Michael van Gerwen produced a brilliant comeback from 5-1 and 7-5 behind to edge out Peter Wright in a pulsating deciding-leg thriller to clinch European Darts Open glory on a dramatic day of action at the Ostermann Arena on Sunday evening.
Defending champion Wright returned to form in emphatic style in Leverkusen, but he was left to rue one missed match dart in the 13th leg, as Van Gerwen won seven of the remaining nine legs to secure the first European Tour title of the season.
‘The Green Machine’ was punished for uncharacteristic profligacy in the early stages of the contest, after missing 19 of his first 23 attempts at double. However, he rectified matters to some tune; averaging 102.97, crashing in nine maximums and converting 26% of his double attempts to clinch the 21st European Tour title of his career.
Snakebite drew first blood in the final via D17, after Van Gerwen incredibly missed eight darts at double to claim the opening leg. Wright then doubled his lead with a clinical 110 kill, before Van Gerwen followed up his third maximum with a two-dart 80 finish to halve the deficit inside 14 darts.
MvG’s double-trouble resurfaced in a dramatic fourth leg. Wright spurned three darts at double initially but the Dutchman returned the favour, allowing the colourful Scot to restore his two-leg buffer courtesy of D2.
The former UK Open champion registered a double-break in 14 darts after Van Gerwen missed another dart at D11 to hold, before Wright extended his lead to 5-1 by following up his first maximum with a 16-dart hold on D10.
Snakebite then left 58 after just nine darts in the following leg, as he aimed to stretch his lead further, but he wasn’t afforded an opportunity at the checkout, as MvG dispatched a two-dart 81 kill for an 11-dart hold.
This sparked a stunning revival from ‘The Green Machine’, who followed up his fourth maximum with a vital 70 checkout, before reducing the arrears to 5-4 by overcoming some further double-trouble to peg D1 with his last dart in hand.
The pair traded maximums in an eventful tenth leg but this time Wright was punished for squandering opportunities, as the world number one nailed D10 for his fourth straight leg to level up proceedings at five apiece.
Van Gerwen had all the momentum, but the topsy-turvy nature of the contest continued as Wright regained the initiative. He followed up three consecutive 140’s with a classy 81 finish for an 11-dart break, before converting a nerveless 78 combination on D6 to move to within a leg of victory.
‘Mighty Mike’ piled in his eighth 180 in a bid to stay alive, but Wright came within a whisker of sealing victory; wiring the bullseye for a 121 match-winner. This proved to be an expensive miss, as Van Gerwen pegged D8 for a 13-dart hold, before following up his ninth maximum with a majestic 89 outshot for a 12-dart break to force a decider.
The Dutchman had the advantage of throw in the final leg, but Wright posted his fifth maximum in a last-ditch bid to secure victory. Van Gerwen had not led for any point in the match, but when it mattered most the world number one delivered. Wright left 32 after 12 darts, but it was to no avail, as MvG sunk D16 to prevail inside 13 darts.
The world number one reflected: “I think for the crowd it was phenomenal but for me it was a bit horrific because I know I can do better. Early doors I missed a lot of doubles, I played terrible at the beginning but it gives me even more confidence to fight back and more pleasure from this win.”
Wright was inevitably frustrated to have relinquished a commanding advantage, but having suffered three successive 7-1 drubbings in the Premier League, he was taking the positives, admitting: “I’ve been struggling big time so to take seven legs off Michael, the best player in the world- I’m very happy.”
Earlier in the day, Van Gerwen kicked off Sunday’s proceedings with an impressive 6-3 win over Alan Norris. The opening six legs all went with throw, but ‘The Green Machine’ upped the ante in the latter stages; reeling off three legs in succession to triumph with a 105.99 average, two maximums and a 50% checkout conversion rate.
This set up a quarter-final tussle against eighth seed Simon Whitlock, who thrashed Dave Chisnall 6-1 to reach the last eight. However, ‘The Wizard’ was dealt a taste of his own medicine against ‘Mighty Mike’, who averaged 101.61, converted 50% of his darts at double and crashed in a majestic 170 checkout en route to victory.
In the last four, Van Gerwen took on the tournament’s surprise package Richard North- who followed up a dramatic deciding-leg win over world champion Rob Cross by easing past Ron Meulenkamp in the quarter-finals.
Nevertheless, the world number one produced a dominant display to record a comprehensive 7-1 win over ‘The Lionheart’. North was only afforded the solitary dart at double as Van Gerwen averaged 103.30, posted the solitary maximum and dispatched 70% of his double attempts- which included a spectacular 164 kill.
In the bottom half of the draw, Wright produced a series of impressive performances to mark his return to form. Snakebite averaged 105.98 in his opening-round victory over Luke Woodhouse, before easing past his fellow Scot John Henderson; averaging 100.46 and firing in four maximums to triumph.
The world number two then faced Joe Cullen for a place in the semi-finals, after ‘The Rockstar’ recorded deciding-leg wins over both Danny Noppert and Chris Dobey. Cullen outscored Wright for large periods of the contest, but Snakebite’s clinical finishing proved decisive, as he converted 75% of his attempts at double.
This set up a semi-final showdown against eight-time major winner James Wade, who had defeated Steve Beaton, Michael Smith and Mervyn King to reach the last four. Yet once again, Wright produced a flawless display in the doubling department; averaging 102.48, taking out a majestic 170 and dispatching seven of his eight darts at a double.
Despite this, a number of big names suffered surprising early exits on Finals Day. World champion Rob Cross suffered a shock 6-5 defeat to Richard North in the last 16, whilst Mensur Suljovic was beaten 6-3 by Mervyn King at the same stage. Elsewhere, Michael Smith was dumped out by a brilliant James Wade; despite averaging 106.07.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
2018 European Darts Open
Sunday March 25
Afternoon Session (1pm local time, 12pm GMT)
Michael van Gerwen 6-3 Alan Norris
Simon Whitlock 6-1 Dave Chisnall
Ron Meulenkamp 6-1 Justin Pipe
Rob Cross 5-6 Richard North
Peter Wright 6-2 John Henderson
Joe Cullen 6-5 Chris Dobey
Mervyn King 6-3 Mensur Suljovic
James Wade 6-4 Michael Smith
Evening Session (7.15pm local time, 6.15pm GMT)
Michael van Gerwen 6-1 Simon Whitlock
Ron Meulenkamp 2-6 Richard North
Peter Wright 6-3 Joe Cullen
Mervyn King 4-6 James Wade
Michael van Gerwen 7-1 Richard North
Peter Wright 7-4 James Wade
Michael van Gerwen 8-7 Peter Wright