World number two Gerwyn Price started sloppily and ended spectacularly against German debutant Martin Schindler. ‘The Iceman’ looked like melting in the heat of the Blackpool Winter Gardens early on as his young challenger took an early lead, but the former world champion pulled off an exhilarating 10-8 triumph.
The early stages belonged to the younger man, as Schindler went 3-1 and then 4-2 up. Price’s frustration was palpable, and some of his throws seemed to suggest his recent injury worries are not completely behind him. The German was particularly focused whenever a double top finish appeared, knocking down tops frequently to rack up legs.
Price turned on the style though, taking the match to 4-4 before a war of attrition broke out. The Welshman fluffed tops in the eleventh to give Schindler his lead back before reeling off a superb 12-dart leg to level the score. The debutant levelled things once more at 7-7 but when Price roared back with a 180 to start the following leg he barely looked back. Back-to-back 11-dart legs helped the former world number one on his way to an eventual 10-8 victory.
Rob Cross won nine of the final ten legs of his first round clash with Chris Dobey to emerge victorious in a spectacular 11-9 comeback victory. ‘Hollywood’ was a man possessed early on, hitting six maximums on the way to an 8-2 lead. The 2018 World Champion looked set to suffer an upset at a Matchplay already littered with seeded player exits. Five missed doubles in the ninth set didn’t bode well for Cross as he faced an early departure.
But ‘Voltage’ was electric in the second half of the match, racking up six legs in a row to level the match at 8-8. Dobey went within a leg after sinking a desperation double 16 to try and stave off the Cross comeback. But it wasn’t to be for the 32-year-old as Cross, roared on by a rowdy Winter Gardens, sunk a truly special bull finish to level the tie. From here the momentum was in the corner of the man from Pembury, Kent as he took out the final two sets to triumph 11-9.
Jose de Sousa lived up to his moniker of ‘The Special One’, borrowed from a certain namesake countryman, with some unreal darts to see off Gabriel Clemens 10-6. Three 180s in a row in the first leg gave the Blackpool crowd a hint of what they were in for.
The high-scoring didn’t stop for the Portuguese, with some big visits seeing him sail to 4-1 up. The cream of the crop was a 13 dart leg in the fourth which got the crowd on their feet. The break arrived at the right time for Clemens and he pulled it back to 4-3, including another maximum in the seventh.
But De Sousa was irresistible on this night. Another 13-darter in the eighth and visits of 133 and 134 in the ninth re-asserted his dominance. Clemens fought bravely, with the ‘German Giant’ notching a pair of maximums in the 11th set, another in the 12th and a huge 165 visit in the 15th. But De Sousa got over the line, even if he had to watch a match dart drop out in the process. A monster 136 checkout was enough to book the 48-year-old a place in the second round.
Dave Chisnall beat Kim Huybrechts in the evening’s closer. A brilliant start from the Belgium saw him open the contest with a maximum and wrap the leg up in 14 darts. ‘Chizzy’ made three legs on the spin in response before a 13-darter from Huybrechts stopped the run.
‘The Hurricane’ was never out of the match, but Chisnall battled hard. Neither man was holding their throw consistently and it came down an elusive double for Chisnall. He eventually checked out on double four. It wasn’t pretty, but in the first round you just need to be effective.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change