On a boiling hot day in Blackpool, the Winter Gardens produced exceptional drama, as the best in the world attempted to keep their cool under the lights. In a repeat of the Premier League final we saw just a few weeks ago, Michael van Gerwen once again got the better of Joe Cullen, this time with a dominant 11-5 win.
An opening break in the first leg from Van Gerwen set the tone for a breakneck start from the Dutchman. Clearly, after a late start, he was in no mood to hang about as he traded 180s with Cullen before breaking him for a second time to take a 4-1 lead. After the break though, he broke back and could have levelled the scores, but nerves overcame both players.
MVG moved 6-4 up as they went into the second break and then made another break, after then kept his composure to move 8-4 up. The body language of Cullen fell to pieces on the stage as MVG kept on coming to move 10-5 up and before he sealed the match with a solid D8. The pair shared a hug and laugh on stage, but the manner of that defeat will hurt the Englishman.
Meanwhile, in the game of the day, defending champion Peter Wright made tough work of his last sixteen tie, eventually progressing after a 13-11 win over Krzysztof Ratajski. Snakebite took control of the match early on as he pinned a 127 finish, before racing into a 4-1 lead with some smart doubles. In truth, Ratajski underperformed in the opening legs but soon got into the swing of things, as he attempted to replicate the form that took him to the final four last year.
However, Wright didn’t look like letting him back into the match and he showed his dominance with a ridiculous double bullseye finish. But the Pole wasn’t going down easily. From 7-4 down he leveled the scores and then took it to 9-9, as Wright struggled to finish him off. Ratajski missed three darts at D16 for a break, before the number one just nailed the D2 he needed to take the leg, before starting the decisive leg with a maximum.
Then he followed it up with another one but dramatically missed three match darts to give Ratajski the chance to level at 10-10. This was astonishing drama, which simply would not end. Wright took nine darts before he finally nailed a double four but the Pole relied on his D10 to pull the scores to 11 all. Wright then held his nerve with a 11-darter and then he took advantage of a Ratajski slip up to finish with a D10 and end this epic encounter once and for all.
The relief on his face was palpable, but this level of nerve is exactly why he has won the big title in recent years, and why he is number one in the world.
The match between the two Englishmen truly delivered on the coast as Nathan Aspinall got the job done late on against James Wade. The 31-year-old Stockport thrower came up with key finishes as the pair traded 13-dart finishes on the way to 8-8. Then, the key legs came as Aspinall broke with a stunning 82 checkout and then made a brilliant start in the final decisive leg with a maximum.
He followed that up with a ton and 140 before taking out 81 in style to reach his second successive quarter-final. Aspinall is on hot form, and having dumped out the 2007 champions, will provide a huge test in the quarter-final.
Meanwhile, Dimitri Van Den Bergh recovered from a slow start to storm past debutant Rowby-John Rodriguez as the 2020 champion showed his class under the lights. He worked his way into a 5-4 lead and then won three successive legs to take the match away from his opponent, who had performed admirably to make it to the last 16 on his first appearance.
However, this proved to be a step too far for the Austrian who succumbed 11-5 after a cracking opener. The Belgian averaged 98.62, hit six maximums and landed a stunning 146 checkout to win the match in style. When he is in this kind of mood, he can beat anyone.
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