Michael Smith pulled off one of the biggest comebacks at the 2023 World Darts Championship as he came from 3-1 down to defeat Martin Schindler in a seven-set thriller at Alexandra Palace on Wednesday evening.
Smith started the match really slowly and at one point looked to be down and out but he was able to find a route back into the match and take control of it. Schindler will be bitterly disappointed with the manner of his defeat but he has given a glimpse into what we can expect of him in the future as he pushed the world number four all the way in one of the games of the tournament.
Schindler was incredible in the opening set as last year’s finalist Smith appeared to be a little bit shell-shocked at the German’s fast start. ‘The Wall’ was twice behind in the opening set but fully merited his advantage in the match and it forced Smith to respond. ‘Bullyboy’ was a lot more commanding in the second set as he levelled the match although both he and Schindler had some trouble finding their doubles.
The German became more of a growing threat to Smith with some exquisite darts in the third set. He kept finding trebles when Bullyboy struggled and delivered some brilliant finishes to regain his lead in the match. The momentum was in the German’s favour and as he was growing in confidence, Smith was visibly struggling as he found it difficult to find a response.
Schindler then moved into a 3-1 lead after another dazzling performance. He sealed the fourth set with a composed double 14 finish but in the previous leg he produced an outstanding 128 checkout with 18, treble 20 and the bullseye - the result appeared to be going only one way.
When the fifth set came around Smith dug deep with some extraordinary darts to keep himself in the match. He delivered his third 180 of the match when it mattered before pouncing on Schindler’s mistake to pull a set back. It appeared as though the momentum of the match might change but Schindler composed himself to take the first leg of the sixth set. Smith was able to respond, however, with a strong leg with a crisp finish at tops.
Smith had found his groove and he was able to utilise his confidence to take the first leg in the deciding seventh set. Schindler was able to conjure up a response of his own. He initially found the wrong double when he needed double eight. He was able to find it at the second attempt after Smith gave him an opening. Smith’s ability to find trebles and clinical finishing saw him move into one leg away from taking the match when at one point it looked to be out of his reach. Smith held his nerve to complete the astonishing turnaround with a finish on tops to send them Ally Pally crowd wild.
Here is how the rest of Wednesday’s evening session unfolded.
Joe Cullen 4-0 Damon Heta (R3)
Joe Cullen cruised his way into the World Darts Championship quarter-finals by defeatin Damon Heta in straight sets inside Ally Pally.
Cullen was strong in finding trebles and doubles to take the opening set. Heta threw some good darts and had one dart for the set which he crucially missed.Cullen continued to build his momentum in the second set with some more strong darts and he made sure he punished Heta’s mistakes, particularly when the Australian had the chance to take the set to a final leg but missed double seven.
Heta continued to be his own worst enemy when it came to finishing a leg as two misses at the double at the start of the third set invited Cullen to gain another advantage. Heta was able to respond after going behind twice in the third set and he had the break of throw in the decisive fifth leg. With Heta shot of confidence Cullen made it a clean sweep to take the match in straight sets with three legs without reply.
Michael van Gerwen 4-2 Mensur Suljovic (R3)
Pre-tournament favourite Michael van Gerwen secured his place in the World Darts Championship quarter-finals after emerging as the victor against Mensur Suljovic in a gripping six-set battle. The three-time champion registered 12 180s which hugely aided him in his victory. There were some great darts thrown between the two seasoned pros and while Van Gerwen was the stronger, Suljovic provided him with a great contest.
There was a moment in the match where Van Gerwen was within one dart of taking the match at 3-1, but Suljovic was able to snatch the set for himself and get himself back into the contest with a stunning 161 checkout on the bullseye after finding both the treble 20 and treble 17.
Van Gerwen was able to rally and compose himself to take the sixth set. He won the set 3-1 but he was fortunate that he had a lot of breathing space on his opponent in the final leg as he missed double 16. But made up for it by hitting double eight to wrap up the match.
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