Michael van Gerwen has stated his intent to retain the BoyleSports World Grand Prix title after avoiding a scare against Jamie Hughes as the double-start tournament began on Sunday night in Dublin.
World Champion Van Gerwen had to come from a set down against debutant Hughes before progressing to the second round of the £450,000 event with a 2-1 triumph.
A dramatic deciding set saw Hughes lead 1-0, only to miss two darts in leg two as Van Gerwen levelled – and a key third leg saw the Tipton thrower open with 160 and 180 before adding a seventh perfect dart.
However, he was unable to close out a perfect leg, and could only watch on after a missed double as Van Gerwen powered home a pivotal 135 checkout on the bull.
It proved a decisive blow as Van Gerwen moved 2-1 up, and the four-time champion landed a 180 and double 18 to avoid a second first round exit in three years at the Citywest Convention Centre.
“I feel really good,” said Van Gerwen, the winner in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018. “I didn’t really perform but I did some phenomenal things in patches and that made me win this game – the 135 hurt him so much.
“Jamie played well, especially for his first time in this event. I was struggling at times and I can do a lot better than this, but it’s a short format so it’s difficult.
“I will win back-to-back this year – simple.”
Tournament favourite Van Gerwen now faces a second round tie on Tuesday against Dutch prospect Jeffrey de Zwaan, who dropped only one leg as he swept aside Steve Beaton in straight sets to race into the last 16 for a second successive year.
Beaton shared the opening two legs of the contest, but De Zwaan followed double 11 with a 14-darter to wrap up the first set before winning the second without reply to progress.
“I thought I played really well and I felt good, but Steve didn’t play his game,” said De Zwaan. “I saw Steve struggling a little bit, but it’s always been a tough game against him in the past.
“I can look forward to the next game now because you just want to get through. I like this format but it’s also tough and anything can happen.”
Two-time World Grand Prix champion James Wade won his first game in the event for five years with a 2-1 defeat of John Henderson.
The 2007 and 2010 winner showed glimpses of his best form by finishing 8/13 doubles, including a superb 142 checkout to secure the opening set 3-1.
Henderson finished 100 with two double tops as he moved 2-0 up in the second set, with Wade levelling only for a timely 180 to help the Scot secure the deciding leg on double six.
Wade, though, raced through the third set without reply as he moved through to face Mervyn King in Tuesday’s second round.
“John played far better than I thought he would but I did enough at the right times,” said Wade. “I finished well and it’s a relief.
“I’ve had no result for the last four years so tonight was a massive thing for me.”
2012 finalist King hit back from the brink of defeat to overcome Dimitri Van den Bergh in a sudden-death leg at the end of their see-saw tie.
Van den Bergh came from 2-1 down to claim the opening set, following an earlier 112 finish with a superb 105 checkout in the decider as King paid for missing four set darts.
King then came from a leg down to take set two by a 3-1 scoreline, inspired by a 112 finish, only to find himself 2-0 down in set three.
However, a timely 180 set up tops as he kept his hopes alive in leg three, a superb 133 checkout levelled and forced a deciding leg which the 53-year-old won on double 16.
“I made hard work of it but it was nice to come back and get over the line,” said King.
“The first set should have been mine but I let it go and it was very frustrating. I shouldn’t have been behind but my form appeared at the right time and hopefully, that will continue.
“It would have only taken a couple of different darts from Dimitri and I would have been on my way home but I got through it and you feel like you’re in the competition now.”
Michael Smith won past the first round for only the second time in seven World Grand Prix appearances, despite staring defeat in the face in a three-set thriller against Simon Whitlock.
2017 finalist Whitlock came from a leg down to win the opening set 3-1 and moved 2-1 up in the second with the aid of 120 checkout, only to see Smith produce a huge 128 finish to save the set before double top levelled the match.
Smith then took out a huge 155 checkout – with the Australian waiting on a double – to open the third set, and the St Helens man also led 2-0 before Whitlock hit back to force a deciding leg, punishing two missed match darts from the World Championship finalist.
However, Whitlock missed six starting doubles in the final leg, with Smith pulling clear before pinning double 16 at the first time of asking to grab a hard-fought victory.
“My scoring wasn’t quite there but I got the win and I’m happy,” said Smith. “The 128 was a big shot and it saved the match, and I knew that hurt him and then the 155 killed him.”
Ian White produced a superb comeback from a set and two legs down against Joe Cullen to book his last 16 spot with a 2-1 victory over the Bradford ace.
Cullen raced through the first set without reply and also moved two legs up in the second after restricting White to a solitary dart at the bullseye.
However, back-to-back 82 checkouts ignited the Stoke star’s challenge, with double 16 securing set two to level the tie before he claimed the decider without reply to progress.
“I’m so relieved but I dug in and got there in the end,” said White. “I’ve got mixed emotions because I’ve been on the end of that before and missed doubles.
“I had to play my own game in the end because I think I was playing too fast at the start. It just wasn’t going for me in the first set but I started finding double top and I persevered with it.
“I had nothing to lose and I could have been out of the tournament, but now I’ve got a chance.”
2016 finalist Gary Anderson raced to a straight-sets victory over Keegan Brown, dropping just two legs as he moved through to the last 16.
The Scot sped through the opening set without reply, with Brown sharing the first four legs of the second only for a clinical 13-darter to book Anderson’s passage to a second-round tie with Chris Dobey on Tuesday.
“The first round is very hard and a it’s the only time we play double start, so it’s very hard to get into,” said Anderson. “I’m playing with some new darts and they’re going well, so there are some good signs.
“My game isn’t 100 percent but it’s getting there and I’m happy with the way the lighter darts are going. I’m struggling to get the hunger back but when I get up there I want to play, so we’ll see what happens.”
Dobey enjoyed a winning debut at the World Grand Prix, dropping just two legs as he overcame Ricky Evans in straight sets, proving too clinical on his starting doubles with 8/12 attempts to his rival’s 8/28.
Dobey came from a leg down to take the opener 3-1, finishing 90, then double eight to break and double 16 to secure the set.
Evans levelled in set two with a 13-darter, but Dobey restored his advantage with a 14-darter after the pair traded maximums, before tops moved the youngster into round two.
“I’m delighted to get the win,” said Dobey. “For my debut, I think a 90 average is decent and my doubles went in well.
“This is a competition I’ve watched on TV and everyone wants to play in it to test themselves. I even went back to my local leagues to practice, and it’s paid off.”
The first round concludes on Monday with the remaining eight matches, headlined by the clash between World Matchplay champion Rob Cross and three-time Dublin semi-finalist Mensur Suljovic.
2019 BoyleSports World Grand Prix
Sunday October 6
First Round x8
Chris Dobey 2-0 Ricky Evans (3-1, 3-1)
Mervyn King 2-1 Dimitri Van den Bergh (2-3, 3-1, 3-2)
Ian White 2-1 Joe Cullen (0-3, 3-2, 3-0)
Jeffrey de Zwaan 2-0 Steve Beaton (3-1, 3-0)
James Wade 2-1 John Henderson (3-1, 2-3, 3-0)
Michael Smith 2-1 Simon Whitlock (1-3, 3-2, 3-2)
Michael van Gerwen 2-1 Jamie Hughes (2-3, 3-1, 3-1)
Gary Anderson 2-0 Keegan Brown (3-0, 3-2)
Monday October 7 (1900)
First Round x8
Stephen Bunting v Jonny Clayton
Vincent van der Voort v Nathan Aspinall
Adrian Lewis v Jermaine Wattimena
Glen Durrant v Krzysztof Ratajski
Daryl Gurney v Danny Noppert
Gerwyn Price v Dave Chisnall
Rob Cross v Mensur Suljovic
Peter Wright v Max Hopp