Pure sporting theatre. We were treated to a World Championship classic at the Alexandra Palace on Tuesday evening, as Michael van Gerwen survived two match darts to edge out Joe Cullen in a pulsating last-leg decider and continue his quest for a fourth world crown.
In an extraordinary contest that featured 37 scores of over 170 in 34 legs, Van Gerwen rallied from 3-1 down to deny ‘The Rockstar’ a famous victory, as Cullen fell agonisingly short despite producing the performance of his darting life.
The world No 1 underlined his title credentials with dominant wins over Ryan Murray and Ricky Evans, averaging 109 and 106 in those respective tussles. He didn’t quite reach those dizzy heights against world No 16 Cullen, but we were treated to one of the greatest games in recent history.
Cullen – who had progressed to the last 16 at the sport’s showpiece event for the very first time – struck the first blow in a dramatic opening set, punishing Van Gerwen for two missed darts in leg five to draw first blood via double 10.
The Dutchman made amends in set two however, as Cullen lost out despite averaging nearly 111 – missing a solitary dart at double nine to extend his lead. He responded magnificently though, maintaining his blistering barrage of scoring to wrap up the third in yet another set decider.
The two-time European Tour winner then landed a sublime 123 checkout on the bull which set him on his way to opening up a two-set lead, as he took out a nerveless 85 combination after the three-time world champion frittered away three darts at double to restore parity.
Nevertheless, the world No 1 was not going to succumb without a fight. He opened up set five with a dazzling double-double 94 finish en route to reducing the arrears to 3-2, before surviving a match dart in a nerve-shredding sixth set shootout.
Cullen fired in his 16th maximum of proceedings to leave 90 after nine darts, only to clip the bull wire for a famous triumph. MvG needed no invitation to capitalise on his good-fortune, closing out a 13-dart hold to force a seventh and final set.
‘The Rockstar’ had the advantage of throw and after Van Gerwen missed tops for a 120 checkout in leg three, Cullen pinned double eight to move to within a leg of glory once more. However, the drama wasn’t finished there.
Cullen missed a second match dart at bull-for a stunning 164 combination and Van Gerwen sank double eight to take it to a sudden-death leg. ‘The Rockstar’ simply had nothing left in the tank, as MvG followed up a ninth maximum with a 14-darter to seal his place in the last eight.
It was a truly breath-taking affair, with 34 of a possible 35 legs played in a marathon battle, although Van Gerwen somehow found a way to progress with a 100 average, defying 19 maximums from Cullen, who was left distraught after exiting the tournament in spite of his heroics.
“I knew I needed to open big in the last leg and that was very important,” said Van Gerwen. “That was a brilliant game and the adrenaline was pumping.
“Joe had the chance to beat me and his scoring power was phenomenal. I had to keep up with it, which wasn’t easy so I’m really glad I’m through.
“It’s horrible for Joe but I have been in that position so many times and it makes you stronger. I wish him all the best because he is a phenomenal guy and a phenomenal player but I am so glad I won this one.”
It was testament to the standard of play throughout the day that James Wade’s nine-darter against Stephen Bunting didn’t generate many headlines. Wade landed the tenth perfect leg at the World Championship – his third on TV – midway through his clash against ‘The Bullet’.
It was also the first at the World Championship for five years, but it wasn’t enough for Wade. The nine-time major winner was punished for an erratic display by the former BDO world champion, who rattled off four consecutive sets from 2-0 adrift to send the world No 7 packing.
Elsewhere, Daryl Gurney posted his highest average in World Championship history to dispatch a spirited Chris Dobey 4-1. ‘Hollywood’ did little wrong in a high-quality affair, yet the Northern Irishman was clinical, sealing his progression with a 101.39 average.
Krzysztof Ratajski joined Van Gerwen in securing a quarter-final spot, after also emerging through a last-leg decider to account for Peter Wright’s conqueror Gabriel Clemens, following an astonishing climax.
The pendulum swung at regular intervals, but Clemens forced a deciding leg after Ratajski wasted two darts for victory. ‘The German Giant’ soon returned the favour, spurning SEVEN match darts in a breathless finale, which saw both men stranded on double one.
Dave Chisnall recovered from a woeful start to account for Dutchman Danny Noppert in his third round tie. The Dutchman forged a commanding cushion by winning the opening six legs without reply, a spell which included back-to-back 120 checkouts.
The St Helen’s star fought back valiantly however, posting 11 180’s and punishing Noppert’s inconsistency in the scoring phase to close out a 4-2 success with an 99 average, setting up a showdown against World Matchplay champion Dimitri Van den Bergh in the process.
Devon Petersen will take on two-time world champion Gary Anderson in the last 16 on Wednesday, courtesy of a straight sets win over Jason Lowe. Lowe was unable to replicate the display that saw him dump out world No 4 Michael Smith, as Petersen eased through in emphatic style.
Image Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC