The battle of the two-time and three-time world champions ended in victory for Michael van Gerwen. The iconic ‘MVG’ beat Adrian Lewis 10-7 in the first round of the Betfred World Matchplay at the Blackpool Winter Gardens. The match started in the exhilarating manner you’d expect from two legends of the game, but turned into a war of attrition as the extreme heat took its toll.
A twelve-dart opening leg from Van Gerwen was followed by as big second from Lewis, who hit 160 and knocked down double 16 to level things. These world class stars split a pair of maximums in the third before the fourth saw the pace drop, with Lewis doing enough to take a 3-1 lead.
‘Jackpot’ made it three legs in a row in the next, before ‘Mighty Mike’ rattled off three consecutive stanzas of his own. A crucial tops from Lewis broke Van Gerwen and sent the 37-year-old 5-4 up. At this point the Dutchman started to pull away, racing to 9-6 ahead.
The standard expected from this dream first match-up was not on display as the pair limped to the finish line. But the most important thing this early in the Matchplay is the victory, and it belonged to Van Gerwen. The two-time Matchplay winner’s average of just a shade below 90 was his lowest in this tournament.
Popular Stockport lad Nathan Aspinall put in an enthralling performance to dominate Luke Humphries 10-5. ‘Cool Hand Luke’ missed three darts for tops to take the opening leg and when ‘The Asp’ sunk double 16 the momentum was with him.
It was momentum that very rarely let up as Aspinall raced to a 7-1 lead. Humphries pulled two back and seemed to benefit from an interval, as he looked more competitive after the break. Humphries raced through the first two legs back to take the score to 7-5 but Aspinall staved off the challenge. Three consecutive legs for the underdog saw Aspinall take a dazzling and deserved victory.
2007 Matchplay winner James Wade made hard work of it against debutant Martin Lukeman, with the 10-4 score not telling the whole story of a scrappy match. The world number five started fast, breaking the 37-year-old twice to go 3-0 up.
After Wade missed a pivotal double top finish to go 4-0, Lukeman found a way back in and dragged it back to 3-2. ‘The Machine’ was not firing on all cylinders but still managed to lift the crowd with 180s in the ninth and eleventh sets. A 120 checkout to go 9-4 up found Wade warming to the task, but he missed multiple match darts before finally wrapping it up at 10-4.
‘The RockStar’ had the Winter Gardens rock and rolling in the opening match of the evening session. Joe Cullen romped to a 10-2 victory over reigning World Cup champion Damon Heta. ‘The Heat’ took the first leg with a 110 checkout but that sort of high-scoring deserted him for the most part.
Cullen racked up nine consecutive legs, including a smart 120 checkout after Heta fumbled on 135 to take the seventh leg. A 140 for Heta in the tenth stanza looked like turning the tide but ultimately it wasn’t enough. The world number 19 snapped the streak of consecutive legs that Cullen amassed to make it 9-2 and even found an elusive 180 in the final leg before succumbing. Betting underdog Cullen made a mockery of the odds, as the reigning Masters Champion won this first round tie.
In a stacked afternoon session, Michael Smith completed a superb comeback from 8-4 down to get the best of Andrew Gilding 11-9. ‘Bully Boy’ rattled off seven legs out of eight to seal the triumph. Daryl Gurney pulled off a huge upset, beating 2018 champion Gary Anderson 10-7. Danny Noppert averaged 100.70 and reeling off six consecutive legs to see off Brendan Dolan 10-6. In the opener, Dirk van Duijvenbode made an unstoppable late surge to defeat Ryan Searle 10-8.