Shock Wright exit leaves European Championship wide open

Florian Hempel blew the European Championship wide open last night after marking his televised PDC debut with a shock 6-3 success against defending champion Peter Wright.

The talented German – ranked 107th in the world – has only featured sporadically on the Pro Tour after securing a PDC Tour Card in February, but he displayed superb composure to dump out the world No 2 in Salzburg.

Wright once again tinkered with his darts mid-match and struggled to settle as Hempel established a commanding 3-0 cushion.

The Scot reduced the arrears as he fought to keep his title defence alive, but Hempel’s clinical combination finishing proved decisive, as Snakebite followed up his opening round defeat at the World Grand Prix with another early exit.

“I’m really happy,” said Hempel. “He is the number two in the world and to beat him is an amazing feeling.

“To start on TV with a win in my first game is a great start. It’s the biggest achievement for me and it will give me so much confidence. I want to play my best darts and I will keep trying my best.”

Hempel – a former handball player – will take on 2016 runner-up Mensur Suljovic at the Salzburgarena on Saturday night, after ‘The Gentle’ delighted his home crowd with a comprehensive 6-2 success against Adam Hunt.

Suljovic returned to form with a run to the World Cup final last month, before losing out to Gerwyn Price in last month’s Gibraltar Darts Trophy showpiece, and the Austrian converted two ton-plus finishes en route to victory on Thursday evening.

“I started good and Adam is a brilliant young player but he didn’t play as good as he can tonight, and I played better,” reflected the former Champions League of Darts winner.

“The first round is very hard every time for me, but in the second round I have nothing to lose and I look forward to playing in front of my home fans again.”

Elsewhere, 2019 champion Rob Cross kicked off his campaign with a battling 6-3 victory over highly-rated Irish teenager Keane Barry.

Cross is faced with the prospect of relinquishing his spot in the world’s top 20 unless he reaches the latter stages this weekend, courtesy of the two-year Order of Merit system.

The former world champion was nowhere near his best, but he produced a sparkling 148 checkout en route to setting up a second round showdown against Brendan Dolan, who breezed past Kim Huybrechts with a 95.95 average in his opener.

In the opening match of the £500,000 tournament, 2012 champion Simon Whitlock succumbed to debutant William Borland, who won six of the final seven legs to complete a brilliant 6-3 win over ‘The Wizard’.

The 24-year-old from West Lothian revelled in opportunity to shine on the big stage, taking out a fabulous 121 finish to move 3-2 ahead, before sealing the deal with a spectacular 142 checkout.

“I enjoyed it and to beat a player like Simon is special. I’ve got to take it in my stride because I’m just at the start of my career.

“I’m happy to be here and I want to do my family proud. I’m really enjoying playing against the best in the world and I need to keep going.

“When I was a young kid I dreamed of this, I’m here now and I’m loving it. It’s all experience and I’m really happy with how it’s going right now.”

Borland will now take on 2018 semi-finalist Joe Cullen for a place in Sunday’s quarter-finals, after ‘The Rockstar’ delivered a merciless display to whitewash Ted Evetts in the evening’s finale.

Cullen stormed into a 4-0 lead with a 106 average, and although a host of missed doubles in the latter stages saw his average drop below three figures, he still progressed without relinquishing a leg.

Grand Slam champion Jose De Sousa survived a scare in his opener, as he overcame debutant Lewy Williams 6-4 to set up an intriguing tussle against UK Open finalist Luke Humphries.

The 19-year-old Welshman, who defeated De Sousa at last year’s UK Open, averaged an impressive 94.51, but after squandering six darts for a 3-1 advantage, ‘The Special One’ fought back to close out a battling victory.

“He started very well but I think after that he started to become a little bit nervous,” De Sousa admitted post-match.

“I had to control the game because in the first round it’s hard but I did a good job. He is a brilliant player but the game is what it is, and it was for me this time.

“Right now I feel much better without glasses. I’m okay, I see well and have no problem so I can play well.”

Humphries’ progression was far from serene, as the former World Youth champion was forced to recover from 5-3 adrift against Rydz, in a contest which featured seven consecutive breaks of throw.

However, ‘Cool Hand’ lived up to his name, forcing a last-leg decider with a 15-dart break, before converting a two-dart 68 kill to maintain his wonderful record in deciding-leg shootouts in 2021.

“I knew it was going to be a very tough game but I’m just happy to get through it. “We all know how good Callan is. He’s a fantastic player, such a heavy scorer, and he pushed me all the way,” Humphries reflected.

“Overall I think I was the better player more consistently, but we couldn’t hold our own throw at times. It was a strange game – I was always under pressure but in the last two legs I was happy to put in a decent performance to get over the line.”

Wright’s exit has left the bottom half of the draw wide open, with Premier League runner-up De Sousa the solitary representative from the world’s top ten still left standing.

With this year’s European Tour comprising just two events, World Grand Prix champion Jonny Clayton incredibly misses out on a chance to capture a fourth major title of 2021, but there’s a host of big names set to feature on Friday night.

Four-time champion Michael van Gerwen begins his bid for a fifth title against Boris Krčmar, while 2018 winner James Wade plays Adam Smith-Neale for a place in the second round.

World No 1 Gerwyn Price – the winner of both European Tour events held this year – meets Ritchie Edhouse in his first round tie, while World Grand Prix semi-finalist Danny Noppert meets World Matchplay semi-finalist Krzysztof Ratajski.

2021 Cazoo European Championship
Thursday October 14
Evening Session
First Round x8

William Borland 6-3 Simon Whitlock
Brendan Dolan 6-2 Kim Huybrechts
Rob Cross 6-3 Keane Barry
Luke Humphries 6-5 Callan Rydz
Jose de Sousa 6-4 Lewy Williams
Florian Hempel 6-3 Peter Wright
Mensur Suljovic 6-2 Adam Hunt
Joe Cullen 6-0 Ted Evetts

Friday October 15
Evening Session (2000 local time, 1900 BST)
First Round x8

Adam Gawlas v Joe Murnan
Krzysztof Ratajski v Danny Noppert
James Wade v Adam Smith-Neale
Nathan Aspinall v Mervyn King
Michael Smith v Ryan Searle
Michael van Gerwen v Boris Krcmar
Gerwyn Price v Ritchie Edhouse
Damon Heta v Gabriel Clemens

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