VAN GERWEN DENIES NINE-DART ROCK IN GRAND SLAM CLASSIC
Michael van Gerwen defied a spectacular nine-darter from Josh Rock to win one of the greatest games in Cazoo Grand Slam of Darts history on a thrilling Thursday night in Wolverhampton.
Van Gerwen continued his bid for a fourth Eric Bristow Trophy with an inspired display at the Aldersley Leisure Village, as the quarter-final line-up was finalised on another bumper night of action.
However, the evening's headline act saw Van Gerwen average 107 and land four ton-plus checkouts to close out a breathless 10-8 victory over Rock, despite the Northern Irishman crashing in eight 180s and hitting the fifth nine-darter in Grand Slam history.
Rock's nine-dart leg was the first at this event since Dimitri Van den Bergh achieved perfection in 2018, but it wasn't enough to topple an imperious Van Gerwen, who produced the performance of the tournament to prevail.
Van Gerwen drew first blood with a 124 checkout on the bull, before Rock produced his moment of magic in leg two - following up back-to-back-180s with a spectacular 141 checkout to raise the roof.
Rock sustained an ankle injury celebrating his nine-dart exploits, although he continued his relentless assault on the treble 20, edging 3-2 ahead despite a 115 average from the Dutchman.
The 21-year-old was completely unfazed by the blistering barrage unleashed by Van Gerwen, who converted a 110 checkout to level at five apiece following another gripping five-leg spell.
The pair exchanged 11-dart holds as the sensational standard continued, but Van Gerwen struck the decisive blow in leg 15, taking out a brilliant 142 finish on double 11 to break throw and lead 8-7.
The three-time champion then pinned double four to move to the brink of victory, and although Rock sank double two to stay alive, Van Gerwen kept his cool to wrap up proceedings via double ten.
"I like to have battles and I like to have good games," reflected the three-time World Champion, who is eyeing his first Grand Slam success since 2017.
"Josh Rock is a phenomenal player and we're going to hear much more about him very soon, but I had to dig deep today.
"This is the best I have played in a long time and I had to, because when you're up against a player of this calibre, you have to produce the right things at the right moments."
Van Gerwen will now take on sixth seed Luke Humphries in an intriguing quarter-final tussle, after the Newbury ace defied ten maximums from Ross Smith to clinch a hard-fought 10-8 victory.
Smith - who posted a record-breaking nine 180s in his recent Group Stage tie against Van Gerwen - produced another sublime display of power scoring, only to squander 26 darts at double.
Following a run of four straight holds to kick off the tie, Humphries hit the front with a superb 11-dart break in leg five, before punishing Smith's profligacy to stretch his lead to 5-2.
Smith - who fired in seven perfect darts twice during the contest - threatened a late fightback with successive legs of 12 and 14 darts to move to within a leg of Humphries at 8-7.
However, the European Champion paid the price for his sluggish start, and Humphries produced 15 and 16-dart holds in the closing stages to book his place in a first Grand Slam quarter-final.
"It wasn't the game I expected, I just felt so flat and tired and I think that showed in my performance," admitted Humphries - a winner of four European Tour titles in 2022.
"My wins against Michael this year give me the belief that I can win. I've got good memories of playing him but I know that I'm going to have to be at my best."
Elsewhere, Grand Slam debutant Alan Soutar resisted a late fightback from Jonny Clayton to complete an impressive 10-8 success and move through to his first televised quarter-final.
The opening four legs of the contest were shared, but Soutar seized control with a blistering four-leg burst, producing legs of 11, 14, 15 and 13 darts to establish a commanding 6-2 cushion.
Clayton stemmed the tide with back-to-back legs, and continued his charge by following up a spectacular 136 checkout with a 12-dart break to cut the deficit to 7-6.
However, with Clayton poised to restore parity at seven apiece, Soutar sank a nerveless 114 finish to regain the initiative, before overcoming multiple missed match darts in leg 16 to seal the deal with a 13-dart hold.
"I'm getting better, I'm finding my feet and I believe I can cause more upsets," insisted Soutar, who is now on the cusp of breaking into the world's top 32.
"I'm pretty happy with my life and I've always been happy with my life. I've played for Scotland, I absolutely love darts, but this is a different level."
In the evening's opener, Nathan Aspinall booked his spot in a second Grand Slam quarter-final after overcoming a mid-game slump to defeat a resurgent Jermaine Wattimena 10-6.
Aspinall made a flying start to the contest, kicking off proceedings with legs of 13 and 15 darts before completing a 90 kill to lead 4-1 with a 102 average.
Wattimena - aided by a brace of 64 finishes - reeled off three consecutive legs to reduce the arrears to 5-4, but a timely 13-darter from Aspinall in leg ten stopped the rot.
The Stockport star punished key missed doubles from the Dutchman to move 9-5 ahead with two-dart 66 and 96 combinations, and he sank a 16-dart hold via double 16 to move through to a third televised quarter-final of 2022.
"I started off really well, I felt like the Nathan of old," claimed Aspinall, who averaged 97, posted five 180s and converted 48% of his attempts at double.
"That's the story of my career. I always let people back in and it's something I have to sort out, but I'm very happy to get through."