Teenage sensation Luke Littler produced a superb display to edge out Ben Hazel in a thrilling deciding set on his WDF World Championship debut at the Lakeside on Monday.
The 15-year-old became the youngest player to register victory in a senior World Championship match, recovering from a sluggish start to prevail with a 91.25 average, four 180s, four ton-plus finishes and a trio of 12-darters.
Littler is not the youngest player to feature at a senior World Championship, with Leighton Bennett making his debut as a 14-year-old at the 2020 BDO edition, but the eighth seed still created his own slice of history at Frimley Green.
‘Luke The Nuke’ sealed his qualification for this year’s showpiece courtesy of his Irish Open success in November 2021, but he struggled to find his range in the early stages, as Hazel claimed a hard-fought opening set.
However, Littler restored parity following a blistering second set display, firing in three maximums and registering legs of 12, 14 and 12 darts, capped off with a clinical 102 checkout.
Littler continued his charge with a clean sweep in set three, and he appeared poised to complete a 3-1 victory after converting a stunning 123 finish on the bull to draw first blood in set four.
Despite this, the pendulum shifted once more when Hazel responded with tidy 80 and 76 combinations to clinch an edgy fourth set, and ‘Mr Ben’ boasted the advantage of throw in the fifth.
The 15-year-old came roaring back with his third 12-darter after cleaning up a 100 kill, but he was unable to cement that break, with Hazel producing a timely 104 outshot to regain the initiative.
Nevertheless, the prodigious talent from Warrington wasn’t to be denied. Littler crashed in his fourth 180 to set up another break opportunity which he duly executed, before he sealed the deal in style, converting a majestic 126 finish on double six to book his place in the last 16.
“After going one set down, I really couldn’t find anything, and then those two sets must have ended in under 10 minutes,” an emotional Littler told Eurosport.
“I found everything that I could, and then at 2-2 I had to hold my nerve. I had to produce because Ben left himself 148 and I had a feeling it was going to go, because it was a great match.
“At my age I’ve just got to enjoy everything at the minute until I can try and go pro, but I have got everyone behind me, and I love them so much,” added the teenager, who will play ninth seed Richard Veenstra or Romania’s Laszlo Kadar for a place in the last eight.
Elsewhere, Scotland’s Jim McEwan produced another polished display to dump out fourth seed Aaron Turner in round two.
McEwan recorded a magnficent 101.32 average in his first round tie against New Zealand’s Landon Gardiner, and he made a confident start against debutant Turner, wrapping up the opening set without reply.
Turner rallied however, defying legs of 14 and 12 darts from ‘Chucky’ to level up proceedings at one apiece, despite a significant disparity in the averages.
That disparity was reflected in the scoreline when McEwan triumphed in a third set decider, and the 54-year-old sealed his progression in emphatic style, following up a brace of 14-darters with a wonderful 157 checkout to win it.
McEwan will take on 13th seed Michael Warburton in a blockbuster last 16 showdown, after the Welshman edged out World Seniors quarter-finalist Dave Prins in a dramatic last-leg decider.
There was little to separate the pair throughout, but Warburton’s imperious combination finishing proved decisive. ‘Warby’ converted 164, 117, 96, 81 (x2), 78 and 76 checkouts to triumph with an 85.73 average, with Prins averaging 88.70 and nailing a spectacular 160 outshot of his own.
In the women’s draw, seventh seed Maria O’Brien survived a scare to record a comeback victory over Dutch debutant Marjolein Noijens in her opener.
Noijens made an assured start to proceedings, pinning four of her first five attempts at double. O’Brien – a former semi-finalist at Lakeside – struggled for consistency in the early exchanges, but she soon established control, reeling off six of the final seven legs to advance to the quarter-finals.
Image Credit: Taka Wu/PDC
WDF World Championship, Afternoon Session – Monday April 4
R2 – Michael Warburton (85.73) 3-2 (88.70) Dave Prins (3-2, 2-3, 3-0, 2-3, 3-2)
R2 – Maria O’Brien (70.98) 2-1 (61.51) Marjolein Noijens (1-3, 3-1, 3-1)
R2 – Aaron Turner (81.17) 1-3 (92.48) Jim McEwan (0-3, 3-2, 2-3, 1-3)
R2 – Luke Littler (91.25) 3-2 (83.20) Ben Hazel (1-3, 3-1, 3-0, 1-3, 3-1)