Clinical Clayton stuns Van Gerwen at the Masters

Jonny Clayton produced a terrific display to dump out world No 1 Michael van Gerwen on the opening night at the 2020 Ladbrokes Masters in Milton Keynes, as Adrian Lewis eased past an off-colour Rob Cross on Friday evening.

Van Gerwen was bidding to bounce back from his World Championship heartbreak by lifting a sixth successive Masters crown, but the Dutchman – using his new Winmau darts for the first time in competition, was unceremoniously sent packing by ‘The Ferret’.

The lowest ranked player in this year’s tournament averaged 93.75, registered six maximums and converted 36% of his attempts at double to claim the scalp of the three-time world champion, ending MvG’s remarkable 20-match winning run at this tournament dating back to 2014.

Van Gerwen was unable to settle in the early exchanges and Clayton’s combination finishing helped to establish a commanding cushion. The Welshman – who will feature as a ‘Challenger’ in this year’s Premier League, took out finishes of 92, 116 and 82 to move 4-1 ahead.

‘The Ferret’ squandered three darts at double for a 5-1 buffer in leg six and this looked like proving costly as Van Gerwen won four of the next five legs to level up proceedings at five apiece – a fine 12-darter from Clayton in leg eight the only respite from the Dutchman’s resurgence.

Nevertheless, the interval appeared to come at the perfect juncture for Clayton, who instantly regained his lead as Van Gerwen spurned three opportunities to hit the front for the first time. The 16th seed capitalised – sinking double 12 before following up a fourth 180 by pegging double 16.

‘Mighty Mike’ was displaying alarming vulnerability on the outer ring as he frittered away three more opportunities in leg 13 and Clayton took full advantage, following up a sensational double-double 92 checkout with a two-dart 66 outshot to move within a leg of a famous triumph.

Van Gerwen kept his hopes alive with an outrageous 164 skin-saver after Clayton had missed the bull for a 10-5 success, although the Welshman wasn’t to be denied, pinning double 10 with his last dart in hand to ensure there will be a new name on the trophy on Sunday evening.

Clayton will meet UK Open champion Nathan Aspinall in the last eight, after ‘The Asp’ reeled off six straight legs to ease past former champion James Wade 10-4 and make a winning start on his Masters debut. ‘The Machine’ misfired in Milton Keynes, averaging just 87 and missing 22 darts at double.

The opening four legs were shared despite Aspinall having darts to win all four, although the 28-year-old made the breakthrough in the fifth, closing out a 14-dart break via double 10 before doubling his lead with a tidy 96 combination in leg six.

Wade restored parity at four apiece following some sluggish scoring from Aspinall, although the nine-time major winner squandered the opportunity to regain the lead in leg nine – uncharacteristically wasting five darts at double.

Aspinall was nowhere near his blistering best but an average of 90.67 and a modest 30% checkout success rate still proved sufficient as a profligate Wade continued to toil – a two-dart 94 combination from the Premier League debutant in the penultimate leg proving a rare highlight.

Elsewhere, Michael Smith produced the performance of the night to record a 10-6 success against Mensur Suljovic in the tournament’s curtain-raiser. The fifth seed made a sluggish start but soon found his range, averaging 101.85, crashing in six 180’s and converting 59% of his attempts at double.

Suljovic converted clinical 124 and 83 combination finishes to establish an early 2-0 cushion, only for ‘Bully Boy’ to come roaring back – reeling off five consecutive legs in 14, 11, 15, 15 and 14 darts.

The Austrian briefly halted Smith’s surge with a 14-dart riposte although his relief was short-lived, as Smith responded with a 15-dart break back before converting an effortless two-part 92 kill for his second 11-darter of proceedings.

Smith boasted a 70% checkout success rate heading into the second interval and he extended his advantage to 8-3 after missed opportunities from Suljovic, only for ‘The Gentle’ to register three straight legs of his own in 14, 15 and 13 darts to reduce the arrears to 8-6.

Nevertheless, any hopes of a comeback were extinguished in leg 15. Suljovic missed two at double for a fourth straight leg and Smith produced a classy 113 kill on tops to move to the cusp of victory, before piling in a brace of maximums and closing out yet another 11-darter to prevail.

The former World Championship finalist will meet two-time world champion Adrian Lewis for a place in the semi-finals on Sunday afternoon, after ‘Jackpot’ dispatched an abject Rob Cross in Friday’s finale.

Lewis missed a staggering 32 darts at double yet still cruised to a 10-5 win over the fourth seed, who averaged 83.81 – the fifth lowest in the tournament’s history. The opening session was a tale of missed opportunities, with Lewis securing an all-important break in leg five.

‘Voltage’ was averaging a paltry 75 and the scrappy nature of the contest continued in the second session, with all five legs going with throw after Lewis followed up a timely 177 by pegging double six to restore his two-leg buffer in leg ten.

The Stoke-on-Trent star was completely outscoring the 2018 world champion and although Cross stopped the rot with a 16-dart hold to reduce the arrears to 8-5, Lewis followed up a 13-darter by hammering in successive 180’s and taking out 75 in two darts to progress in 11 darts.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Friday January 31 (1900 GMT)
First Round

Michael Smith 10-6 Mensur Suljovic
Nathan Aspinall 10-4 James Wade
Jonny Clayton 10-6 Michael van Gerwen
Adrian Lewis 10-5 Rob Cross

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