match, Wright proudly stated: “It’s amazing to be part of how big darts has become in Germany, I just want to say thank you to all the fans. To be out there in front of such amazing fans is a privilege and with more events like this we may see some of the German players like Martin Schindler join the Premier League one day.”
|Michael van Gerwen||4||3||0||1||+12||9||6|
|Raymond van Barneveld||4||1||1||2||-5||6||3|