Michael van Gerwen continued his unbeaten start to 2019 as he defeated his compatriot Jermaine Wattimena 8-4 to clinch the opening Players Championship event of the season in Wigan on Saturday afternoon.
‘The Green Machine’ scooped 20 titles in a trophy-laden 2018, and he followed up his third World Championship title with a fifth consecutive Masters crown last weekend, before kicking off his Premier League defence with a 7-5 victory over Michael Smith.
Nevertheless, as the Pro Tour season got underway at Wigan’s Robin Park Tennis Centre on Saturday, it was business as usual for the world number one, who posted four ton-topping averages en route to clinching the £10,000 winner’s prize.
Van Gerwen averaged 103.95 over his seven matches and boasted an incredible first nine-dart average of 113, and he was in blistering form to defeat Wattimena in a rip-roaring finale, averaging 109.50 and landing five maximums to triumph.
Wattimena drew first blood in the final with a 105 finish, but Van Gerwen replied with a clinical 106 kill to level. The pair then exchanged comfortable holds of throw in 14 and 13 darts respectively, before Van Gerwen broke in leg five- following up visits of 177 and 174 with a sumptuous 11-darter.
‘The Machine Gun’ broke straight back with an 11-darter of his own, but as the astonishing standard continued, MvG posted yet another 11-dart leg, kicking off the leg with back-to-back maximums and converting a nerveless two-dart 76 combination.
Van Gerwen cemented that break with a 16-dart hold, before moving to the cusp of victory with successive 13-darters to lead 7-3. Wattimena prolonged the contest with a tidy 13-dart hold, but he was unable to launch an inspired fightback, as the world number one sealed the deal with his sixth match dart to extend his unbeaten run to 18 matches.
The three-time world champion set the tone for the brilliance that followed in his opening-round match, kicking off proceedings with a 6-2 victory over Luke Woodhouse. The Dutchman missed double 18 for a nine-dart finish in the final leg of the contest, but he averaged 108.80 in a scintillating display, before easing past Gary Eastwood 6-1 in round-two.
Van Gerwen averaged 105.10 to complete a 6-2 victory over Mickey Mansell- who claimed his maiden PDC title on the Players Championship circuit 12 months ago. This set up a last 16 showdown against former world finalist Mark Dudbridge, who enjoyed his best run on the Pro Tour since March 2015, but MvG ran out a convincing 6-3 winner over ‘Flash’.
‘The Green Machine’ then stormed into the semi-finals with a majestic 6-1 victory against Jonny Clayton. ‘The Ferrett’ averaged 103.90 but was rendered helpless against the inspired Dutchman, who averaged 110.10 and registered legs of 12, 16, 11, 13, 14 and 14 to seal his spot in the semi-finals.
In the last four, Van Gerwen took on former BDO star Scott Baker, who thrived on his PDC Pro Tour debut. ‘The Mod’ dropped just eight legs en route to the semi-finals, whitewashing John Goldie and Stephen Burton, whilst also claiming the scalps of Rob Cross, Darius Labanauskas and Kyle Anderson.
Baker acquitted himself impressively against ‘Mighty Mike’ and established a 4-3 advantage at one stage. However, Van Gerwen responded by reeling off four of the next five legs to defeat the Tipton ace 7-5 and maintain his electrifying start to the season.
However, Wattimena also enjoyed a terrific start to 2019 by reaching his maiden Pro Tour final. ‘The Machine Gun’ began his campaign with battling victories over Ross Smith, Barrie Bates and Ritchie Edhouse to set up a last 16 showdown against Ian White, who topped the Players Championship Order of Merit last year.
‘The Diamond’ averaged 100 in a high-quality affair but he was denied by the quick-fire Dutchman, who won the final two legs in 14 and 15 darts respectively to prevail. Harry Ward- who won his PDC Tour Card at Qualifying School, awaited in the last eight, but Wattimena ran out a comfortable 6-3 winner.
In the semi-finals, Wattimena locked horns with world number three Peter Wright, who defeated World Championship runner-up Michael Smith in an epic last eight tussle. Smith averaged 112 to Wright’s 110.50, but the Scot claimed his second victory over ‘Bully Boy’ within a week, and the pair will collide again on Night Two of the Premier League in Glasgow this Thursday.
‘Snakebite’ averaged 98.52 over the course of the event but after his heroics against Smith he struggled in the semi-finals. Wattimena breezed into a 5-0 lead with legs of 14, 14, 15, 16 and 15 darts and although Wright reduced the arrears with back-to-back legs, the Dutchman responded by rounding-off a comprehensive 7-2 victory which saw him collect £6.000.
Earlier in the day, three-time BDO world champion Glen Durrant suffered an opening round exit in his first tournament as a PDC player, losing out 6-5 to the veteran Alan Tabern with a 98.70 average. Mark McGeeney, the top seed at the recent Lakeside World Championship, was beaten 6-2 in an eye-catching first round clash against Grand Slam champion Gerwyn Price.
Five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld was beaten in the second round on his return to the PDC Pro Tour. Van Barneveld defeated Toni Alcinas 6-2 with a 101 average in his opener, before succumbing 6-5 to Ryan Searle in a cracking contest, as Barney fought back superbly from 4-0 down to force a decider, only for Searle to prevail with a 116 checkout.
Van Barneveld’s fellow Premier League stars Rob Cross and Price also departed the tournament in round-two. Price was beaten 6-5 by Brazilian star Diogo Portela, whilst 2018 world champion Cross lost 6-4 to eventual semi-finalist Scott Baker, who enjoyed a brilliant debut on the PDC circuit.
Nine-time major winner James Wade suffered a third round defeat against Kyle Anderson, who posted an impressive 103.90 average en route to reaching the quarter-finals. Meanwhile, Players Championship Finals winner Daryl Gurney was thrashed 6-1 by Jeffrey de Zwaan, who will make his Premier League debut in Rotterdam next month.
Simon Whitlock was a high-profile last 128 casualty as he slipped to a 6-5 reverse against Harry Ward, while World Youth champion Dimitri van den Bergh fell to a 6-3 defeat against Darius Labanauskas.
Adrian Lewis, Darren Webster and Jamie Hughes were among the players absent due to registration issues. Mensur Suljovic and Max Hopp both withdrew from the event having initially entered, whilst two-time world champion Gary Anderson remained absent due to his ongoing back injury.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
Players Championship 1
Saturday February 9, Robin Park Tennis Centre, Wigan
Michael van Gerwen 6-3 Mark Dudbridge
Jonny Clayton 6-4 Jeffrey de Zwaan
Kyle Anderson 6-4 Andrew Gilding
Scott Baker 6-0 Stephen Burton
Jermaine Wattimena 6-5 Ian White
Harry Ward 6-3 Diogo Portela
Michael Smith 6-0 Joe Cullen
Peter Wright 6-2 Mick Todd
Michael van Gerwen 6-1 Jonny Clayton
Scott Baker 6-3 Kyle Anderson
Jermaine Wattimena 6-3 Harry Ward
Peter Wright 6-5 Michael Smith
Michael van Gerwen 7-5 Scott Baker
Jermaine Wattimena 7-2 Peter Wright
Michael van Gerwen 8-4 Jermaine Wattimena