We have now caught a glimpse of every one of the ninety-five competitors at this world championship, and already just thirty-two remain. For some it was a case of getting over the line, but for many it was about making a strong start at their world title tilt or solid run. And, not for the first time, it was a certain ‘Green Machine’ catching the headlines.
As I said in my preview piece, there have been a lot of question marks hanging over Michael van Gerwen’s form this year, and for largely valid reasons. And perhaps this was in the world number one’s mind as he toed the oche on the 19th December. It is not the first time we have witnessed his blinding excellence up on the Alexandra Palace stage, and his opponent Ryan Murray could have done little more in preventing his victory than he was able to do, which was a very commendable set victory. Murray did have the darts in the fourth set to force a decider but missed a double ten. MvG swept up on 76 and booked his place in the last 32 of the PDC World Championship. He will undoubtedly be happy with the solidity of his performance but knows it is the later stages of this competition which have caught him out in years passed, and may be eyeing a potential quarter-final encounter with Dimitri van den Bergh, who ousted Paul Lim from the competition, as a stumbling block.
Two men who won’t be returning to the PDC Worlds after the Christmas break are the 2011 and 2012 PDC World champion Adrian Lewis and 2018 PDC World champion Rob Cross. Lewis found himself on the end of an impressive performance from the American Danny Baggish, who defeated ‘Jackpot’ by 3 sets to 1. After racing into a 2 set lead, Baggish survived a comeback from Lewis, who took the third set with a 127 checkout, to reach the third round. That makes him the last remaining North American in the competition and the most successful North American in the PDC World Championship since John Part reached the same last 32 point in 2014. It was the Dutchman ‘Aubergenius’ Dirk van Duijvenbode who defeated an out-of-form Rob Cross in the second round. He put on an impressive display of darts and facial expressions as he gritted his way to a 3-2 victory before rewarding the Sky Sports team with an almost monologic speech which would make William Shakespeare eat his heart out. He is fast becoming one of the most enjoyable players to watch on the circuit and will face Adam Hunt in the next round.
Christmas in 2020: MvG celebrates his very unusual isolated Christmas with friend and fellow Worlds competitor Vincent van der Voort
Also making a surprising early departure was Michael Smith, out to 2020 PDC Q-School tour card winner Jason Lowe. Smith may have been hoping for Peter Wright-esque fortunes at this championship by crossing that final hurdle of a major final but it is not to be for this year. All credit to Lowe who hit 7 180s en route to the last 32, where he will now face the dangerous Devon Petersen. On the opening day of the event, defending champion Peter Wright comfortably made it past Steve West in a match where it was more his outfit which got the press talking. He donned a Grinch look as he made easy work of West to avoid any unwanted early upset.
In other notable encounters, Glen Durrant made it to the last 32 of the 2021 Worlds by defeating ‘Braziliant’ Diogo Portela. For Portela, winning a match at the World Championship for the first time, after three previous attempts, was an achievement enough. He may have been disappointed, however, to not push an average ‘Duzza’ a little more, but it was enough from the number 12 seed to make it through. Mensur Suljovic was in fine form as he dismissed Matthew Edgar in the last 64 of the event. After not playing in the Players Championship Finals, the Austrian came into the competition as a bit of an unknown quantity and was facing an Edgar bolstered by victory over Maik Kuivenhoven. It has never quite worked for the number 20 seed Suljovic at this event in previous years, but if he plays like that he could be very hard to beat.
Looking to the last 32, matches that particularly stand out include Grand Slam champ Jose de Sousa against Mervyn King, Krzysztof Ratajski versus Simon Whitlock and Gary Anderson against Mensur Suljovic, which will be very watchable if it can even half-replicate their 2018 World Matchplay final classic. The 16 third round matches will be played out over the days of the 27th, 28th and 29th December, for which a schedule can be found here. There is certainly no clear name etched into the trophy yet with plenty of arrows to be thrown, but the next few days will narrow down the field even further.