Michael van Gerwen kicked off his bid for a third World Championship title with an impressive 3-1 victory over Alan Tabern, but only after recovering from a spectator throwing beer over him ahead of his walk-on at the Alexandra Palace on Saturday evening.
The top seed was visibly upset as he was forced to head backstage and change his shirt after the incident, but it didn’t affect his performance. ‘The Green Machine’ averaged 102.59, fired in four maximums and converted 55% of his attempts at a double to see off a resilient Tabern- making his first World Championship appearance since 2012.
Van Gerwen stormed into a two-set lead, dropping just one leg in the process. The Dutchman only missed three darts at a double in that period, but Tabern fought back magnificently; firing in a 13-darter in the deciding leg of set three to reduce the arrears to 2-1.
The St Helen’s veteran then piled the pressure on Van Gerwen in the fourth, forcing another fifth and final leg in the set. However, MvG quashed any prospect of an extraordinary comeback by converting a clinical two-dart 86 combination to clinch victory inside 11 darts.
However, the unsavoury incident prior to the contest dominated the post-match conversation, with the PDC issuing the following statement: “The person who threw the beer was removed immediately. This is not behaviour that will be tolerated by the PDC.”
— Sky Sports Darts (@SkySportsDarts) December 15, 2018
Speaking to Sky Sports after his win, Van Gerwen admitted: “I didn’t know how to react, I was so angry. What can you do? You can’t do anything. The only thing I could do was change my shirt and wash my hands, as it was all over my arms.
“We throw darts with our hands and every little thing on your hands gives you a different feeling. It was quite difficult and I was a little bit emotional, but I’m glad I won this game,” the Dutchman added.
Van Gerwen will now take former World Youth champion Max Hopp in round-three, after Hopp defeated Danny Noppert in straight sets on Saturday afternoon. Noppert averaged 97.35 compared to Hopp’s 93.51, but the Dutchman missed 20 of his 23 darts at a double, while Hopp boasted an impressive 53% checkout conversion rate to triumph.
Keegan Brown- another former World Youth champion- set up a second-round showdown against Jelle Klaasen after easing past Czech qualifier Karel Sedlacek. Sedlacek acquitted himself well, but Brown averaged 95.78, crashed in six maximums and converted 41% of his attempts at double to cap off a quality display.
Richard North produced a sensational comeback from two sets down to defeat Robert Marijanovic in a five-set thriller in Saturday’s curtain-raiser. The German Superleague champion took the opening two sets in deciding legs, taking out classy 107 and 147 finishes en route.
Marijanovic was then denied a dart for the match in the third, as North took out a skin-saving 64 kill to halve the deficit, before the Englishman converted a sparkling 136 checkout to force a final set. North crashed in ten maximums in a high-scoring display and secured the decisive fifth set 3-1 to prevail with a 92.82 average.
Toni Alcinas will face world number three Peter Wright on Sunday evening, after breezing past New Zealand qualifier Craig Ross in straight sets. Alcinas won the opening eight legs of the contest, before Ross opened his account on D10. However, the Spaniard closed out a comprehensive win on D2; sealing his progression with an 86.03 average.
Ryan Searle enjoyed a dream Ally Pally debut, after recording a 3-0 win over PDPA qualifier Stephen Burton. There was little to separate the pair in terms of averages, with Searle averaging 87.82 to Burton’s 87.06. However, the Ipswich star endured a horror-show in the finishing department; pinning just three of his 23 darts at a double.
Former World Youth finalist Josh Payne secured his first victory on the Alexandra Palace stage with a battling 3-2 victory over former Lakeside runner-up Jeff Smith. ‘The Silencer’ won the opening set with a 100 average and took Payne to a fifth and final set, but the 24-year-old showed his class in the decider; winning it in three consecutive legs.
However, there was joy for Smith’s fellow Canadian Jim Long, who fought back to defeat Mickey Mansell in a scrappy affair. Mansell secured the opening set with an eye-catching 83 finish on the bull, but Long converted classy 127 and 116 outshots as he closed out a 3-1 victory with a modest 75.33 average.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
William Hill World Darts Championship
Saturday December 15
Richard North 3-2 Robert Marijanovic (R1)
Jim Long 3-1 Mickey Mansell (R1)
Josh Payne 3-2 Jeff Smith (R1)
Max Hopp 3-0 Danny Noppert (R2)
Toni Alcinas 3-0 Craig Ross (R1)
Ryan Searle 3-0 Stephen Burton (R1)
Keegan Brown 3-0 Karel Sedlacek (R1)
Michael van Gerwen 3-1 Alan Tabern (R2)