Michael Smith made light work of his round one clash at the 2023 World Darts Championship as he cruised past Nathan Rafferty with a 3-0 win.
Bully Boy had beaten Rafferty in all three of their previous meetings and showed little sign of slipping up here as the world number four raced to a simple win in double quick time.
The man who lost to Peter Wright in last year’s final will be desperate to get his hands on the big prize, having also lost the final back in 2019. But he looked right at home on the Ally Pally stage as he nailed a 114 finish to get himself off to a flyer in the first set.
Once he’d got himself in that position, there was simply no way for the Northern Irishman to compete as he was outscored in almost every leg. He landed an excellent 180 as his 22-year-old opponent missed a couple of easy chances to win legs, as Smith took the second set 3-0.
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The third set was an exhibition and Bully Boy delighted the crowd with a bullseye finish to win the game and complete a 130 finish. This one might not have been all that competitive but the crowd were treated to some top level arrows.
Smith may have made it look simple, but there was plenty of drama elsewhere on a wonderful evening of darts. Here’s how the rest of the night at Ally Pally unfolded.
Keegan Brown 2-3 Florian Hempel (R1)
Brown knew that defeat would see him lose his professional status and he'd have to go back to Q-school in January. Hempel the German however was in no mood to let him off the hook as he won the first two legs, before Brown impressively came back into the tie. However, it was the German that landed the first blow as he won the all-important fifth leg to put Brown under serious pressure.
The 30-year-old Englishman actually took the lead in the third, but Hempel roared back to go 2-1 in front. However, Brown showed great determination to win back-to-back legs and take the second set with a simple D6 finish.
The third set saw them go toe-to-toe, almost throw for throw as they entered the final leg. Brown missed his chance to finish, but then so did Hempel as both players lost their nerve. In the end, it was the Englishman who dragged himself over the line to take a 2-1 lead.
The German fought on though and levelled the scores, before he took the first throw in the nervy deciding set. It was all on the line for Brown as Hempel took the first leg and they traded blows until it was 2-2 in a thrilling encounter as the German wasted match darts. And so it all came down to one leg after almost an hour.
Hempel threw first but couldn’t land a treble as Brown put himself in trouble with a poor reply. The German landed a 180 at a crucial time and then checked out with D8 to make round two and send Keegan Brown out of the top 64.
William O‘Connor 3-0 Beau Greaves (R1)
The youngest woman to ever play at a PDC event at just 18, on her PDC debut, there was a huge level of support for Beau Greaves. She raced out of the blocks to take leg one before O’Connor responded despite a 180 from the teenager to go 2-1 up. However, several missed darts allowed Greaves to level the scores; however he came back in the fifth leg to take the first set.
A 122 checkout got Greaves a break in the first leg of the second set and she continued to perform to the delight of the commentators to go 2-1 up. However, O’Connor continued to plug away to drag it back to 2-2 and then smashed in a D8 to secure the second set. Greaves had the chances to take that second set but was left to rue her missed chances.
Willy O’Connor deserves huge credit for his performance here as he kept his nerve to knock out the women’s world champion with a smart third set. Beau Greaves will be back, but this was a sobering lesson on how clinical you have to be at these events.
Rowby-John Rodriguez 2-3 Lourence Ilagan (R1)
Ilagan and Rodrigues traded legs in the opening set as the crowd warmed up to the Friday night action. Then the Filipino took the initiative with back-to-back 140s and gave himself double tops to take the fist set, which he nailed at the first attempt. Rodriguez then missed a D16 to give Ilagan the chance to break, which he gobbled up on his way to the second set.
It was a decent performance from the 44-year-old who was in control of the match, but the Austrian was able to come back into the match in the third set. He landed two 180s in consecutive legs to break Ilagan and then held out to make it 2-1 in this round one encounter.
In a remarkable turnaround, he won six legs in a row as he raced through set four to take it to a deciding set. He had warmed his way into the tie, but Ilagan still held the advantage as we headed into the final set as he threw first. However, he couldn’t stop the tide as Rodriguez broke him straight away. The Austrian then wasted three shots at D8 to let Ilagan level it at 1-1 and then he nailed a D20 to put himself back in front.
Then Rodriquez came back to make it 2-2 and take this game into a 20th leg, with both players attempting to hold their nerve. Ilagan was the one who gave himself three match darts at D18, and he only needed one, as he held himself together to take the honours in a nail-biting deciding leg.
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