TAYLOR & BARNEY SET UP SEMI-FINAL CLASH WITH WILLIAM HILL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP WINS
GREAT rivals Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld will battle it out for a place in the William Hill World Darts Championship final in Saturday's semi-finals after they defeated Vincent van der Voort and Stephen Bunting in two classic last eight contests at Alexandra Palace on Friday night.
Legendary 16-time World Champion Taylor was given a big scare by van der Voort as the Dutchman won three sets on the spin to go 3-2 up before the number two seed battled his way to three successive sets as he secured a 5-3 victory.
The win puts Taylor into his 20th World Championship semi-final of his illustrious career, as he seeks to maintain his amazing 100 percent record at the last four stage when he meets old for Van Barneveld.
The five-time World Champion from Holland then completed the last four as he came through an epic struggle with reigning Lakeside Champion Bunting in a see-saw contest, with a mid-match switch back to wearing glasses helped him get through in a thrilling 5-4 victory.
Friday's opening game saw Taylor race into a 2-0 lead in sets, only for van der Voort - despite the pain of a back problem - to come roaring back and win nine out of the next 11 legs to lead 3-2.
The Dutchman also teed up his chance to take a crucial deciding leg in the sixth set after Taylor initially missed six darts at doubles, but van der Voort was unable to close out 96 as his rival returned to win the leg with his ninth dart for the set to level.
From there, the 16-time World Champion took the next two sets after surviving a huge battle to remain on course to retain the Sid Waddell Trophy on Sunday.
Taylor averaged just over 100 despite not being at his best, while van der Voort battled on bravely to record a 99.22 average, hit nine 180s and a quartet of ton-plus finishes, as checkouts of 104, 100, 107 and 113 kept him in the game.
"Vincent played very well - he hit a lot of 180s and a lot of big finishes," said Taylor. "He's a very good player and people haven't seen the best of him yet. It was all about survival there and I tried my hardest because I knew I had to keep battling to make it through. You need a battle and you're going to get them during the tournament, but I've got to push on now. I've got to improve, and I will do."
Van der Voort refused to blame his back problem for not being able to finish off Taylor, after putting himself ahead in the middle of the game.
"I gave everything I had but it wasn't good enough," said van der Voort. "I tried my hardest and I just wasn't consistent enough in the end. Of course it's very difficult with a bad back but I don't want to make any excuses because it makes his effort less than it was; he played well, he's the best player there's ever been and I just lost to the better man tonight. I know what I can do, I know what it takes to do well here and I'll be back next year."
In the night's second quarter-final, van Barneveld and Bunting played out another Alexandra Palace epic, with neither able to open up more than a one-set lead before the Dutcham prevailed in a thriller.
The pair had almost identical averages of 98.36 for Bunting and 98.37 for van Barneveld after 35 spellbinding legs of darts, with the Premier League champion landing 13 180s to his rival's six.
Three of the first four sets were won 3-0, with two coming from Bunting as the Lakeside Champion levelled at two-all before he edged a tight fifth set in a decider to move 3-2 up in the game.
Van Barneveld had emerged for set four by returning to wearing glasses on stage - having successfully trialled the glasses during October and November only to play without them in his first three rounds at Alexandra Palace - and he wrested back the lead by taking the sixth and seventh sets.
St Helens man Bunting showed tremendous spirit to pull out a 12-darter to clinch a nerve-jangling fifth leg and send the clash into a decider, but van Barneveld stepped up again with a 124 finish the highlight as he took the final 3-0 to set up another clash with Taylor, this time for a place in Sunday's final.
"I'm so proud to be back in the semi-finals again," said van Barneveld, who lost out to Taylor at the same stage two years ago. "It was so good out there - Stephen played so well and the crowd were amazing. Stephen kept on coming at me all the time, and he showed what a great player he is. He's going to be around for a long time and he can only get better. Like today, I'll be fighting for my life in the semi-finals. I'm not afraid and I like to play Phil; he's amazing and you know what you have to do to beat him."
Van Barneveld, a diabetic who had been prescribed glasses earlier this year and has worn them in four previous TV events added: "I had to switch to the glasses again. At the end of the fourth set the board was looking a bit blurry, and they seemed to work well."