WRIGHT & VAN DEN BERGH PROGRESS; SEARLE RUINS BARNEY'S RETURN
Former champions Peter Wright and Dimitri Van den Bergh moved through to the last 16 of the Betfred World Matchplay on Monday, as Ryan Searle ruined Raymond van Barneveld's highly-anticipated Blackpool return.
Day Three of the sport's summer showpiece saw the first round draw to a close at the Winter Gardens, as Jonny Clayton joined Wright, Van den Bergh and Searle in moving through to round two.
Michael van Gerwen's shock exit on Sunday evening blew the bottom half of the draw wide open, and Wright will be looking to capitalise after brushing aside UK Open champion Andrew Gilding in comfortable fashion.
Gilding punished a sluggish start from Wright to move 2-0 up with a 122 checkout on the bull, although finishes of 107 and 104 from the Scot saw him lead 3-2 at the first break.
The procession continued as Wright extended his winning run to eight legs - including a 146 checkout in leg seven - before a brace of holds of throw helped him to close out an emphatic 10-4 victory.
"The fans were brilliant. It's nice to be back on this stage," reflected Wright, who now plays Searle on Wednesday night, in a repeat of their 2021 Players Championship Finals decider.
"Andrew Gilding is a fantastic dart player. He's beaten me so many times before so I know what he can do, and thankfully for me he didn't turn up there.
"I didn't feel comfortable at all up there, but it's a new day against Ryan, and I will be a better player on Wednesday night."
Searle produced the performance of the first round to blitz the returning Van Barneveld, averaging 105.19 to celebrate his maiden win at the iconic Empress Ballroom.
Van Barneveld - making his first appearance at the World Matchplay since 2018 - drew first blood with a 14-dart hold, but Searle soon stamped his authority on the contest to move 3-2 ahead.
The Somerset star then won seven of the last nine legs to complete a 10-4 rout, registering winning legs of 13, 12, 11, 16, 13, 13 and 13 darts during this spell to cap off an imperious display.
"I hadn't won a game here before so there was a little bit of pressure on me," admitted Searle, who posted his highest televised average to dispatch the five-time World Champion.
"Raymond is a legend. I grew up watching him on TV before I was even playing darts, so it's weird for me now to be playing him at the World Matchplay.
"He's the crowd favourite so I tried to feed off the energy that the crowd were giving to him, and it worked tonight! I'm really happy with that performance."
In the evening's opener, 2020 champion Van den Bergh produced a blistering late burst to see off European Champion Ross Smith in arguably the match of the tournament so far.
Smith led 3-2 following a highly-charged start to the tie, which saw both players averaging in three figures, but Van den Bergh levelled up the tie with a clinical 117 checkout in leg eight.
Smith was being outscored by the Belgian, but a spectacular tops-tops 134 checkout saw him restore parity at six apiece, and the pair continued to trade holds as the prospect of a tie-break loomed.
However, with the scores locked at 8-8, Van den Bergh raced to the finish line in sensational style, firing in back-to-back 12-dart legs to maintain his magnificent record at the Winter Gardens.
"Wow, what a game," said Van den Bergh, one of only three former champions left in this year's tournament.
"I was focused, I was in control. I felt like I was in the zone, but Ross was brilliant. I'm not sure how I managed to win, but I've done it!
"I love the Winter Gardens and I love Blackpool. I just focus on what I can do, and I've managed to beat the European Champion."
Van den Bergh's reward is a last 16 clash against Clayton, who was overcome by emotion after fending off a late fightback from Gabriel Clemens to secure just his second victory at this event.
Clemens spurned opportunities to win each of the first four legs, and Clayton profited to establish an early buffer - with the World Cup winner defying a significant gap in the averages.
Despite taking out 108 and producing legs of 11 and 12 darts to hold, Clemens was unable to make inroads on the Clayton throw, and the Welshman duly cantered into a 9-5 lead.
World Championship semi-finalist Clemens suddenly sparked into life with a run of three straight legs to reduce the deficit to 8-9, only for Clayton to regain his poise and seal the deal with a spectacular 11-darter.
"There were a few nerves, but the crowd were fantastic and I've done the job tonight," insisted Clayton, who dedicated the win to his ill father.
"That was tough. It wasn't the best version of Gabriel Clemens, but it wasn't the best of Jonny Clayton either.
"The 11-darter was amazing. Anybody would take that, and I certainly will! This is just my second win here in five years, so it means a lot."
The second round gets underway at the Winter Gardens on Tuesday, as World Champion Michael Smith plays Masters champion Chris Dobey, while 2022 runner-up Gerwyn Price faces Joe Cullen.
Elsewhere, 2018 winner Gary Anderson takes on Daryl Gurney for a place in the quarter-finals, with former UK Open champions Danny Noppert and Nathan Aspinall set to renew their big stage rivalry.
|96.41||7||10/30 ||Wright ||10:4||Gilding ||87.91||1||4/11|
|87.91||4||10/29 ||Clayton ||10:8||Clemens||95.51||6||8/22|