HETA DUMPS OUT VAN GERWEN TO SET UP CROSS CLASH
Damon Heta ensured there will be a new name on the Eric Bristow Trophy in 2023, after producing a clinical display to dump out Michael van Gerwen at the Mr Vegas Grand Slam of Darts on Thursday.
Three-time champion Gerwyn Price was sent packing by a resurgent Gary Anderson on Wednesday, and Van Gerwen became the latest big name to crash out on a dramatic night of last 16 action in Wolverhampton.
Van Gerwen - who lifted a hat-trick of Grand Slam titles between 2015 and 2017 - led 4-2 at one stage, but a nerveless Heta recovered from a sluggish start to inflict the Dutchman's earliest exit at this event in a decade.
The Australian number one turned the contest on its head with consecutive 76, 112 and 92 finishes to move into the lead, and he extended his winning run to five straight legs to establish a 7-4 buffer.
Van Gerwen displayed glimpses of his brilliant best with some exquisite cover shooting in the closing stages, but Heta kept his cool to complete a 10-7 success, sealed with a classy 80 combination on tops.
"I'm absolutely stoked with the win," declared Heta, who has now broken into the world's top ten for the first time in his career.
"I had so many trebleless visits, but my checkout percentage was great, and that is what wins you games!
"Obviously Michael didn't turn up tonight, but things just happened for me in that second session and I was riding the wave."
Heta's reward for defeating Van Gerwen is a quarter-final showdown against Rob Cross, who averaged 103.97 to edge out World Matchplay champion Nathan Aspinall 10-8 in a Grand Slam classic.
Aspinall - a runner-up in Wolverhampton last year - also averaged 103, fired in six 180s and converted 62% of his attempts at double, but it wasn't enough to deny a merciless Cross.
The 2018 World Champion stormed into a 4-1 lead at the first interval, capping off a dominant opening session with a 116 checkout, and the high-quality continued as Aspinall reduced the deficit to 4-6.
The Stockport star refused to relent, producing brilliant 12, 10 and 13 dart legs to cut the gap to 8-9, but he was unable to force a decider, as Cross pinned his favourite double 18 to prevail with a 14-darter.
"Huge credit to Nathan. He was so resilient, but I was the better player tonight and I got it done," claimed Cross, who landed seven 180s and pinned 50% of his attempts at double.
"I feel great. I have had my ups and downs like every professional, but now I'm ready to compete and perform, and I want it more than ever.
"I want to win everything. If I get myself right mentally, I believe I can do great things, but I will take one game at a time, because Damon is a great player.
Earlier in the night, Stephen Bunting overcame world number seven Danny Noppert in a contest dominated by missed doubles to move through to the Grand Slam quarter-finals for the first time since 2014.
Bunting fired in three 180s in as many legs to race into an early 4-1 lead, before Noppert hit back with a stunning 136 checkout in leg six, after Bunting had opened the leg with seven perfect darts.
Despite that moment of magic, Noppert spurned 23 darts at double in a disastrous display on the outer ring, as Bunting followed up a 13-darter with a brilliant 121 on the bull to complete a 10-4 victory.
"Danny really struggled and I think I got caught up in his game to be honest," reflected the former Lakeside Champion, who will renew his rivarly with Stowe Buntz in the last eight.
"I'm delighted with the result, but not with the performance. In the practice room I was hitting everything, and I felt really confident tonight, but it just didn't happen.
"Stowe is a fantastic player. When I played him the first time I didn't really know what to expect, but now I know how good he can be, and I can promise you that I won't play like this again."
Buntz continued his fairy-tale run by punishing a profligate display from UK Open champion Andrew Gilding to become the first American player to progress to the Grand Slam quarter-finals.
The debutant won the opening five legs of the contest and retained that buffer throughout, defying seven maximums from Gilding, who paid the price for squandering 21 of his 26 darts at double.
"I had no expectations this week. I just wanted to give it my all and savour every moment," reflected Buntz, who won last month's CDC Continental Cup to seal his Grand Slam qualification.
"Andrew gave me opportunities the whole match. I can only play the opponent in front of me, and if they give me opportunities, then it's up to me to capitalise."
Friday's action at WV Active Aldersley will see the opening two quarter-final ties take place, as World Grand Prix champion Luke Humphries plays two-time Grand Slam runner-up Gary Anderson.
Meanwhile, the evening's opener pits three-time finalist James Wade against 2022 World Youth Champion Josh Rock, who is appearing in his first premier televised quarter-final.