Raymond van Barneveld produced the performance of the opening night at the Melbourne Darts Masters, as Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson set up a quarter-final showdown on a dramatic evening at the Melbourne Arena.
Brisbane Darts Masters champion Damon Heta continued his stunning run of form Down Under, whilst Peter Wright, Rob Cross, Daryl Gurney and Simon Whitlock also registered wins on Friday evening.
However, Van Barneveld was the star of the opening night, as he brushed aside New Zealand World Cup star Haupai Puha for the second week in succession. The Dutchman defeated Puha 6-2 in the Brisbane seven days ago, but he upped the ante in his final appearance on Australian soil.
The five-time world champion averaged 106.13 and converted 75% of his attempts at double to cap off a majestic 6-1 victory, which also featured three maximums and clinical finishes of 109, 83, 76, 72 and 81.
“I felt really relaxed up there,” said the 52-year-old. “I took a few days off after Brisbane to get my mind in the right place and it seemed to have worked. I have been doing it on the practice board and I always feel confident there but it’s nice to finally do it out on the stage.”
Van Barneveld will take on top seed Wright in Saturday’s quarter-finals, after ‘Snakebite’ battled past former World Youth champion Corey Cadby in a scrappy affair. Wright led 5-2 only for Cadby to reduce the arrears to 5-4, but the Scot eventually sealed the deal with a 13-darter on tops.
Nevertheless, the defending champion was scathing of his own performance. Despite converting 67% of his attempts at double, Wright averaged a miserly 82.24 and he acknowledged he must improve against Barney as he bids to retain his crown.
“Tonight was diabolical, I’m sorry and I don’t know what happened up there tonight but sometimes it just doesn’t go,” said a frustrated Wright. “I have to play Barney tomorrow and if I play anything like that then I won’t be the champion anymore.”
Van Gerwen and Anderson will clash in the pick of the last eight ties, after both men recorded emphatic first round victories. Anderson booked his spot in the quarter-finals with a 6-0 whitewash over James Bailey, who wasn’t afforded a single dart at double.
‘The Flying Scotsman’ averaged 96.97, landed two maximums and boasted a 43% checkout success rate and having been plagued by injury problems for much of 2019, the two-time world champion believes he’s slowly starting to recapture his form.
“It’s getting there,” said the Scot. “I had six months off and in the past I could just get right back into it. It has not turned out that way and it has been a hell of a difference. It’s going to be hard work I think, I need to get back into it. I know what I need to do.”
Van Gerwen’s progression wasn’t quite as serene but he still eased through to finals day with a 6-2 win over qualifier Tim Pusey. The Dutchman has gone seven events without winning a PDC title, although MvG began his bid for glory in Melbourne with a 93.24 average and four maximums.
“Gary and I always have great games and I can’t afford to make any mistakes against him,” said MvG. “I have not played my best but I just have to keep giving myself chances and doing the right things at the right moments. I am happy to get the win today but now I have to focus on playing Gary.”
Elsewhere, Heta maintained his sensational form to claim the scalp of James Wade for the second straight week. ‘The Heat’ edged out Wade 6-5 in his Brisbane opener, yet he defeated ‘The Machine’ in far more comprehensive fashion in Melbourne.
The 32-year-old stormed into a 5-0 lead and although Wade completed an 86 kill to avoid the whitewash, Heta sank double eight to clinch a 13-dart triumph and prevail with a 99.60 average, five maximums and a sublime 75% checkout conversion rate.
Heta will face Cross in the quarter-finals, in a repeat of the Brisbane Darts Masters final. Cross, who claimed World Matchplay glory last month, averaged a modest 86.28 in defeating World Series debutant Robbie King in Friday evening’s finale.
Third seed Gurney saw off former World Series winner Kyle Anderson in his opener, to set up a showdown against home favourite Whitlock. Gurney was averaging 115 as he stormed into a 3-0 lead, eventually closing out a 6-3 success with a 97.57 average and 75% on the doubles.
“I was pleased with the way I started so I was happy with that but it was my own fault that I let Kyle back in,” Gurney admitted. “I’ve been working really hard at home and whilst I’ve been away so beating quality players shows the hard work is paying off.”
Whitlock opened the session with a 6-3 win over his compatriot Mick Lacey, who was making his World Series bow. Lacey established an early 2-1 lead, but Whitlock won five of the remaining six legs to prevail with a 97.62 average, three maximums and a 38% checkout success rate.
The 2019 Melbourne Darts Masters will conclude on Saturday as the remaining eight players battle it out for the title, as the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final all take place in one bumper session of action.
Photo Credit: PDC/David Callow
Schedule of Play
Friday, August 16
Simon Whitlock 6-3 Mick Lacey
Raymond van Barneveld 6-1 Haupai Puha
Daryl Gurney 6-3 Kyle Anderson
Gary Anderson 6-0 James Bailey
Peter Wright 6-4 Corey Cadby
Damon Heta 6-1 James Wade
Michael van Gerwen 6-2 Tim Pusey
Rob Cross 6-2 Robbie King
Best of 11 legs
Saturday, August 17
Peter Wright v Raymond van Barneveld
Michael van Gerwen v Gary Anderson
Rob Cross v Damon Heta
Daryl Gurney v Simon Whitlock
All best of 15 legs