RECORD-BREAKING LITTLER WINS AGAIN AT ALEXANDRA PALACE
Record-breaker Luke Littler backed up his stunning debut performance with another victory to reach the Last 32 of the 2023/24 Paddy Power World Darts Championship, whilst former Champion Rob Cross moved comfortably through to round three on Day Seven.
Despite not matching the dizzy heights of the record-breaking 106 average 24 hours previous, he showed perseverance to beat UK Open Champion Andrew Gilding 3-1 to kick off the evening at Alexandra Palace.
After being broken in the opening leg, a positive start from Littler saw him regain composure and take the opening set 3-2.
From there, it was a story of missed doubles at crucial moments for Gilding - missing four darts for the set over two legs as teenage sensation Littler recovered from 2-1 down to pinch the second set and lead 2-0.
Gilding then found his groove as he raced to the third set in three straight legs to close the gap to one, but Littler again showed his battling spirit as he took the fourth set 3-1 to wrap up victory and move into the Third Round.
"I am over the moon," said 16-year-old Littler, a winner of five Winmau Development Tour titles in 2023.
"I'm surprised it didn't go to a last set, and that is what I was saying to myself - don't let that happen.
"I was nervous, but somehow my doubles were going in. I could have wrapped it up earlier but I am just happy to get over the line."
The victory for Littler means he will face Canada's Matt Campbell for a place in the last 16, and he has now moved into fifth favourite for the title with tournament sponsors Paddy Power.
"I've overachieved once again," insisted World Youth Champion Littler.
"I just wanted to come here to win and then to come back after Christmas, and I am doing that".
2018 champion Rob Cross defied a sluggish start to begin his title bid with a straight sets victory against French trailblazer Thibault Tricole.
Cross capitalised on a doubling horror-show from Tricole to claim a scrappy opening set without reply, and after converting a clinical 114 checkout to double his lead, Cross completed another clean sweep in set three to seal his progress.
"I'm not very happy with my performance, but a win is a win," reflected Cross, one of six former champions left in the tournament.
"I was more nervous than I've ever been on this stage. I got so enthused with the crowd that I lost my focus, but I'm very grateful to be through.
"I'm looking forward to Christmas now, and hopefully I can be a different animal when I come back."
The shock of the night came from Scott Williams, as he beat seventh seed Danny Noppert in straight sets.
Williams nearly sent Alexandra Palace into pandemonium in the second set as he wired double-18 for an incredible nine-dart leg, which saw him attempt an unconventional T16-T19-D18 combination finish to seal it.
Noppert started brightly with a 170 checkout in the opening leg, but from there his double hitting let him down compared to Williams' superior finishing, which saw him win the first two sets in a deciding leg, before taking the third set 3-1.
Gabriel Clemens - a semi-finalist in the 2022/23 tournament - made a positive start to his campaign as he charged past Hong Kong's Man Lok Leung 3-1.
It wasn't always vintage from Clemens, who has suffered a tough 12 months in TV events, but a strong doubling display saw him progress.
He raced into a 2-0 lead, sealing the first set with a match-high 140 finish, before doubling his lead with a delightful 120 checkout in a second-set decider.
Leung bounced back by taking the third set in three straight legs, but Clemens returned the favour in the fourth to delight the strong German contingent inside Alexandra Palace.
Elsewhere, Damon Heta rounded off the evening with a hard-fought 3-1 win over Martin Lukeman.
The charismatic Aussie - nicknamed The Heat - brought his usual antics to the walk-on as he entered the stage wearing a foam 'flames' hat.
An attritional opening set from Heta saw him take it 3-2, and he won the next three legs to move into a 2-0 lead.
Lukeman fought back in the third, but Heta quickly extinguished any hopes of a comeback by clinching the fourth set without reply.
Elsewhere, Madars Razma will play World Champion Michael Smith for a place in the last 16, after breaking new ground at Alexandra Palace with a hard-fought 3-1 win against Mike De Decker.
The Latvian produced a trio of 15-darters to strike the first blow, and while De Decker responded to level, Razma won the next two sets in last-leg shoot-outs to reach round three for the first time in his career.
Thursday's action also saw the first round draw to a close in the capital, as Berry van Peer celebrated victory on debut with a deciding-set success against Luke Woodhouse.
Van Peer - who secured top spot on the 2023 Challenge Tour Order of Merit - defied six 180s from Woodhouse to triumph in a rollercoaster affair, which sets up a second round clash against Northern Ireland's number one Josh Rock.
Meanwhile, Mickey Mansell will play his former World Cup partner Brendan Dolan in round two, after overcoming China's number one Xiaochen Zong in straight sets to kick off Day Seven.
Statistics - First Round
Statistics - Second Round
Statistics - Second Round