Michael van Gerwen claimed the opening event of the PDC Summer Series after edging out world champion Peter Wright in a last-leg decider in Milton Keynes, as competitive darts made its return on Wednesday after almost a four-month hiatus.
Darts flourished during lockdown courtesy of the innovative online concept, although the sport returned in its purest form at the Marshall Arena, with 117 Tour Card holders joined by 11 of the leading players on the Challenge Tour.
However, for all the talk of embracing the ‘new normal’, it was normal service resumed for Van Gerwen and Wright – with the world’s top two producing some scintillating displays throughout the day to reach the final.
‘Mighty Mike’ opened up his campaign with a comprehensive 6-1 success against Ciaran Teehan, before recovering from 4-2 down and surviving a match dart to defeat William Borland – averaging 106 and leaving a double after nine darts in three consecutive legs.
The world No 1 posted two more ton-topping averages to advance to the last eight – beating Callan Rydz in a cracker before breezing past Jamie Hughes. His lowest average of the afternoon came in his last eight clash against compatriot Danny Noppert, but MvG still registered a whitewash win.
Van Gerwen was pitted against German number two Gabriel Clemens in the semi-finals and he produced a blistering display to reach his third Players Championship final of the year, averaging 106.80 with his winning legs coming in 14, 11, 13, 16, 13, 15 and 11 darts.
Wright – sporting spectacles for the first time on the oche – overcame the Dutch duo of Ron Meulenkamp and Derk Telnekes in his opening ties, which he followed up with a convincing victory over former BDO number one James Wilson.
The Scot then defeated his Premier League colleague Rob Cross in a battle of the world champions to reach the quarter-finals. ‘Voltage’ posted averages of 100.8, 105.9 and 98.6 en route to the last 16, but he was unable to replicate that quality and slumped to a resounding 6-2 defeat.
Wright demonstrated his World Championship pedigree with sublime wins over Glen Durrant and Krzysztof Ratajski. The 50-year-old averaged 108.5 to record a 6-3 win over Premier League leader Durrant, before firing in a 105.8 average to close out an emphatic 7-2 success over ‘The Polish Eagle’.
This set up a fitting finale between the world’s top two and it didn’t disappoint. The pendulum swung thoroughout the contest but ultimately the advantage of throw proved decisive, as Van Gerwen triumphed in a decider with a 104.5 average compared to Wright’s 100.5.
The Dutchman monopolised the scoring stakes from the outset but Wright sank nerveless 110 and 68 combinations to remain level early on. Nevertheless, MvG struck the first blow in leg six – a delightful 130 checkout for a 12-dart break saw him establish a 4-2 cushion.
Van Gerwen increased his buffer to three legs with a 15-dart hold on tops, only for Wright to embark on a remarkable sequence of five straight legs. This run included finishes of 112, 116 and 99 as he moved to within a leg of the title, but the three-time world champion fought back.
Van Gerwen stopped the rot with a 72 outshot and after Wright was unable to land his fourth ton-plus finish in the penultimate leg, MvG forced a decider. ‘Snakebite’ crashed in a maximum to pile on the pressure, but the world No 1 was up to the task, converting a 76 kill on tops to prevail.
The 31-year-old was absent from the Home Tour but he insisted he would hit the ground running and he remained true to his word to scoop the £10,000 top prize and his first Players Championship title since February 2019 – his longest drought since 2012.
The unfamiliar circumstances coupled with the prolonged hiatus appeared conducive for upsets in the early stages of the Summer Series, but the cream rose to the top from the outset, with Gabriel Clemens (21) the lowest ranked player on the Pro Tour Order of Merit to reach the last eight.
However, three of the world’s top ten were condemned to opening round exits at the Marshall Arena. PDC Home Tour champion Nathan Aspinall was beaten by young Dutchman Niels Zonneveld, whilst Gary Anderson and Daryl Gurney succumbed to veteran duo Matt Clark and Andy Boulton.
Two-time world champion Adrian Lewis endured an unhappy return, losing 6-1 to Eddie Lovely with a miserly 79 average in his opener, whilst top seed Gerwyn Price departed in round two after losing out to emerging Dutchman Martijn Kleermaker.
There is the added incentive of Grand Slam qualification for the overall winner of the PDC Summer Series and the second day of action gets underway from midday in Milton Keynes on Thursday, with two streaming boards available to watch live on PDC.TV.
Image Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
PDC Summer Series Day One (Players Championship Nine)
Wednesday July 8, Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes
Danny Noppert 6-3 Stephen Bunting
Michael van Gerwen 6-1 Jamie Hughes
Mensur Suljovic v Darren Webster
Gabriel Clemens 6-5 Steve Beaton
Peter Wright 6-2 Rob Cross
Glen Durrant 6-5 Jason Lowe
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-2 Eddie Lovely
Dave Chisnall 6-1 Ricky Evans
Michael van Gerwen 6-0 Danny Noppert
Gabriel Clemens 6-2 Mensur Suljovic
Peter Wright 6-3 Glen Durrant
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-3 Dave Chisnall
Michael van Gerwen 7-3 Gabriel Clemens
Peter Wright 7-2 Krzysztof Ratajski
Michael van Gerwen 8-7 Peter Wright