Vintage Van Gerwen lays down a marker, as Price, Wright make bullish title claims

Michael van Gerwen laid down a marker at the 2021 Grand Slam of Darts with an emphatic whitewash win over Lisa Ashton, while Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright vowed to triumph at this year’s tournament after both kicked off their campaigns with victories.

Van Gerwen has shown tangible signs of improvement over recent weeks – landing a first ranking title of 2021 at last week’s Super Series, and he reaffirmed his credentials with a five-star display against Ashton, averaging 105.85 and denying ‘The Lancashire Rose’ a solitary dart at double.

The world No 3 breezed through his opener in just eight-and-a-half minutes to begin his bid for a first televised ranking title of the year with a convincing success over the four-time women’s world champion, and he will now take on Joe Cullen on Sunday evening, after ‘The Rockstar’ recorded a whitewash win of his own against John Henderson.

“I’m not coming back, I am back,” reflected three-time Grand Slam winner Van Gerwen. “I’ve been playing well recently. I’m happy, I’m concentrated and I’m feeling good. The first game is always difficult. Lisa is a credit to women’s sport and I had to stay focused but I did the job.”

Wright’s struggles since lifting the World Matchplay title in July have been well-documented, but the world No 2 began his bid for a maiden Grand Slam crown with a resounding 5-1 success against Sherrock.

The scoreline perhaps wasn’t a fair reflection of the contest, although ‘The Queen of the Palace’ was left to rue crucial errors on the outer ring in legs five and six, as the Scot triumphed with a 96.45 average and four maximums.

‘Snakebite’ will take on Gabriel Clemens in his second Group E tie on Sunday evening, after ‘The German Giant’ defeated Mike De Decker by the same 5-1 scoreline, despite the Belgian firing in seven perfect darts and averaging 94 on his Grand Slam debut.

“I was happy with how I played in patches,” admitted Wright. “It was always going to be difficult playing Fallon, she’s an awesome darts player but she let me off a little bit tonight by missing doubles.

“I feel really good at the moment. A couple of players have said they are going to win this tournament but I’m going to win it – and I’ll back it up like I did at the Matchplay.” 

World No 1 Price survived a major scare in his Group A opener before edging out Northern Irishman Nathan Rafferty, who demonstrated maturity beyond his years in a thrilling nine-leg tussle.

The Welshman looked poised to close out a 5-3 victory until he bust a 100 checkout in leg eight, and having forced a decider, Rafferty fashioned out an opportunity to prevail, only to miss one match dart at the bullseye.

‘The Iceman’ is bidding to win a third successive title at the Aldersley Leisure Village, but he was forced to overcome a hostile atmosphere in the latter stages, before regaining his composure to pin double five and claim a crucial two points.

“I missed a lot of opportunities and wasn’t at my best but a win is a win. Nathan played well in patches and so did I. I’ve never failed to win this tournament in this venue and I am going to win it again,” declared the world champion.

Price will take on World Matchplay semi-finalist Krzysztof Ratajski in his second round robin match on Sunday after ‘The Polish Eagle’ punished a below-par performance from Germany’s Martin Schindler to prevail in their Group A curtain-raiser.

Jonny Clayton began his bid for a fifth televised title of 2021 with a hard-fought 5-3 victory over Rusty-Jake Rodriguez, who impressed on his major PDC ranking debut.

The young Austrian – who qualified by virtue of topping the European Development Tour Order of Merit – gave a terrific account of himself, although Clayton always held the upper hand, firing in two 11-darters and averaging 101.5 in a rapid affair.

Clayton will meet Group B’s other winner Bradley Brooks on Sunday afternoon, after the PDC World Youth Champion capitalised on an uncharacteristically poor display from Mervyn King to triumph 5-1 on his Grand Slam debut.

Elsewhere, Michael Smith edged out Raymond van Barneveld in a dramatic deciding-leg clash to deny the five-time world champion victory on his big stage return.

2012 champion Van Barneveld converted 122 and 86 checkouts on the bullseye and led 4-3 at one stage, but ‘Bully Boy’ delivered the goods in the latter stages, winning the final two legs in 11 and 14 darts respectively to seal the deal with a 100.43 average.

Sunday night’s headline act will see Smith take on two-time finalist Gary Anderson in his second Group H clash, with Anderson easing past World Youth finalist Joe Davis, who was visibly struggling with an elbow injury.

Newly crowned European Champion Rob Cross made the perfect start to his Group C campaign, punishing a profligate display from Croatia’s Boris Krcmar to complete a whitewash win with a 96.35 average.

‘Voltage’ will face former Lakeside finalist Jim Williams on Sunday, after the the UK Challenge Tour Order of Merit winner defied a late rally to defeat three-time Grand Slam finalist James Wade in a last-leg shootout.

Jose De Sousa began the defence of his Grand Slam crown with a comprehensive 5-1 success over Canada’s Matt Campbell. ‘The Special One’ wasn’t at his blistering best, but a remarkable 83% checkout success rate proved decisive as he set up a showdown with Mensur Suljovic.

‘The Gentle’ came out on top in an absorbing tussle against UK Open finalist Luke Humphries, where both players posted ton-plus averages. ‘Cool Hand’ conjured up a classy 122 kill to lead 3-2, but a solitary break of throw from Suljovic in leg seven proved sufficient, as the Austrian landed five of his seven attempts at the outer ring.

In the opening match of this year’s tournament, Ryan Joyce defied a 106.7 average from Stephen Bunting to clinch a precious two points. Bunting squandered one dart at tops for a 148 checkout in the deciding leg, and ‘Relentless’ lived up to his name, mopping up a 68 combination to prevail in a contest featuring nine consecutive holds of throw.

Also in Group D, former World Youth Championship finalist Rowby-John Rodriguez registered an impressive 5-3 success against Chris Dobey, who was a late replacement for world No 5 Dimitri Van den Bergh, who was ruled out of this year’s showpiece after testing positive for Covid-19.

The action continues with another blockbuster double session on Sunday, which will see all of Saturday’s winning players go head-to-head and all of the losing players in each group battle it out for the chance to open their accounts in Wolverhampton.

Image Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Grand Slam of Darts
Saturday November 13
Afternoon Session (1300 GMT)

8x Group Matches
Ryan Joyce 5-4 Stephen Bunting (D)
Krzysztof Ratajski 5-1 Martin Schindler (A)
Bradley Brooks 5-1 Mervyn King (B)
Jim Williams 5-4 James Wade
Rob Cross 5-0 Boris Krcmar (C)
Jonny Clayton 5-3 Rusty-Jake Rodriguez (B)
Gerwyn Price 5-4 Nathan Rafferty (A)
Rowby-John Rodriguez 5-3 Chris Dobey (D)

Evening Session (1900 GMT)
8x Group Matches
Gabriel Clemens 5-1 Mike De Decker (E)
Jose de Sousa 5-1 Matt Campbell (F)
Mensur Suljovic 5-3 Luke Humphries (F)
Gary Anderson 5-1 Joe Davis (H)
Michael van Gerwen 5-0 Lisa Ashton (G)
Joe Cullen 5-0 John Henderson (G)
Peter Wright 5-1 Fallon Sherrock (E)
Michael Smith 5-4 Raymond van Barneveld (H)

Sunday November 14
Afternoon Session (1300 GMT)
8x Group Matches

Martin Schindler v Nathan Rafferty (A) 
Mervyn King v Rusty-Jake Rodriguez (B)
James Wade v Boris Krcmar (C) 
Chris Dobey v Stephen Bunting (D)
Ryan Joyce v Rowby-John Rodriguez (D)
Rob Cross v Jim Williams (C)
Gerwyn Price v Krzysztof Ratajski (A)
Jonny Clayton v Bradley Brooks (B)

Evening Session (1900 GMT)
8x Group Matches

Luke Humphries v Matt Campbell (F)
Raymond van Barneveld v Joe Davis (H)
John Henderson v Lisa Ashton (G) 
Mike De Decker v Fallon Sherrock (E)
Jose de Sousa v Mensur Suljovic (F)
Gary Anderson v Michael Smith (H)
Peter Wright v Gabriel Clemens (E)
Michael van Gerwen v Joe Cullen (G)

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