MICHAEL VAN GERWEN, Gary Anderson, Raymond van Barneveld and Daryl Gurney all progressed to the second round of the Unibet World Grand Prix as the double-start tournament began in Dublin on Sunday.
Two-time runner-up Raymond van Barneveld came closest to a shock early exit at the Citywest Hotel, and had to pull out a vintage 164 finish on his way to a 2-1 win over debutant Ricky Evans.
With Evans poised on 32 to go 2-0 up in the deciding set, the five-time World Champion produced the breath-taking checkout to level the tie and never looked back as he began his charge for the £100,000 top prize.
“Form is temporary, but class is permanent,” said Van Barneveld, who reached the quarter-finals in 2017.
“Of course, Ricky is always a fast player, I’ve known him for many years and the way he came back in the second set was amazing.
“Before the match I practiced for three hours on double 16 but I just couldn’t find it on the stage. Hopefully it will start going in in the next round and I can build from here.”
Van Barneveld will take on Dave Chisnall in the second round, after the former finalist hit four maximums in his 2-0 triumph over German number one Max Hopp.
Three-time winner Van Gerwen was at his relentless best in his whitewash 2-0 win over emerging Irishman Steve Lennon.
The world number one famously crashed out to John Henderson at the first round stage last year, but avoided a repeat performance as he missed just one dart at a finishing double.
“At least I won my first round game this year!” said Van Gerwen, who enjoyed his first win in a televised ranking event since the World Championship.
“It was a strange game because my scoring wasn’t great but my doubling was pretty good which is a good sign.
“I’m always doing my best but I’m only human. The performances are there and I’m sure the wins will come.”
Van Gerwen – the 11/10 favourite with sponsors Unibet – will now take on Darren Webster, who tasted victory on the Citywest stage for the first time in his 2-0 demolition of Stephen Bunting.
Like the two-time World Champion, Webster also won every leg and produced an impressive 98.02 average, the highest of the opening night.
Reigning champion Gurney produced an authoritative performance to see off Henderson 2-0 in a repeat of last year’s semi-final.
The Northern Irishman missed just three darts at a finishing double in a clinical display, and admitted it was a relief to get over the first hurdle.
“I’m very happy to get through because John is a top player,” said Gurney.
“It was a relief to get through that game because I was nervous heading into the match but I managed to settle myself down and get the job done.
“No matter what tournament you play in, whether you’re the reigning champion or not, you never want to go out in the first round so I’m pleased with how tonight went.”
Former finalist Anderson began his quest for a fifth televised title of the year with a comfortable 2-0 win over Jonny Clayton.
The two-time World Champion never allowed Clayton into the contest, restricting the Welshman to just four darts at double, as he set up a last 16 tie with Jeffrey de Zwaan.
Exciting Dutch youngster De Zwaan continued the form that saw him reach the semi-finals of the World Matchplay in July with a convincing 2-0 win over Kim Huybrechts on his World Grand Prix debut.
The Dutch youngster averaged just under a ton, piling in four 180s and ending the match with a clinical 50% checkout success rate in the opening game of the evening.
De Zwaan’s fellow Dutchman Ron Meulenkamp caused the first upset of this year’s tournament with a 2-1 victory over hotly-tipped world number 15 Joe Cullen.
Meulenkamp whitewashed Cullen to go a set up before the Yorkshireman fought back to level.
Cullen missed two darts to take a 2-1 lead in the third set and was punished by the Dublin debutant as the left-hander moved through to take on Gurney.
The Unibet World Grand Prix continues on Monday with eight more first round games, which will be broadcast live on Sky Sports and worldwide through the PDC’s series of international broadcast partners, as well as at PDCTV-HD for Rest of the World Subscribers.
The remaining first round ties include the eagerly-awaited clashes between number seven seed Mensur Suljovic and two-time champion James Wade, and Michael Smith’s contest with Adrian Lewis.
Following the opening night, Van Gerwen is Unibet’s 11/10 favourite to claim the £100,000 title at the Citywest Hotel on Sunday, ahead of 9/2 second favourite Anderson.
World number two Peter Wright (7/1), World Champion Rob Cross (9/1) and Mensur Suljovic (18/1) also feature strongly in the betting ahead of Gurney, who is rated at 25/1 to retain his title.
Unibet World Grand Prix
Sunday September 30
Jeffrey de Zwaan 2-0 Kim Huybrechts
Ron Meulenkamp 2-1 Joe Cullen
Darren Webster 2-0 Stephen Bunting
Raymond van Barneveld 2-1 Ricky Evans
Dave Chisnall 2-0 Max Hopp
Daryl Gurney 2-0 John Henderson
Michael van Gerwen 2-0 Steve Lennon
Gary Anderson 2-0 Jonny Clayton
Monday October 1 (7pm)
Jermaine Wattimena v Mervyn King
Josh Payne v Ian White
Danny Noppert v Gerwyn Price
Peter Wright v Steve West
Rob Cross v Steve Beaton
Mensur Suljovic v James Wade
Simon Whitlock v James Wilson
Michael Smith v Adrian Lewis
Unibet World Grand Prix Odds
Michael Van Gerwen 11/10 (from 13/10)
Gary Anderson 9/2 (from 6/1)
Peter Wright 7/1
Rob Cross 9/1
Mensur Suljovic 18/1
Daryl Gurney 25/1 from 33s
Michael Smith 28/1
Unibet World Grand Prix – Day Two Matches
19/20 Jermaine Wattimena v Mervyn King 17/20
2/1 Josh Payne v Ian White 2/5
6/4 Danny Noppert v Gerwyn Price 1/2
3/10 Peter Wright v Steve West 11/5
3/10 Rob Cross v Steve Beaton 11/5
1/2 Mensur Suljovic v James Wade 6/4
1/2 Simon Whitlock v James Wilson 6/4
4/5 Michael Smith v Adrian Lewis Evens