• PDC World Darts Championship

Van Gerwen survives scare to reach second round

ESPN staff
December 18, 2014
Michael van Gerwen was pushed hard by Joe Cullen in a thrilling match at Alexandra Palace © Getty Images

Michael van Gerwen was given the fright of his life as he kicked off the defence of his PDC World Darts Championship title against Joe Cullen at London's Alexandra Palace.

The Dutchman, who has been in imperious form since defeating Peter Wright to lift the trophy last January, was pushed all the way by Cullen, but eventually sealed a 3-1 win to progress to the second round.

"A win is a win but Joe put me under a lot of pressure there," Van Gerwen said. "He played very well. I felt a little bit of pressure to begin, being defending champion, and Joe is a fantastic player.

"I hit eight 180s but I need to concentrate more - I made too many mistakes tonight. I can't do that in my next match because sooner or later, I'll get punished for that. But I'll enjoy the moment."

Van Gerwen started explosively, throwing a 180 on just his second visit to the oche, but Cullen topped that with a 161 checkout to draw first blood in a tense encounter. The reigning champion was forced to rely on a deciding leg to claim the opening set and he was clearly far from his fluent best.

The second set followed in a similar fashion, with Van Gerwen throwing big scores only to be matched by Cullen. The Dutchman hit two 180s before Cullen missed darts for the set and the Englishman found himself 2-0 down.

Cullen's efforts were eventually rewarded as he claimed the third leg, but an out-of-sorts Van Gerwen had enough class to claim the fourth set and the match.

Spanish qualifier Cristo Reyes caused an upset knocking out 13th seed Wes Newton on a deciding leg, following a thrilling five-set encounter. Reyes moved into a two-set lead but Newton fought back to level, before the pair couldn't be separated in the fifth.

However Reyes, who beat Christian Perez of the Philippines 4-0 in their preliminary tie earlier that evening, held his nerve to land double 16 for the biggest win of his career to date.

"Playing in the preliminary round helped a lot with the nerves, I was far less nervous coming back then I was in the preliminary round," said Reyes. "I'll be going back to Tenerife now for Christmas and then we'll come back on the 17th I think, I didn't have a flight booked back obviously but we'll sort that out."

Earlier, debutant Keegan Brown survived a determined fightback from John Part to claim victory in the opening match of the competition.

Brown, 22, raced to a two-set lead on his first appearance at Ally Pally before three-time champion Part battled back to level it at 2-2.

But reigning world youth champion Brown, who works as a lab assistant on the Isle of Wight, had enough composure to claim the deciding set by a convincing three legs to nil.

"There was no added pressure playing the opening match," Brown said. "[PDC chairman] Barry Hearn was speaking to me beforehand and it's true what he said. Everyone at the start is just settling down and then it gets louder and louder throughout the evening. I'm glad I was playing the first game.

"Unfortunately there is no Christmas break for me - I'm back to work in the lab on Monday morning. I'll be juggling work and practising. And I'll be working Christmas Day and Boxing Day as planned, really, before coming back a week on Sunday."

"John showed that he is a true professional and true world champion out there. Being two sets down, most players would have crumbled and lost 3-0 but John didn't. I'm just thankful I got the victory.

In other action, Jelle Klaasen was victorious in his all-Dutch encounter with Christian Kist, coming back from a late wobble to win 3-1.

Klaasen, the No.29 seed, edged the first two sets 3-2 before Kist hit back to take the third. But Klaasen ensured there would be no upset by wrapping up the final set by a regulation three legs to nil, sealing his place in the second round.

Keegan Brown raced to a two-set lead before John Part battled back © Getty Images
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