Premier League watch: Four players with PL experience seeking another call-up in 2018

In the final part of this three-part series, I look at four players who have played in the Premier League before, but have been infrequent participants recently. I make a case for them getting a return to the Premier League in 2018, as well as a case against.

Michael Smith

The Case For

Michael Smith may have deserved a spot in the Premier League in 2016, but he never seemed ready for the week-in, week-out gruel of the competition. He’s bounced back, however, in 2017, winning a European Tour title and reaching two other Pro Tour finals. He’s reached 15 quarter-finals or better on the Pro Tour in 2017, in addition to the last 16 in the UK Open. And he should be in the top 10 of the world by the end of the year, despite having a poor 2016 on his ranking. It’s been a Premier League season to date.

The Case Against

But what has he done on television? He went out first round of the World Matchplay to an out-of-form Steve West, and he followed that up without a victory over a tour card holder in the three World Series events in New Zealand and Australia. As he said when he was on the Weekly Dartscast, all that matters for Premier League is your TV form, and so far he hasn’t shown it in 2017. If the Premier League was based on European Tour, he’d be a lock. But it’s not, and he has a lot of work still to do.

Jelle Klaasen

The Case For

Klaasen was never given a fair shake in 2017. He should have gotten an invite in 2016, but was snubbed. Instead, he was called into action whilst injured and never got off the ground. Since having surgery in May, his form has slowly improved, and he’s made a good account of himself on then European Tour this past month. Granted, he needs to have a few months where he shows he’s back to where he was before his wrist injury, but fairness dictates he gets another shot.

The Case Against:

Everything I just said, but in reverse. Yes, Klaasen got a raw shake of the dice, but those are the breaks, and there are no free passes in darts until you’ve established yourself as consistently one of the faces of the game. Klaasen, all due respect, hasn’t yet. And while he has injury to blame for a subpar Premier League campaign, all that is on paper is an excuse. He has struggled mightily at times this year and has looked eons away from someone who merits a Premier League invite.

Kim Huybrechts

The Case For

Okay, he didn’t get a win in the Premier League, but he played very well for most of the campaign, despite competing whilst his mother was terminally ill. He made it to the quarter-final of the UK Open, and has consistently made it deep into tournaments both on the floor and the Euro Tour. I think Huybrechts was given a raw deal heading into the Premier League this year, with many questioning his inclusion. But he showed he belonged over the eight weeks he participated. And everything considered, it would be harsh to drop him so quickly.

The Case Against

Before reaching the final in Riesa this past weekend, in 30 matches on stage since the World Championship, Kim Huybrechts had won just eight times, including losses to Pete Hudson, Jan Dekker, Christian Kist, and James Wilson. In the 19 matches on stage since the end of the Premier League, before last weekend, he averaged under 93 nine times, against just one average over the ton. Before Riesa he had lost his last five matches on stage, and hadn’t beaten anyone ranked higher than 28 in any competition since mid-May. Nothing he’s done the last six months before Riesa rings Premier League. It barely even rings Championship, if not League One.

Simon Whitlock

The Case For

What a run that was for Whitlock at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, winning five Pro Tour titles in the space of four months. And right in the middle of that, he missed a dart at double 15 to knock Michael van Gerwen out of the European Championship, the only time anyone came close to the world number one in a ranking major in 2016. Okay, he hasn’t gone on and made a deep, deep TV run like he used to do with regularity, but there’s only so many times you can run into Michael van Gerwen before the draw comes kind to you. He’s shown he’s yet again an elite player.

The Case Against

“He’s shown again he’s an elite player.” No, he hasn’t. He’s shown he has the game to be an elite player, but he hasn’t followed up on it. Since the last of those five Pro Tour titles in March, Whitlock has failed to cash at eight Pro Tour events, while reaching the quarter-final or better just five times. He only won one match against the seeded players from three World Series events last month, and outside the UK Open—where he was off TV most of the way—still hasn’t had a real sustained televised run in a few years. While there’s little doubt Whitlock will make a good showing of himself if he is selected, he has to earn it first. It’s hard to say he has.

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Peter Wright clinches tenth title of 2017 with victory in HappyBet International Darts Open in Riesa

Peter Wright’s magical 2017 continued on Sunday night at the HappyBet International Darts Open in Riesa, as he lifted his tenth title of 2017.

After a slow start to the weekend, the world number three got better in every match, culminating in a 6-5 win over Kim Huybrechts in the final.

Huybrechts got the early jump on Wright, breaking throw twice in the first three legs, as he raced to a 4-2 lead.

But Wright came back, taking out a 101 against the darts in leg eight to level at 4-4.

Both players held to send the match into a decider, but Wright—who had the darts in the decider—kicked off with consecutive 140s, before taking out a 116 to complete a 12-darter and claim a fifth European Tour title of 2017.

Earlier, Wright started off the final session with a 6-4 win over Jelle Klaasen.

Klaasen got the first break in leg three, taking out double 10 after Wright missed three at double. But Wright then wheeled off three legs in a row to take the lead at 4-2.

Klaasen bounced back, winning the next two legs in 12 and 15 darts. But missed doubles did Klaasen in in the end, as he missed 14 in the match, including five in the final leg.

In the semi-finals, Wright defeated the last unseeded player, Ron Meulenkamp, 6-3, despite the Dutch left-hander averaging nearly 106.

Meulenkamp struggled to get going, only managing a dart at bull from six visits on his throw in the second leg, as Wright eased to a 3-0 lead.

But the quality of both players picked up drastically as the match wore on, highlighted by a 167 out from Meulenkamp for a 12-dart hold to stay alive in the eighth leg.

Meulenkamp had a chance to pinch another leg back in the ninth, but he missed double 13 for a second consecutive 12-dart leg. Wright then hit double four to complete the victory. Wright averaged over 103 and hit 50 percent of his doubles.

Huybrechts, who reached his first Euro Tour final since this event last year, had near perfect timing throughout the entire weekend.

In his first match of the evening, he reached his first Euro Tour semi-final in almost exactly a year, as he beat Gerwyn Price 6-4.

After a pair of holds, Huybrechts missed two darts to break, but Price followed suit, giving Huybrechts a reprieve. Huybrechts held his nerve, taking out double two to move into the lead for the first time at 2-1.

Huybrechts consolidated the break, then earned another by taking out 100 with two tops.

But Price fought back, landing his second 112 out in as many matches after Huybrechts missed double 13 for a 119. Price then threw in a regulation 14-dart hold to trim the deficit to 4-3.

Price had a chance to level in the next leg, but he missed a dart each at tops, double ten, and double five. Huybrechts cleaned up on double 16, and that would be the last opportunity Price had.

In the semi-finals, Huybrechts marched into a 3-0 lead over Joe Cullen before the Yorkshireman nearly had the first nine-dart leg on the Euro Tour in over four years.

Cullen left 141 after six darts, and then hit the treble 20 and treble 15. However, his dart at double 18 fell just inside.

But Cullen would only get sniffs the rest of the way, having the odd chance at bull for a 122 and two darts at double 11 for a 79 out in the final leg. Huybrechts cleaned up nearly every chance he had, as he won 6-2.

In the other quarter-finals, Meulenkamp ended the dream of the Nordic & Baltic qualifier, Dennis Nilsson, 6-2.

Meulenkamp broke in the first leg, but Nilsson immediately leveled, throwing in his best leg of the tournament, a 12-dart break that included a pair of maximums. Nilsson then cleaned up double four for the lead at 2-1.

However, it was one-way traffic the rest of the way. Nilsson struggled to get going, and never even had a visit where he attempted an outshot the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, Meulenkamp raised his level, throwing in four 180s in the last three legs, and five for the match. Meulenkamp finished with a 99.75 average and 60 per cent on his doubles.

And in the final quarter-final, Cullen continued his hot run, as he beat Simon Whitlock 6-3.

Cullen struggled to get a look early in the match, as Whitlock eased into a 2-1 lead, but consecutive legs of 14, 13, and 13 darts turned the tide in Cullen’s favour.

The two exchanged the next two legs, before Whitlock missed three darts at double—including one at bull for a 164 out—allowing Cullen to take out 41 for a 6-3 victory.

 

Simon Whitlock full of confidence heading into final session of International Darts Open tonight

A confident Simon Whitlock finished with a flash, throwing four 180s in the last two legs—each of which was won in 11 darts—to beat Mervyn King 6-1, in the third round of the HappyBet International Darts Open.

Both players started slowly, but Whitlock pounced after King missed the bull for a 170 out in the fourth leg, earning the first break of the match.

“That was a turning point,” Whitlock told Love The Darts. “If I miss the bull for a 170 and my opponent takes out the next finish, it deflates you.”

Whitlock consolidated the break in the next leg for 4-1, before he accelerated for the finish line. Whitlock couldn’t be touched, throwing in consecutive 11-darters, with a pair of 180s in each.

“I think my game’s really solid at the moment,” Whitlock said. “I feel confident and that’s the important thing.”

Ian White also put in one of the top performances of the afternoon, but it was not enough to get past Kim Huybrechts.

White could have struck first blood in leg three, earning two darts to break. But he missed inside, and Huybrechts held with a two-dart 74 out, before breaking White’s throw in the next leg.

But White fought back, winning the next two legs to get back to level pegging. In the seventh leg, White was first to a finish against the throw, but missed bull for a 124. Huybrechts then got a dart at bull himself from 127, nailing it to move back into the lead.

“I knew if I missed, Ian [White] was going to have two darts at double,” Huybrechts told Love The Darts after the match. “Ian White is one of the players who is very good on his own leg, so I knew it would be very difficult if I missed that shot.”

White kept in the match, holding the next two legs, one with a 116-out and the other in 11 darts.

But Huybrechts kicked off the decider with a 180, before adding another to leave 61 after nine. With White still not a finish, he landed double eight two visits later to complete the 6-5 win. The win continues a bounce-back weekend for the world number 13, after a poor run of form since the end of the Premier League.

“Last couple of months have been real hard on me,” Huybrechts said after his win. “I’ve had a couple of injuries, my mom died, moving—and all those things have affected my game.

“I was happy with the way I felt and with the way I was myself again on stage.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Peter Wright moved into the quarter-finals with a 6-4 win over Ronny Huybrechts, despite missing his first 11 darts at double.

Both players struggled to get going, exchanging six holds of throw. But Wright broke in the seventh leg, landing double 14 after Huybrechts missed double 16.

In the tenth leg, Huybrechts had two darts to break back and send the match to a decider, but he missed. Wright stepped in and hit double four to win.

Wright will play Jelle Klaasen in the quarter-final, after Klaasen saw off a game Peter Jacques 6-4.

Jacques twice broke into the lead, but Klaasen immediately leveled, first at 2-2 and again at 4-4. Klaasen then threw in a 13-dart hold to lead 5-4.

In the final leg, Klaasen had six darts from 127 to wrap up the match, but could only manage a dart at bull. But Jacques couldn’t punish him, missing double 16 and then three more at double after Klaasen failed to clean up 25.

But Klaasen got over the line next visit to reach his second Euro Tour quarter-final on the bounce.

In the third match, Dave Chisnall looked like he was too much for Dennis Nilsson, but the Swede continued his fairytale run, overturning a 3-0 deficit to win 6-5.

Chisnall got out of the blocks quickly, not even giving Nilsson a chance at an outshot during the first three legs. But he missed two darts at double in the fourth leg, allowing Nilsson to punish with a 120 outshot.

Nilsson leveled at three before missing three darts at double to break in the seventh leg. Chisnall cleaned up, and the two exchanged holds to 5-5.

In the final leg, the crowd got behind the Swede, cheering each time Chisnall missed the treble, and it seemed to affect the world number six. He went six visits without a treble and required 21 darts to leave a finish.

Nilsson eventually took out double 18 to advance to a Euro Tour quarter-final on debut.

He will face another unseeded player in the quarter-final, Netherlands’ Ron Meulenkamp, who beat John Payne 6-3.

Meulenkamp—who averaged over 100 much of the match before finishing with a 96 average—pressured Payne’s throw early on, but couldn’t get a break, as Payne took out 72 and 130 in his first two legs with throw.

But after holding for 3-2, Meulenkamp finally earned an opportunity, leaving tops after 12 darts. He took it out, and never looked back from there.

Gerwyn Price put in one of his best performances on the European Tour stage, as he beat defending champion Mensur Suljovic in a last-leg decider.

After Suljovic broke in the first leg, Price wheeled off three legs on the spin, including two breaks of throw, to grab the lead.

But Suljovic bounced back, winning consecutive 15-dart legs with outs of 75 and 120.

Suljovic took the lead for the first time at 5-4, breaking in fourteen darts, before leaving 110 for the match in the tenth leg. Suljovic missed a dart at double 18, and Price stepped in to hit 112 on tops to send the match to a decider.

Price then powered home, kicking off with visits of 134, 177, and 130 to leave 60 after nine, before eventually finishing off a 14-darter on double 10 for a 6-5 win.

Both players averaged north of 100 for the match, and Suljovic only missed two darts at double. Price meets Kim Huybrechts later tonight.

Joe Cullen, who had the best performance of the second round, could not match the sparkling heights of Saturday, but still progressed with a 6-3 win over Alan Norris.

Neither player had a good look at the other’s throw for the first five legs, as Norris moved into a narrow 3-2 lead. The sixth leg was not much different, except that Cullen kicked off with six perfect darts before taking out 76 for a 12-dart hold.

Cullen would earn the first break opportunity in the next leg, hitting 174 to leave 36 after 12. Norris failed to take out 116, and Cullen landed double 18 to move into the lead.

He would never look back, taking the next two legs without much bother to complete a regulation win over a sub-par Norris. Cullen plays Whitlock in the last quarter-final tonight.

Picture: PDC Europe

Mensur Suljovic determined to focus on International Darts Open title defence after beating William O’Connor in opener

Mensur Suljovic kicked off his HappyBet International Darts Open title defence a winner, as he beat William O’Connor 6-3 with a ton-plus average.

Suljovic—the number two seed in Riesa—won the first two legs, but three missed darts at tops allowed the Irishman to break back and get a foothold in the match.

“I lose focus on the game and it goes 2-1, 2-2,” Suljovic told Love The Darts.

“I say to myself, ‘Mensur, please, come back into the game. You focus on the game, you’ll play well.’”

After O’Connor held to level at two, Suljovic threw in a 12-dart hold, before narrowly missing bull for a 161 for another 12-darter two legs later.

Up 4-3, O’Connor left 41 after nine, but Suljovic took out 84, his highest finish of the match, to complete an 11-dart break for a 5-3 lead.

Suljovic then landed tops at the third attempt to complete a victory in his first match since his maiden television title in Cardiff last weekend.

“For me, there’s big pressure now as Champions League winner,” Suljovic said. “But I focus on my game and never think that I’m Champions League winner. That tournament was last week, not this week.”

While Suljovic survived an early scare, multiple top seeds did not, with one last 16 matchup tomorrow being between two unseeded players.

Ron Meulenkamp started the upset train off by knocking out the fourth-seeded Michael Smith 6-3 in a scrappy contest.

“I’ve played Michael Smith four or five times and I’ve always played a good match against him but lost,” Meulenkamp said. “Now I play awful against him and I win, but I’ll take it anyway.”

Smith started strongly, holding throw and leaving 54 after 12 against the darts in the next leg. But Meulenkamp took out 116—the highest finish of the match—to level.

“I didn’t feel comfortable on stage, and the 116 made a difference,” Meulenkamp said. “I settled down a bit. I felt a little bit more relaxed.”

Both players missed a slew of doubles over the next few legs, with Smith himself missing three in a leg in three consecutive legs.

Meulenkamp, who is playing with new, heavier darts, punished him each time, as he won the final four legs of the match.

“I’m a real fighter,” Meulenkamp said. “I’m not the biggest talent, but I can fight like an animal, and I think I did.”

Meulenkamp’s opponent in the last 16 will be Josh Payne, who upset Rob Cross 6-4.

Payne started strongly, averaging over 105 through the first few legs, as he raced into a 3-0 lead.

“There’s a lot more that I could do, but I thought I played well there, especially the first half of the game,” Payne said.

Cross raised his game in the middle legs, wheeling off four in a row, including one with a tournament-high 170 out while Payne himself waited on 170.

But Payne steadied the ship late, winning the last three legs to advance. He now plays Meulenkamp in a battle of players who both recently increased their dart weights.

“My preparation has been really good,” Payne said. “I’ve been working on my practice routine at the moment and progressing my game .”

Earlier in the night, Dave Chisnall put in a top performance, averaging over 100 in a 6-4 win over Darren Webster, while going six and seven darts into a perfect leg.

The pair exchanged holds early on, with Chisnall looking the more comfortable in his legs. Chisnally didn’t require more than five visits in any leg he won, while Webster required at least six in each of his four.

Chisnall kicked off leg five with six perfect darts, but he missed two darts at double to let Webster in for a chance at 140. Webster hit to the two treble 20s, but was well wide of the mark on double 10.

Chisnall cleaned up, and it would prove to be Webster’s only good opportunity to break.

In the final leg, Chisnall kicked off again with two perfect visits, this time against the throw, and added the treble 20 with the seventh dart. He missed with his eighth, but still left a double after nine. He cleaned up second dart next turn to advance into Sunday.

Dennis Nilsson, who spoke with Love The Darts on Friday after his win over Steve Beaton, followed that win up with a last-leg upset of the fifth-seeded Daryl Gurney on Saturday night.

Gurney broke into the lead in leg three, but he missed two darts at double 16 to consolidate the break in the next leg. Nilsson took out 60 to level at 2-2, and the two held the rest of the way.

Nilsson had to withstand an onslaught of six 180s and a 100 average from Gurney, but threw one of his own in the final leg to leave 100. He then took it out on double ten, completing a 12-dart hold and a 6-5 victory.

Nilsson, who is scheduled to compete on Monday at the World Masters in Bridlington, plays Chisnall on Sunday afternoon.

Peter Wright also advanced into Sunday, getting over the line 6-2 in a match with 30 missed darts at double.

Wright won the first two legs, with Quantock missing 11 darts at double in the first leg, but Quantock bounced back to level.

But the world number three was too much for Quantock, as he wheeled off four on the spin, including a 120 out, to win.

Alan Norris put in his best performance on the Euro Tour this year, averaging 105 in knocking out the last remaining German, Max Hopp, 6-1.

Hopp broke in the very first leg, landing 72 after Norris missed three darts at tops. But Norris was nearly perfect the rest of the way, missing only three more darts at double over the next six legs and winning all but one leg in four or five visits.

In the final match of the night, Simon Whitlock had to withstand a scorching start from his compatriot Kyle Anderson, as Anderson won three of the first four legs for a 3-1 lead.

But Whitlock bounced back from there, winning four of the last five legs for a 6-4 win and a 100 average.

Both players hit over half their doubles, but it was Whitlock who created more opportunities in a match where all but one leg was won in five visits.

Picture: PDC Europe

Jelle Klaasen posts highest average since surgery to beat Brendan Dolan in International Darts Open last 32

Jelle Klaasen recorded his highest average since his surgery in May, averaging over 97 in a 6-4 win over Brendan Dolan, in the second round of the HappyBet International Darts Open.

The pair exchanged breaks for the first three legs, before Klaasen held in leg four. Klaasen nearly broke again in the fifth leg, but didn’t get a dart at bull after missing a big number. That allowed Dolan to step in and trim the deficit to a single leg.

However, Klaasen was clinical on his throw the rest of the way, winning five of his six legs in 15 darts or fewer.

The winning double seemed elusive, as Klaasen missed six darts over the last two legs at double. But he eventually pinned double nine for the 6-4 victory.

“I’m happy with the way I played,” Klaasen told Love The Darts after the match. “I know I missed a few doubles at the end, but a 97 average isn’t bad.”

The win follows off a quarter-final run two weeks ago in Mannheim, Klaasen’s best run since having surgery on his wrist in May.

“I’ve been practicing one or two (hours) every day because I can’t practice too much yet,” Klaasen said. “But the feeling is good, and wins like this give you confidence.

“Confidence is maybe 90 per cent (of where I’ve struggled since the surgery).”

Joe Cullen put in the performance of the afternoon—and one of the best all year on the European Tour—averaging 113.77 in a 6-1 win over Richie Corner.

Corner broke in the first leg with a 120-out after Cullen missed double 18, but Corner didn’t get another chance the entire match. Cullen won the next five legs in 12, 13, 12, 12, and 13 darts, including two 87 outshots and a 147.

He then finished the match with a 116 out for a 15-darter. Cullen missed only five darts at double the entire match.

Later in the day, Yorkshire’s Peter Jacques won through to his first final day of European Tour action, defeating Benito van de Pas 6-2 while averaging 97.55.

“I want to progress,” Jacques said. “I feel as though I’ve had building blocks all the time, and the next stage was to get to the final day of a Euro Tour.”

Van de Pas started strongly, breaking in the first leg, but barely got a look the rest of the way. Jacques immediately broke back, taking out double 19 for a 14-darter, before breaking again with an 11-darter in leg six for a 4-2 lead.

There was no way back from there, as Jacques took out 77 to hold in leg seven, before closing the match out on double nine. Jacques only missed four darts at double for the match.

“I improved a lot on yesterday,” Jacques said. “My finishing is sometimes what let’s me down, but you can’t argue with that (performance).”

Gerwyn Price started the afternoon with a victory, beating Ireland’s Steve Lennon 6-4. Both players traded blows early, with Price taking out 167 to break and Lennon a 110 to break straight back.

There were near misses too, with Lennon wiring the bull for a 161 of his own, and Price twice missing double eight, once for a 124, and later for a 136.

However, Price was too much in the end for the young Irishman, as he took out double two to win the match. Price—who was over the ton much of the way—averaged just over 99 for the match.

Ian White overcame a slow start in the second match to beat Keegan Brown 6-3. The two exchanged breaks in the first two legs, including a 22-darter by Brown in the first leg, before White found his groove, wheeling off four legs on the spin. Brown pegged two back, but White took out double 10 to finish the job.

Mervyn King was also a winner Saturday, as he beat Greece’s John Michael 6-2. Michael actually had the higher of the averages, as he averaged just under 95, but King created more chances, as he had 18 darts at double.

In the final leg, both players were left on 121, with Michael missing the bull. King would not let him back in, as he took out the 121 for the match. King and Michael then performed Michael’s trademark Greek dance before Michael departed the stage.

The next two matches featured strong performances from the Huybrechts brothers, as both Kim and Ronny won through.

First, Kim Huybrechts put in the second-highest average of the afternoon, averaging over 99 in a 6-1 win over Christian Kist.

Kist never got going. He managed only two darts at double over the first five legs, and six for the match.

Kim Huybrechts meanwhile was clinical. Although he only had one 180, he had 11 scores of 131+ in the match, as he progressed into Sunday.

Brother Ronny then followed suit, defeating an out-of-form Cristo Reyes 6-4. Reyes never felt comfortable on stage, as Ronny Huybrechts broke twice in the first three legs for a 3-0 lead.

Ronny Huybrechts let Reyes hang around, missing eight doubles in legs four, five, and seven. Reyes punished each time, trimming the deficit to 4-3.

But Ronny Huybrechts—who went six darts into a perfect leg in leg six—was much the better player, and rolled out with a comfortable victory over the Spaniard.

Picture: PDC Europe

Sweden’s Dennis Nilsson hails first-round win over Steve Beaton in International Darts Open as ‘one of the best wins of my career’

Sweden’s Dennis Nilsson pulled off the night’s biggest upset, as he knocked out former World Champion Steve Beaton, while Kyle Anderson and Ronny Huybrechts both put in top shelf performances, in the first round of the HappyBet International Darts Open.

Nilsson and Beaton each hit a pair of ton-plus outs in the early stages, but it was the Swede who moved in front, taking a 5-3 lead. However, Beaton battled back to level at 5-5.

Beaton had the darts in the decider and left 32 after 12, but he missed three at double. Nilsson then stepped in and took out 106 for the match, 6-5.

“(Beaton)’s one of the best on tour,” Nilsson said. “I’ve played the World Championships, Winmau World Masters. This is one of the best wins of my career.

“When he missed in the last leg, I just think, give me one chance. And I took it.”

Meanwhile, Kyle Anderson had the only 100+ average of the night, as he beat Jerry Hendriks 6-1. Anderson was consistent throughout, only missing two darts at double, highlighted by a 130-out in leg two.

“Now, it’s all coming together,” Anderson said. “I’m feeling comfortable hitting doubles now. It’s all coming together as one.”

Yet Anderson still feels he can improve on this performance over the rest of the tournament.

“My scoring wasn’t as good as it’s been over the last four or five tournaments. I need to hit more trebles tomorrow.”

Anderson meets fellow Australian Simon Whitlock tomorrow, following off of them meeting in the World Matchplay and a pair of World Series events recently.

“He can score well, I can score well. It’s going to come down to who can hit their doubles.”

Ronny Huybrechts also won through with a quality performance, averaging over 105 for much of the match before finishing with a 94 average and a 6-4 win over Ted Evetts.

“It was for me really important to win this match because it’s the last time the European Championship is in Belgium,” Ronny Huybrechts told the Love The Darts.

“It’s my fifth year in the PDC, and I qualified the two years in Germany, but never in Belgium.”

Huybrechts jumped out into a 5-1 lead, but Evetts wheeled off three legs on the spin, including two breaks of throw, to narrow the margin.

In the tenth leg, Huybrechts left tops after 12, but almost didn’t get a shot. Evetts missed tops for a 116-out and a 15-darter of his own. Huybrechts then took out tops first dart for the match and set up a second-round encounter with Cristo Reyes.

“Cristo is a good friend,” Huybrechts said. “We practice together. But when you’re on stage, you have no friends. I need to play my best game to beat him.”

Greece’s John Michael also won on Friday, overcoming Hungary’s Euro Tour debutant Nandor Bezzeg 6-3. Michael was comfortably better for much of the match, but missed four match darts before finally taking out double 10.

In the second match of the night, Keegan Brown overcame a slow start to beat Michael Plooy 6-4.

Plooy took the first two legs, with Brown averaging under 70, before Brown wheeled off three legs on the spin and five out of six to grab the lead.

Plooy took out 71 to save the match in the ninth leg to save the match. But Brown nailed double top after Plooy missed double 18 to finish the deal.

The German crowd had reason to cheer in the third match, as Max Hopp overcame a game Mark Webster 6-4.

The crowd were for the most part respectful. But they applauded when Webster busted from 20, allowing Hopp to step in to break for 2-1.

Webster seemed rattled from that, as he was left on 224 after 12 in the next leg, but he came back in the next two legs, including a 14-dart break of throw to level at 3-3.

But in the end, the German was too much, as he edged by 6-4 in a match where both players missed a dozen darts at double.

In the fifth match, Peter Jacques moved closer to qualifying for the World Championship, as he overturned a 2-0 deficit to beat Vincent van der Voort 6-4.

Van der Voort could have been even more in front, but he missed eight darts —including five at double four – for a 3-0 lead. Those were amongst 14 darts van der Voort missed at double in the match, with three more coming in the penultimate leg.

Jacques was not much better on the doubles, missing 13 of his own, including three himself in leg nine, but he hit madhouse to go 5-4 up and never looked back.

Richie Corner silenced the hometown crowd, beating Martin Schindler 6-3.

Schindler broke in leg five for a 3-2 lead, but Corner won the next four, including outs of 81, 120, and 147 to book his place in the second round tomorrow.

Picture: PDC Europe

Ireland’s Steve Lennon steals the show on opening session of International Darts Open in Riesa

Irishman Steve Lennon stole the show Friday afternoon at the SACHSENarena in Riesa, averaging just under 100 in a 6-2 win over Simon Stevenson, in the first round of the HappyBet International Darts Open.

“I’m relieved to win,” Lennon told Love The Darts after the match. “It’s my fourth time on the European Tour this year and it’s a relief (to win).”

The victory follows on the back of a successful debut season on the PDC circuit for Lennon, who stands in the race to qualify for the World Championship.

“My original goal for the year was to qualify for the UK Open, the Players Championships, and a few Euro Tours,” Lennon said. “But it’s gone a lot better than expected. I didn’t think I’d be in the race for Ally Pally.”

Seven other players joined Lennon with wins during the first session of play.

In the first match on Friday, Brendan Dolan whitewashed an out-of-sync Andy Hamilton. Dolan was clinical if not spectacular, hitting half his darts at double.

Meanwhile, Hamilton only had darts at double in two legs, and kept changing his speed of play to play to no avail.

Darren Webster also kept his hot run of form going, beating Luke Woodhouse 6-4 while averaging over 95. Webster kept his cool under pressure, and took out the last three legs, including a 138 out to level in the eighth leg.

Christian Kist was also a winner, as he overcame a slow start to beat Justin Pipe in a last-leg decider.

Kist was averaging 65 through the first two legs, but came back from two breaks of throw down to win.

Pipe had checkouts of 150 and 164, and wired double 7 for a 122. But his game deserted him late, and Kist punished with a 15-dart hold in the final leg.

Later, Chris Quantock put in one of his best performances on the European Tour stage, as he dispatched of host nation qualifier Dragutin Horvat 6-3.

Quantock was 60 per cent on the doubles, and very well could have won 6-1 had Horvat not taken out a 164 outshot—which alongside Justin Pipe was the highest outshot of the session—to stay alive in the seventh leg.

Willie O’Connor joined compatriot Steve Lennon in the second round, beating Dimitri van den Bergh 6-4.

Van den Bergh missed 13 darts at double, including two in the final leg, as O’Connor got the victory despite the lower average.

Mick McGowan could not make it a trio of Irishman into Saturday’s play, as Ron Meulenkamp won his first match on the European Tour this year, 6-1.

Both players struggled to put in big scores, but Meulenkamp created more opportunities in the entire match. He took out ton-plus shots in the first leg, and never let McGowan back in.

In the final match of the afternoon, Josh Payne defeated Germany’s Bernd Roith 6-4.

Roith battled back from 4-2 down to level at 4-4, but Payne took out legs of 14 and 16 to see himself over the line.

Picture: PDC Europe