Michael van Gerwen may not have been the reigning champion coming into this year’s tournament, and he will not be next year either, but the Dutchman’s barely-credible performances all year round had all but coronated. His toppling, at the hands of Raymond van Barneveld, spoke to this sport’s growing strength in depth. Tonight, the opening match did exactly the same.
Peter Wright and Dave Chisnall exchanged toe-to-toe blows, maximum for maximum, until one had to leave the stage beaten. It was Wright, the tournament’s fourth seed and the match’s favourite, who ultimately progressed, although it is perhaps unfair to use that word when his opponent reached the very same heights.
It began at a blistering pace, with both averaging over 110 in the first set and only Chisnall’s initially immaculate accuracy on the doubles separating the pair. Wright bit back in the second, capitalising on a bounce out to then rip his way through in straight legs.
Chisnall could have been bruised by such a swift, ruthless breakdown. Instead, he rebuilt, and took an astonishing 160 check-out to claim the third. That began the interminable back-and-forth, the leg for leg and set for set, until a match most deserving of a decider got one and two players most unworthy of elimination stared down the barrel.
The seventh’s tie-break legs matched anything seen on the same stage the previous night. Chisnall, in particular, and his 130 check-out to save the eighth leg after he had been broken in the seventh had the arena’s Smurfs straddling its Scooby Doos. His failure to hold his throw in very next leg with two routine darts, however, handed the advantage back to Wright.
The Scotsman took it, despite his best efforts to stay up on the stage by missing three match darts. His profligacy almost permitted Chisnall another comeback but when the St. Helens-based player’s effort at tops fell inside, the energy suddenly evaporated. The bullishness, the fight seemed gone and with Wright’s next dart, so was the match.
“That's the hours and hours I've been putting in. I got here six hours before the match and practiced all day yesterday, just out of respect for playing Chizzy,” the fourth seed said after his victory. “That paid off.”
“I thought it was going to go all the way,” he admitted. “The 130 checkout was magnificent from Chizzy. As soon as he put that treble 20 in I knew he was going to get it. I just thought: 'pick yourself up, we'll start again, it's just another leg.'”
In many people’s minds, before last night’s dramatics, Phil Taylor was as much part of the chasing pack as Wright and Chisnall. His bete noire’s exit was supposed to provide an opportunity but, instead, he too finds himself eliminated.
The sixteen-time world champion, who’s 55-years-old you know, does not let competitors, pundits or Alexandra Palace’s tired and emotional forget his credentials. After levelling tonight’s match against Jelle Klaasen at one set each, television cameras appeared to show him mouth “I’m back.” What might have passed his lips when Klaasen duly took the third can be left to the imagination.
Taylor produced an erratic display, regularly handing the advantage back to the Dutch player, who began in a clinical, unforgiving manner. Nevertheless, the man universally regarded as the best to ever pick up a dart kept pace with Klaasen. At three sets to two, after the upstart missed a chance to seal the match at double 18, Taylor finally met him stride for stride, and then threatened to motor.
A break of Klaasen in the first leg of the next set, the tie’s biggest check-out, seemed to clear a path to victory. Instead, that path, which brought him to a missed match dart at tops, led to his defeat. His 31-year-old opponent pressed on to take it to a tie-break, before some fine approach play finished it in two swift legs.
In the night’s other tie, Alan Norris, a runner-up at the Lakeside two years ago, a debutant at this tournament but the conqueror of Robert Thornton, continued to upset the odds by ruining Mark Webster’s new year. He now progresses to the quarter-finals where he will face Klaasen.
Last night, Alexandra Palace lost its prince and now, the king is dead. The rabble, however, are rising.
Wednesday December 30
3x Third Round
Peter Wright 4-3 Dave Chisnall
Alan Norris 3-1 Mark Webster
Phil Taylor 3-4 Jelle Klaasen