Michael van Gerwen fought back from 3-1 down and survived two match darts to beat Joe Cullen 4-3 in a final-set, last-leg shoot-out to keep alive his hopes of a fourth World Darts Championship title.
The Dutchman, champion in 2014, 2017 and 2019, has never lost a quarter-final in the event and he will await the winner of the match between Dave Chisnall and Dimitri Van den Bergh in the last eight after one of his most remarkable victories.
A tournament that had already lost six of the world’s top 10, including the defending champion Peter Wright, looked like losing its biggest name when Englishman Cullen stormed into a 3-1 lead amid a barrage of 180s.
The pair shared 28 maximum 180s in a thrilling contest which had 34 spectacular legs of darts and saw Cullen twice miss a dart at bullseye to send the world No 1 packing. But ‘MvG’ kept his composure to cross the finish line after 16th-seed Cullen’s scoring power deserted him when he needed it most
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Van Gerwen back from the brink to keep title dream alive
MvG arrived in north London hoping to become just the fourth man to win more than three world darts titles, and he will head into the new year with that dream still alive, but only after a stunning shoot-out with Cullen.
‘The Rock Star’ had won two of his last three meetings with the world No 1, both in European Tour finals, and he fired a record-equalling 19 maximum 180s in a match that had everything, apart from a crowd who would have lapped it up.
In front of a silent and deserted West Hall the pair started fast and did not slow down. Cullen claimed the opener but only after missing five for the set at 2-1 following a miscount that left him on double three.
He missed another two at 2-2 to give MvG a chance but the Dutchman missed a pair of his own at the outer ring and, finally, with his 10th set dart, Cullen had the lead following a set that had enough drama for many a contest.
When Englishman Cullen missed double nine for a 2-0 lead in sets, Van Gerwen was ruthless in taking out 52 for a level contest but that was the cue for Cullen to go supersonic. A third set also went the distance, Cullen doing enough to pinch it and then up the ante with the first three-figure finish for the first break of throw.
Back came Van Gerwen with a break of his own, but, having hit 50 per cent of his darts at double to that point, Van Gerwen faltered at the key moment, wilting under relentless Cullen pressure to miss three darts to level the match at 2-2 and the 16th seed took out 85 to stand one set away at 3-1.
Van Gerwen needed to win three sets without response to keep alive his hopes and he stormed into a 2-0 lead in the fifth set, which he wrapped up. It was to be the only set that did not go the distance and the Dutchman then dodged his first bullet at 2-2 in the sixth set.
A 17th Cullen 180 left him on 90 and, when Van Gerwen could not take out 138, The Rock Star was left needing the bullseye for the match. He missed his target and MvG levelled at three sets apiece.
In the deciding set, Cullen missed a second dart at bullseye, this time for a remarkable 164 which would have seen him across the finish line. Van Gerwen mopped up and when Cullen needed his scoring power most in the decider it failed him as Van Gerwen crossed the finish line a relieved man.
Van Gerwen has had a below-par season by his own high standards, but after averaging 106 and 107 in his first two matches, he averaged 100 and fired in nine 180s in a match that showed he has the desire for title number four.
Either Van den Bergh or Chisnall will have to go something to beat him after MvG withstood Cullen’s very best.
Wednesday’s Fourth Round matches
Live World Darts Championship
December 30, 2020, 12:00pm
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Ratajski squeezes through final-leg thriller
After James Wade’s exit earlier on Tuesday, opportunity knocks in the bottom half of the draw and Poland’s Krzysztof Ratajski became the first man in that section into the last eight with a thrilling 4-3 win over Germany’s Gabriel Clemens.
There was nothing between the pair throughout as they played out 34 of a possible 35 legs, with the most dramatic of conclusions in a last-leg decider.
Locked at 3-3 in sets and 2-2 in legs, Ratajski blew his third and fourth match darts to give Clemens a chance of a 107 finish. The German missed a dart at double 16 but that was just the beginning as two more went begging for Ratajski, only for Clemens to waste another three of his own.
Remarkably there was time for the pair to miss the outer ring with three more darts each before Ratajski finally sealed the win, fittingly pinning double one before sinking to his knees.
Playing in the fourth round for the first time, both men underlined the growth of the game in Europe, neither Poland nor Germany had had a player at this stage before and it is Ratajski whose history-making run continues after claiming seven Pro and European Tour titles over the last couple of years.
Clemens claimed the first two legs of the contest, but Ratajski stormed back to win the opener, a classy 13-darter giving ‘The Polish Eagle’ the lead, but that did not last long as German No 1 Clemens stormed back to level the match.
That set the tone as the pair held firm on their own throw throughout. Level at 2-2, Ratajski pinched the fifth to keep his nose in front only to be pegged back by Clemens in the sixth, having fashioned a sniff of a break.
Five brilliant darts from Clemens saw him clean up 212 to level at 3-3 after Ratajski had left a bogey 165. The pair split the first two legs of the decider and when Ratajski blew two darts for the match at 2-1 Clemens levelled again, but that was just the start of the drama where the Pole eventually prevailed.
Chisnall rallies to see off Noppert
In the final match of the third round Dave Chisnall won the battle of former BDO World Championship runners-up, rallying from 2-0 down to beat Danny Noppert 4-2 and book a last-16 date with World Matchplay champion Dimitri Van den Bergh.
‘Chizzy’ was beaten by Martin Adams at the Lakeside in 2010, while ‘Noppie’ lost to Glen Durrant in the 2017 BDO showpiece – but it is Chisnall, the eighth seed, whose dream of lifting the Sid Waddell Trophy remains alive.
The St Helens thrower had to do things the hard way having been on the receiving end of an early barrage from Noppert who claimed the first six legs of the contest, with a back-to-back pair of 120 finishes the highlight.
However, that was as good as it got for Noppert, the 25th seed, who revealed a change in nickname for his walk-on. Having adopted his new moniker ‘The Freeze’, the man from Joure in the Netherlands froze and managed just two more legs.
Having averaged 109 in the second set without winning a leg, the signs were there for Chisnall who proceeded to average 100 and win the third set. Three more followed in quick succession as Chizzy upped his 180-count to seven and levelled the match.
Consecutive shanghais from Noppy. That’s not a sentence I’ve ever typed before. Perhaps no one has. Noppy is @Dannynoppert and a Shanghai is an an all 20s out of 120, which should clear up any confusion.
He lost just one more leg on the way, Noppert managing a 160 to stem the flow, but it was Chisnall who eased into his date with ‘The Dreammaker’ on Wednesday night, where he will hope to match his performance in two of the last three years in making the last eight – the furthest he has gone in the PDC tournament.
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