SENSATIONAL SEARLE LANDS NINE-DARTER AT GRAND SLAM, AS SMITH CRASHES OUT
Ryan Searle landed a breath-taking nine-dart finish to progress to the knockout stages of the Mr Vegas Grand Slam of Darts on Monday, as defending champion Michael Smith crashed out in Wolverhampton.
Searle raised the roof at WV Active Aldersley with a moment of magic in his decisive Group D tussle against Nathan Rafferty, while world number one Smith was sent packing by James Wade in their Group A decider.
However, Searle's heroics stole the headlines on Day Three in Wolverhampton, as he produced the sixth nine-darter in Grand Slam history to book his place in the knockout stage for the first time.
Searle, who recovered from 4-0 down to win his opening round-robin tie against Gian van Veen on Saturday, raced into a 3-0 lead against Rafferty, only for the Northern Irishman to respond with back-to-back legs.
The Somerset star then restored his two-leg buffer with a 13-darter in leg six, before fending off Rafferty's rally to wrap up a memorable 5-3 victory with his first televised nine-darter.
"It's a special feeling to hit a nine-darter to win a match," said Searle, who will now take on World Grand Prix champion Luke Humphries in a fascinating last 16 showdown.
"I think I've been pretty unlucky in previous Grand Slams where I've run into some awesome performances; last year I ran into two 107 averages!
"I've got my best friend Luke in the next round now. Luke has beaten me so many times on the big stage, so I do owe him one. Hopefully I'll get him back on Wednesday!"
Humphries clinched top spot in Group C with a resounding 5-1 victory over a struggling Dirk van Duijvenbode, recording his third ton-plus average of the group stage to continue his blistering form.
That also confirmed Gary Anderson's place in the last 16, after the Scot swept aside Steve Lennon to preserve his astonishing record in the round-robin phase.
Anderson, a two-time runner-up in Wolverhampton, averaged 102 and fired in four maximums to progress to the knockout stage at the Grand Slam for the 16th time in as many appearances.
Nevertheless, world number one Smith was sent packing on an action-packed evening, after succumbing 5-1 to three-time runner-up Wade in their crunch Group A showdown.
Wade punished a profligate display from the World Champion to secure top spot in Group A, which also ended Smith's remarkable 18-match winning run in the group stage, in a record dating back to 2017.
"I'm James Wade and I do what I do," reflected last month's European Championship runner-up, who pinned five of his nine attempts at double to continue his resurgence.
"I think I dealt with the pressure better than Michael did. I didn't play particularly well, but I was a little bit better than somebody who was nowhere near their best tonight.
"Michael had a lot of misfortune, but I know how good I am, I know what I am capable of, and I believe I will be back in the top ten in two years' time."
Wade will now play Chris Dobey for a place in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, after the Masters champion won his all-important Group B tie against Jonny Clayton.
Dobey dominated the opening exchanges to storm into a 3-0 lead, although he was forced to withstand a late fightback from the Welshman to prevail 5-3 in a topsy-turvy affair.
"I knew it was going to be a tough battle, especially playing a good friend like Jonny," admitted Dobey, who made the quarter-finals on his Grand Slam debut in 2016.
"I missed so many darts at double and Jonny punished me, but I'm just delighted to get through that one. The opening two games were a struggle, so I'm pleased to have put in a performance.
"I owe James [Wade] one after he thrashed me in my first appearance here, but I think the longer format suits me, and I'll be ready for that."
In the evening's opener, Gerwyn Price crashed in a mammoth 112.30 average and converted a trio of ton-plus checkouts to cap off a sensational Group D campaign with a 5-1 demolition of Gian van Veen.
Price, who was already assured of top spot ahead of Monday's play, landed 107, 108 and 121 finishes to dismantle the Dutchman with the ninth-highest average in Grand Slam history.
The Welshman - who has won a hat-trick of titles in his four visits to the Aldersley venue - will now take on Anderson in a repeat of the pair's unforgettable 2018 final.
Elsewhere, Josh Rock completed a clean sweep in Group B with a comprehensive 5-1 success against Berry van Peer, which sets up a last 16 encounter against Group A runner-up Krzysztof Ratajski.
Ratajski eased past former World Youth Championship runner-up Nathan Girvan by the same scoreline in his final Group A fixture, reeling off the last five legs without reply.
The Grand Slam of Darts group stage will conclude on Tuesday, as the final round-robin matches in Groups E-H take place at WV Active Aldersley.
Michael van Gerwen, Nathan Aspinall and American debutant Stowe Buntz have confirmed their qualification to the knockout stage, while world number two Peter Wright and Stephen Bunting lock horns for a last 16 berth.
Elsewhere, Fallon Sherrock and Beau Greaves also face straight shoot-outs for qualification, as they take on Rob Cross and Damon Heta in Groups G and H respectively.
|112.30||3||5/6||Price ||5:1||van Veen||99.04||1||1/1|
|84.24||2||5/16||Rock ||5:1||van Peer||84.79||1||1/7|