Peter Wright survived a match dart as he edged out Noel Malicdem in a sudden-death thriller to progress through to the third round of the World Darts Championship on Friday night, as last year’s semi-finalist Nathan Aspinall came from behind to defeat Danny Baggish at Alexandra Palace.
Wright was unceremoniously dumped out in the second round of last year’s tournament by Toni Alcinas and he was given an almighty scare by the impressive Filipino, but operating with a new set-up, Snakebite displayed remarkable brinkmanship to avoid a second successive early Ally Pally exit.
The Scot averaged 96.53, crashed in nine maximums, produced three ton-plus checkouts and converted 48% of his attempts at double to book his place in the third round, where he will take on either Keegan Brown or Seigo Asada.
Elsewhere, UK Open champion Aspinall, who made his breakthrough at the World Championships 12 months ago by reaching the last four on debut, continued his love affair with Alexandra Palace by overcoming American qualifier Baggish in the process.
Joe Cullen became the latest seed to depart at the first hurdle as Nico Kurz continued to impress on his bow in the capital, whilst Max Hopp made it a Deutsche double after seeing off Benito van de Pas in a topsy-turvy clash.
Peter Wright 3-2 Noel Malicdem
Former finalist Wright held his nerve magnificently as he edged out Malicdem in a pulsating five-set thriller, in a match which featured 16 maximums and four huge ton-plus finishes.
The Scot breezed to the opening set without reply, with Malicdem unable to register a dart at double. The Filipino appeared in control of set two until Wright delivered a crushing 83 skin-saver on the bull, but Malicdem did level in unorthodox fashion, converting a 68 checkout on double seven.
The seventh seed raised his game in set three, following up a classy 110 kill with a sumptuous 11-darter to restore his lead, but the man nicknamed ‘Gentle Giant’ showed impressive resolve to force a decider, firing in a maximum and closing out a 14-darter to send the match into overtime.
The Filipino appeared on the cusp of a shock victory as he stormed 2-0 ahead in the decider, but he capitulated in leg three, failing to register a dart for the match despite being afforded nine darts at 136.
Malicdem regained his composure magnificently in leg four, kicking off with a 140 followed by his seventh 180, before missing one match dart at the bull. Nevertheless, Wright produced six darts of magic to survive, following up a brilliant 162 visit with a nerveless 140 outshot on double 10.
The former UK Open champion hit the front in the tie-break courtesy of a 104 finish yet Malicdem refused to relent, firing back with a 13-dart hold to prolong the drama. The next two legs went with throw before Malicdem spurned a massive opportunity, missing four darts at double 13 to break.
All four darts were on the wire but Wright exploited this reprieve to hold, only for Malicdem to rally once more and complete a 64 combination to force a sudden-death leg which the contest so richly deserved.
Wright won the bull and produced a leg of sheer class under intense scrutiny. He opened up with five perfect darts and despite straying into the single one on two occasions in his third visit to the board, the seventh seed kept his cool to triumph with a 13-darter via double 16.
Nathan Aspinall 3-1 Danny Baggish
Aspinall fought back from a set down to defeat North American Darts Championship winner Baggish in an entertaining affair. Baggish drew first blood in a nervy opening stanza, firing in two maximums and punishing an abject 83 average from last year’s semi-finalist.
Unbeknown to Aspinall, the 36-year-old then turned to his supporters and appeared to shout ‘My Town, My Town, I’m going to win 3-0’. That possibility was soon diminished however, as Aspinall bounced back by wrapping up the second set to nil courtesy of a 115.62 average.
‘The Asp’ secured the initiative after coming out on top in a hard-fought third set and the fourth set also went the distance, but the advantage of throw proved decisive for 12th seed Aspinall, who completed the win with a 14-dart hold; prevailing with a 95.38 average and five maximums.
“There’s been so many players that have done well here. I didn’t want to be one of those people that fall into that category of, he got to the world semi-final, where is he now? At the end of the day I love darts, I want to be the best dart player in the world and it’s hunger,” said Aspinall.
Nico Kurz 3-1 Joe Cullen
Kurz’ dream Ally Pally debut continued as he fought back from a set behind to defeat 15th seed Cullen in a dramatic affair. Kurz impressed in his opening round success against James Wilson and replicated those heroics to inflict Cullen’s eighth opening round exit in ten appearances.
Kurz made a storming start to lead 2-0 in the opener, but Cullen stayed alive with a clutch 116 combination and then converted a two-dart 88 kill to snatch the set, after the German had wired the bull to lead in the preceding visit.
‘The Rockstar’ led 2-0 in the second and appeared destined to double his tally, yet Kurz dealt Cullen with a taste of his own medicine, reeling off three consecutive legs to restore parity at one apiece.
The German Superleague qualifier then monopolised set three to close in on victory and although Cullen established a commanding cushion in the fourth, Kurz demonstrated his comeback qualities once again to progress to the third round, where World Youth champion Luke Humphries awaits.
Max Hopp 3-2 Benito van de Pas
Hopp came through a gruelling five set battle against Van de Pas to set up a tie against Ian White’s conqueror Darius Labanauskas for a place in the fourth round. Van de Pas dumped out highly-fancied Gabriel Clemens in his opener, although he was unable to complete the Deutsche double.
The first set was an extremely scrappy affair that went the distance, despite Van de Pas averaging a miserly 74. However, Hopp wrapped it up courtesy of a magical leg, converting a two-dart 81 combination for an 11-dart hold of throw.
Van de Pas conjured up an improbable 158 finish to kick off set two and this inspired him to level the contest. The third set followed a similar pattern to the third – the pair traded ton-plus checkouts but the advantage of throw was crucial for ‘The Maximiser’, who sank double 16 to regain the initiative.
Hopp produced a 148 finish of his own in set four but ‘Big Ben’ displayed impressive resolve to force a fifth and final set, although his form completely deserted him when it mattered whereas Hopp thrived, reeling off three straight legs in 13, 17 and 13 darts respectively to progress.
Ricky Evans stole the show with a roof-raising 170 finish to wrap up his win over former Lakeside finalist Mark McGeeney. ‘Rapid’ romped to the opening eight legs before McGeeney fought back to claim three straight legs and reduce the arrears to 2-1.
Nevertheless, Evans ran riot in a blistering fourth set display – averaging 118.66 over the course of three legs and sealing his progression with the ‘big fish’ to set up a third round showdown with world No 1 and defending champion Michael van Gerwen.
Mervyn King survived a valiant fightback from Ciaran Teehan to reach round three. King established a two-set cushion only for the Irish youngster to respond superbly and force a decider, but finishes of 128 and 116 in the fifth and final set helped the 53-year-old to a dramatic tie-break victory.
Darren Webster cruised into the third round with a comprehensive straight sets success against Yuki Yamada. The Japanese qualifier won the opening leg in 16 darts but ‘The Demolition Man’ then reeled off nine consecutive legs to prevail with a 91.28 average and 41% on the doubles.
Jonny Clayton also enjoyed a similarly serene progression to dispatch Jan Dekker. The Dutchman struggled past Ryan Joyce yesterday and was under-par throughout against ‘The Ferret’, who averaged 95.16 and converted 60% of his double attempts to set up a third round tussle with Stephen Bunting.
Friday December 20
Afternoon Session (1230 GMT)
4x Second Round
Darren Webster 3-0 Yuki Yamada (Second Round)
Mervyn King 3-2 Ciaran Teehan (Second Round)
Jonny Clayton 3-0 Jan Dekker (Second Round)
Ricky Evans 3-1 Mark McGeeney (Second Round)
Evening Session (1900 GMT)
4x Second Round
Nathan Aspinall 3-1 Danny Baggish (Second Round)
Joe Cullen 1-3 Nico Kurz (Second Round)
Max Hopp 3-2 Benito van de Pas (Second Round)
Peter Wright 3-2 Noel Malicdem (Second Round)