WINNING START FOR CROSS IN UNIBET MASTERS
ROB CROSS made a winning start to life as World Champion with a 10-3 win over Ian White as the Unibet Masters opened on Friday, when Peter Wright, Raymond van Barneveld and Mensur Suljovic also enjoyed victories in Milton Keynes.
Cross made his first competitive appearance since his Alexandra Palace triumph over Phil Taylor as he took to the Arena MK stage to meet White in the 200,000 pound Masters tournament.
Despite feeling "rusty", Masters debutant Cross opened with a 68 finish and then piled in a 167 checkout - the type of which he made a trademark during his World Championship run - as he opened up a 3-0 lead over White.
The Stoke thrower took out 136 to respond, but Cross replied with finishes of 105 and 66 before a 12-darter moved him 7-2 up.
White finished 91 as he claimed a tenth leg, but Cross scored 180 and 174 in another 12-darter to restore his cushion and then took the next two legs following misses from the 14th seed as he secured his quarter-final spot.
"It's been a busy time since the World Championship but I'm glad to be back to work in a way," said Cross. "I still felt confident that I would play well but I felt rusty today and it was weird.
"It's been four weeks since I played properly and I've been kicking my heels waiting for this, so I'm happy to win and I got the job done.
"Ian never really got going but I think the 167 hurt him and it gave me a foothold in the game and I got ahead of him.
"I know I can do better and it should be a great game when I play Mensur Suljovic on Sunday."
Suljovic held off Michael Smith's fightback from five legs behind to eventually claim a 10-8 win from their first round tie.
The Austrian was in clinical mood as he punished Smith's slow start by claiming the opening five legs without reply, taking out finishes of 70 and 77, a 12-darter and a 14-dart finish.
Smith hit back in the sixth to get off the mark, and responded to a 116 finish from Suljovic with a 130 bull combination and then took out double eight as he pulled back to 7-3.
Double seven gave Suljovic an 8-3 cushion, only for Smith to claim three legs in a row to respond, before taking out 110 and 80 to level the game.
Suljovic, though, fired in his second 116 checkout of the game as he claimed his first leg in six and settle any nerves before closing out victory on tops with a 14-darter.
"It was a very hard game and I'm happy I won," said Suljovic, the 2017 Champions League of Darts winner. "I won so that's good but I was five legs ahead and I should have got it finished.
"Michael is a very hard player so to be 5-0 up I was happy. I played well and my finishes were brilliant at the start.
"At eight-eight I thought I would lose but the 116 was super. I showed some good form and I know that the next game will be very hard too because it's the 16 best players in the world."
World number two Peter Wright began his challenge to claim a third TV title as he claimed a 10-5 win over Alan Norris to move into Sunday's last eight.
Finishes of 97 and 80 helped Wright into a 3-1 lead early on, and after Norris took out a 14-darter to claim his second leg, the Scot finished 96, an 11-darter, tops and double two to move five legs clear.
Norris took two of the next three to pull back to 8-4, but double eight moved Wright clear before he recovered from one missed match dart to seal the win, averaging almost 97.
"I wanted to get a ton-plus average and that didn't happen but I got the win and that was the most important thing," said Wright, who has used his four-week break since the World Championship to continue his recovery from a bout of gallstones.
"I'm feeling good now and trying to do what I can to stay healthy. There's more to come from me on the board but I'm pleased with how I did after everything I've been through."
Wright now meets Raymond van Barneveld, who won the battle of former Masters finalists as he edged out Dave Chisnall 10-9 in the tournament's opening game, despite the number seven seed pulling back a four-leg deficit at one stage.
A high-quality opening saw the first four legs shared before Van Barneveld, aided by a break of throw with a 14-darter and a 13-dart leg - took three successive legs to move 5-2 up.
He extended that lead to 7-3 with the aid of a 130 finish and a 96 combination, only for Chisnall to respond superbly by claiming four straight legs to level in 14, 12, 14 and 14 darts.
The next three legs were shared as Van Barneveld moved to the brink of victory at 9-8, before Chisnall landed his eighth 180 of the game in a brilliant 11-darter to force a deciding leg.
Chisnall added another maximum score, but was unable to finish 88 as Van Barneveld returned from a missed bull to land double eight for the win.
"I'm happy with the win but I always seem to make it exciting," admitted Van Barneveld. "When I was leading 3-2 and 7-3 I should have made it easier for myself but I lost concentration.
"Dave came back fantastically but when he got back to seven-all I knew that I just had to win my own legs and I did that. He's a class player and to me still belongs in the Premier League so he has to fight back.
"In the last leg I had the luck but I'm working hard and I can look forward to my next round now because this would be a fantastic tournament to win."