MICHAEL VAN GERWEN made a strong return to action with a quick-fire 6-1 win over Jeffrey de Zwaan as he began his bid to win a fourth successive Dutch Darts Masters title on Saturday.
The World Champion has enjoyed a month’s break for the birth of his first child, a daughter Zoe, and missed the World Series of Darts treble-header in New Zealand and Australia.
However, Van Gerwen showed few signs of a lack of match practice by needing less than 12 minutes to sweep aside fellow Dutchman De Zwaan in front of a European Tour record crowd of 5,000 fans at the MECC in Maastricht.
The world number one took the game’s first two legs before De Zwaan landed a 180 in an 11-darter to claim leg three – but that served only to fire up Van Gerwen.
A brilliant 160 finish, for a 12-darter, restored Van Gerwen’s cushion before a 13-darter gave him breathing space, and finishes of double two and double 16 sealed his spot in Sunday’s final stages.
“I’ve become a daddy and it’s a big step in my life,” said Van Gerwen. “I’ve had to get back on the practice board and get ready, and in the last week I’ve practised a few times and I did okay.
“I didn’t make a lot of mistakes and I’m up for tomorrow, it’s a big day.”
Van Gerwen now faces a tough third round tie against Australian Kyle Anderson, who won the Auckland Darts Masters and followed up Friday’s brilliant first round defeat of Justin Pipe with a 100 average as he defeated Mervyn King 6-3.
King hit back from 3-0 down to trail just 4-3, but Anderson took out 83 to halt his rival’s fightback before sealing victory with a 13-darter.
Peter Wright overcame the loss of his luggage when travelling to Maastricht as well as a huge scare from Jim Walker before sneaking through to the third round to begin his bid for a fifth European Tour win of the year.
Wright had to borrow darts from Simon Whitlock and buy one of his own replica shirts from the merchandise stand at the event ahead of the game, which he finally won in a deciding leg – but only after Walker wired the bull for a 121 checkout.
Wright’s third round opponent will be Rob Cross, the 2017 shooting star who averaged almost 106, landed five 180s and finished six doubles from 13 attempts to see off Jamie Lewis 6-1.
Former Dutch Darts Masters champion Whitlock landed seven 180s and a 177 in a heavy-scoring 6-4 win over Kirk Shepherd in a game of brilliant quality.
Legs of 14, 13 and 11 darts gave Whitlock a 3-0 lead and he opened the fourth with scores of 180 and 177, only to see his missed attempt at a nine-darter punished in style with a stunning 170 checkout from Shepherd.
The former World Championship finalist took three of the next four and levelled the match at four-all with an 11-darter in leg eight, but Whitlock matched that – after setting up another nine-darter attempt with two 180s – as he broke Shepherd’s resistance to seal the win.
“I’m very happy with that,” said the Australian. “I was on a couple of nine-darters and I’m getting close again, but Kirk played amazing darts, the best I’ve seen him play for a long time so hats off to him.
“I’m getting better every game and I’m here to win again. I feel as though I can win and that’s important.”
Whitlock now plays Welshman Robert Owen, whose best run on the European Tour continued as he took out 120 in the deciding leg of his 11-leg tussle with Spain’s Cristo Reyes.
Belgium’s Mike De Decker also enjoyed a narrow 6-5 win as he ousted Alan Norris, despite the Englishman landing seven 180s in their last 32 clash.
De Decker now meets Scottish qualifier John Henderson, who was outstanding in a 6-3 win over Ian White, averaging 104.30 and hitting 50 percent of his chances at a double.
Gerwyn Price was another seeded star to exit in round two as he lost out in a deciding leg to Germany’s Martin Schindler, who came from 3-0 down and survived missed match darts before taking victory with a 13-darter.
Number three seed Mensur Suljovic exited at the hands of Steve Beaton, who led 4-0 before holding off the Austrian’s fightback to claim a 6-3 win and move through to a meeting with Schindler.
Daryl Gurney, the Dutch Darts Masters finalist two years ago, impressed with a 102.80 average, six 180s, a 111 checkout and 6/11 on his doubles as he overcame Steve West 6-2.
The Northern Irish ace now takes on former World Youth Championship runner-up Nathan Aspinall, who also topped a 102 average in a superb 6-1 defeat of Dutch ace Benito van de Pas.
Jelle Klaasen was another home hope to be eliminated in Maastricht as he lost out 6-3 to Poland’s Krzysztof Ratajski, who opened the game with a 170 checkout and led 4-0 before defying a 164 checkout from his rival to close out the win.
Ratajski now meets another Dutchman, Christian Kist, after the former Lakeside Champion won through to the final day of a European Tour event for the first time with a 6-4 defeat of former Dutch Darts Masters champion Kim Huybrechts, sealing the win with a 126 checkout.
Joe Cullen, a two-time Players Championship winner this year, battled to a narrow 6-5 win over Dutch qualifier Jimmy Hendriks as he progressed to a third round meeting with Michael Smith.
Smith, May’s Gibraltar Darts Trophy, found himself 2-1 down in the early stages of his clash with Rowby-John Rodriguez, before reeling off five successive legs to claim victory.
The £135,000 tournament concludes on Sunday, with the afternoon session’s third round followed in the evening session by the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.
Coverage can be watched online through PDCTV-HD at www.pdc.tv as well as through a series of bookmakers’ websites worldwide.
2017 Dutch Darts Masters
Saturday September 2
Robert Owen 6-5 Cristo Reyes
Mike De Decker 6-5 Alan Norris
Rob Cross 6-1 Jamie Lewis
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-3 Jelle Klaasen
Martin Schindler 6-5 Gerwyn Price
John Henderson 6-3 Ian White
Joe Cullen 6-5 Jimmy Hendriks
Kyle Anderson 6-3 Mervyn King
Nathan Aspinall 6-1 Benito van de Pas
Daryl Gurney 6-2 Steve West
Simon Whitlock 6-4 Kirk Shepherd
Michael van Gerwen 6-1 Jeffrey de Zwaan
Peter Wright 6-5 Jim Walker
Christian Kist 6-4 Kim Huybrechts
Michael Smith 6-2 Rowby-John Rodriguez
Steve Beaton 6-3 Mensur Suljovic
Sunday September 3
Afternoon Session (1pm-5pm local time, 12pm-4pm BST)
Michael van Gerwen v Kyle Anderson
Nathan Aspinall v Daryl Gurney
Michael Smith v Joe Cullen
Simon Whitlock v Robert Owen
Peter Wright v Rob Cross
Christian Kist v Krzysztof Ratajski
John Henderson v Mike De Decker
Steve Beaton v Martin Schindler
Evening Session (7pm-11pm local time, 6pm-10pm BST)
Van Gerwen/Anderson v Aspinall/Gurney
Smith/Cullen v Whitlock/Owen
Wright/Cross v Kist/Ratajski
Henderson/De Decker v Beaton/Schindler