AND THE DARTS ARE BACK!

SMITH CONTINUES TITLE DEFENCE, AS VAN GERWEN & LITTLER EASE THROUGH

Reigning champion Michael Smith continued the defence of his Paddy Power World Darts Championship title with victory over Madars Razma on Wednesday, as Michael van Gerwen and Luke Littler also eased through to round four.

Following a three-day Christmas break, the sport’s showpiece event resumed in style at London’s Alexandra Palace, with Smith, Van Gerwen and Littler all progressing on a star-studded night of action.

Smith, who is aiming to become only the fourth player in World Championship history to win back-to-back titles, recovered from a sluggish start to see off Latvia’s number one Razma in a gruelling affair.

Razma silenced the partisan crowd after producing a timely 14-darter to draw first blood in the opening set, before Smith won six of the next eight legs to seize control of the tie and lead 2-1.

The Latvian then spurned two darts at double to restore parity in a pivotal fourth set, and Smith capitalised in powering to victory, following up 75 and 80 finishes by crashing in six perfect darts in a stunning final leg.

“I managed to battle hard there and get the win in the end,” declared Smith, who will play either Ross Smith or Chris Dobey for a place in the quarter-finals.

“I’m not happy with the performance, but I’m happy to be in the next round, and hopefully I can find my A-game for the rest of the tournament.

“I wanted to put on a really good performance and I think I tried too hard, but I’m looking forward to playing Ross or Chris, because I know it will be a high-scoring game.”

Van Gerwen, meanwhile, continued his bid for a record fourth Alexandra Palace triumph with a straight-sets demolition of his compatriot Richard Veenstra, in a contest which lasted less than 27 minutes.

Van Gerwen averaged 101 to strike the first blow in the pair’s all-Dutch showdown, before crashing in back-to-back 11-darters to wrap up a stunning second set, in which he averaged 116.

Veenstra rallied briefly to force a deciding-leg in set three, but after registering a 13-darter to stretch his lead to 3-0, an unflappable Van Gerwen capped off a dominant display with a majestic 130 finish.

“I felt comfortable, and I did what I had to do,” reflected Van Gerwen, who averaged 101 and pinned 57% of his attempts at a double.

“I was focused. I was sharp, and the will to win was there. You have to put your opponents under pressure, and that is what I did tonight.

“I don’t care who I play. Whoever comes in your path, you’re not allowed to make any mistakes – I just have to smash them.”

Elsewhere, Littler continued his record-breaking run with a comprehensive 4-1 success against Canada’s Matt Campbell, to become the youngest ever player to progress to the last 16 at the World Championship.

The 16-year-old swept to the opening set in a matter of minutes, before reeling off legs of 14, 12 and 14 darts to double his lead – featuring a magnificent 130 checkout midway through set two.

Littler then punished key misses from Campbell in the latter stages of set three to move to the cusp of glory, only for the Canadian to open his account with a clinical 120 combination in a fourth set decider.

However, the World Youth Champion responded with a sublime 164 checkout to kick off set five, which he followed up with a brilliant 11-darter on his way to another landmark victory.

“It’s unbelievable,” admitted Littler, who averaged 97, landed eight 180s and converted three ton-plus finishes to move through to a last 16 clash against Jim Williams or Raymond van Barneveld.

“Overall, it was a good performance. It wasn’t quite as good as the first round, but I don’t care if I win with the lowest average of the tournament, as long as I get the result.

“I’ve got nothing to lose now, because I’ve already overachieved. Jim is playing well, but it would be unbelievable to play against Raymond on that stage.”

Earlier in the day, Rob Cross progressed to the fourth round with a hard-fought 4-2 victory over a spirited Jeffery de Graff, averaging 101 and landing ten 180s to triumph.

Cross won six of the first eight legs to establish a two-set buffer, and while De Graaf reduced the arrears to 3-2, the 2018 champion averaged 113 in a sensational sixth set, to move through to the last 16 for a third straight year.

In Wednesday’s opener, Scott Williams defied 13 maximums from Martin Schindler to prevail in a seven-set epic, recovering from 2-0 and 3-2 down to reach round four for the first time in his career.

Despite a sluggish start, Williams landed 152 and 146 checkouts to level at 2-2, only for the diminutive German to regain his advantage with a spectacular 161 finish to round off set five.

However, after restoring parity at three sets apiece, Williams followed up a brace of 90 checkouts with a 13-dart break to come through a thrilling tie-break.

Schindler’s World Cup partner Gabriel Clemens also crashed out on an eventful afternoon in the capital, succumbing 4-1 to 2021 semi-finalist Dave Chisnall.

Chisnall won nine out of ten legs in the opening exchanges to establish a commanding lead 3-0, punishing 22 missed darts at double from last year’s semi-finalist to keep his title hopes alive.

The third round action continues with another double session on Thursday, as 2021 champion Gerwyn Price faces Brendan Dolan, while third seed Luke Humphries takes on Germany’s Ricardo Pietreczko.

2023/24 Paddy Power World Darts Championship

Wednesday December 27

Afternoon Session

Third Round

Scott Williams 4-3 Martin Schindler (1-3, 0-3, 3-0, 3-2, 0-3, 3-1, 4-2) (R3)

Dave Chisnall 4-1 Gabriel Clemens (3-1, 3-0, 3-1, 1-3, 3-2) (R3)

Rob Cross 4-2 Jeffrey de Graaf (3-2, 3-0, 2-3, 3-2, 1-3, 3-1) (R3)

Evening Session

Luke Littler 4-1 Matt Campbell (3-0, 3-0, 3-2, 2-3, 3-1) (R3)

Michael van Gerwen 4-0 Richard Veenstra (3-1, 3-1, 3-2, 3-0) (R3)

Michael Smith 4-1 Madars Razma (2-3, 3-1, 3-1, 3-2, 3-1) (R3)

Thursday December 28

Afternoon Session (1230 GMT)

Florian Hempel v Stephen Bunting (R3)

Joe Cullen v Ryan Searle (R3)

Ross Smith v Chris Dobey (R3)

Evening Session (1900 GMT)

Gerwyn Price v Brendan Dolan (R3)

Luke Humphries v Ricardo Pietreczko (R3)

Ricky Evans v Daryl Gurney (R3)

Photos credit Simon O’Connor/PDC

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