Brendan Dolan caused one of the biggest upsets in Betfred World Matchplay history with a sensational win over defending champion Michael van Gerwen on matchday two in Blackpool.
Dolan – who made a name for himself with his nine darts at the World Grand Prix in 2011 – created another slice of big stage history to stun the conquering Dutchman at the Winter Gardens.
Sunday’s exceptional double session saw eight first-round encounters take place at the Empress Ballroom, as world champion Michael Smith launched his title with a comfortable win over Steve Beaton.
However, it was Dolan who grabbed the headlines with a shock 10-7 success over Van Gerwen, who became only the third defending champion in the 30-year history of World Matchplay to lose in the first round.
The Dutchman paid the price for a slow start as Dolan opened up a 4-1 cushion, but Van Gerwen’s spectacular 132 and 137 finishes in the second session saw him level at five apiece.
Dolan was undeterred, however, converting 75, 76 and a pair of 62 combinations in the closing stages, before punishing two missed double darts from Van Gerwen for 8-9 to triumph at the double three.
“To beat Michael van Gerwen on a big stage, I’m over the moon,” said the Northern Irishman, celebrating his first World Matchplay victory since 2016.
“Michael was amazing in Poland last weekend. I know he’s in pain after his surgery and trying to recover, and he wasn’t the Michael we expected tonight.
“Obviously the highlight of my career was the nine darts and the win over James Wade in the semi-final of the World Grand Prix, but this victory is definitely on point.”
😃 “Awesome feeling!”
🎯 @BrendanDolan180 looks back on his huge win over defending champion Michael van Gerwen.
—Betfred (@Betfred) July 16, 2023
World number one Smith avoided the same fate as Van Gerwen, defying a subpar performance to defeat the evergreen Beaton, who was making his 22nd appearance in a world match at the age of 59.
The opening rallies were dominated by missed doubles, but a majestic 161 finish from Smith in the fifth leg catapulted him into a 4-1 lead, and the St Helens star converted two more finishes two tons to wrap up a comprehensive 10-2 victory. .
“I didn’t miss anything in training, but I came here and didn’t produce,” conceded Smith, frustrated with his performance, despite the result.
“I think I tried too hard tonight instead of relaxing. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I’m still in the tournament and I will get the win.
“I won lousy, and that’s something I wasn’t able to do a few years ago. I know the game is there, and I hope to be able to produce it on Tuesday night.
Smith’s reward is a showdown against Chris Dobey, who ended his winless run at the Winter Gardens with a 10-8 victory over 2007 winner James Wade, shooting in eight 180s to fend off a stubborn, trailing Wade 6-1 at one point.
Dobey surrendered an 8-2 lead against Rob Cross at this event 12 months ago, and despite another dream start he saw his lead evaporate as Wade won four of the next five sets in 14, 11, 13 and 12 darts.
Nonetheless, the Bedlington star regained his composure to advance 9-6 with a sublime 141 checkout, before overcoming three missed match-darts on two legs to triumph with a two-dart 80 kill.
“I’m relieved. There were so many thoughts going through my head when I missed those match darts,” admitted Dobey, who had lost all three of his previous World Matchplay matches.
“You can’t afford to give James Wade chances like this. He’s still punishing you, but I managed to keep my cool at the end, so I’m glad about that.
Elsewhere, Luke Humphries has produced the tournament performance so far in his 10-2 demolition of Jose de Sousa, averaging nearly 102 to see the former Grand Slam champion.
Humphries recorded just four visits without a hat-trick in the entire contest, landing six 180s and converting 42% of his doubles attempts to set up a mouthwatering 16 draw against Dirk van Duijvenbode.
“I felt really good up there,” said Humphries, who won a fifth European Tour title and a second Players Championship crown in the past fortnight.
“I came here last year and didn’t perform so I wanted to prove a point tonight. I wanted to show that I can do it on the big TV stage, not just on the European tour.
“I’ve been playing darts very well for two or three years, and I think all my career needs now is a major title. What better place to do that than here? It would be an incredible feeling. .
Van Duijvenbode, meanwhile, won with a thrilling tie-break against Kim Huybrechts to condemn the Belgian in his eighth first-round outing in nine World Matchplay appearances.
Huybrechts sent the contest into extra time after Van Duijvenbode missed the double 14 for a decisive 142, and the former world runner-up quickly seized the initiative with a 108 checkout on Stage 19.
However, Huybrechts then fended off two darts at double 16 for an 11-9 success, and after pinning the highs to stay alive, Van Duijvenbode conjured legs of 11 and 13 darts to complete the turnover.
Nathan Aspinall will renew his rivalry with Danny Noppert in the Last 16 on Tuesday, after the duo enjoyed deadly encounters against Krzysztof Ratajski and Martin Schindler respectively.
Aspinall fired an eight 180 in their 10-7 win over 2021 semi-finalist Ratajski, producing a monstrous 151 checkout to go 7-4 in front, before sealing his progress with a superb 12-dart leg.
“I know what Krzysztof can do. We always have fantastic matches,” said Aspinall, a back-to-back World Matchplay quarter-finalist.
“The crowd was amazing. Every time I come to Blackpool I get so much support. I love playing here and I’m so happy to have won for them.
“I’m really happy with my game. I feel like I’m on cloud nine, and when Nathan is happy, he’s pretty good at it!
Meanwhile, Noppert – a semi-finalist last year – survived a late scare to see Martin Schindler, who fought back from 8-4 down to reduce the backlog to 9-8.
Noppert – aided by 115, 76, 82 and 81 finishes – took a four-set lead before Schindler rallied, although a nerveless 112 finish over the Dutchman’s highs on stage 16 halted Schindler’s charge .
Earlier today, Damon Heta celebrated his first victory on the famous Winter Gardens stage; dumping very whimsical newbie Josh Rock in his first game.
Australia number one Heta sported a baggy green cap and his cricket bat for his Ashes-inspired walk-on, and it was Rock who was bowled over by an impressive display from the former World Cup winner.
Heta took an 8-3 lead with a five-game streak, and he challenged Youth World Champion Rock’s skin-saving 125 and 112 combinations to seal his progress.
The first round of Betfred World Matchplay ends on Monday night, as former champions Peter Wright and Dimitri Van den Bergh enter the fray against Andrew Gilding and Ross Smith respectively.
Elsewhere, Raymond van Barneveld will make his World Matchplay return against 15th seed Ryan Searle, before Wales World Cup winner Jonny Clayton takes on Germany number one Gabriel Clemens.
Click here for match stats and results
Betfred World Matchplay 2023
Sunday July 16
4x first round
Danny Noppert 10-8 Martin Schindler
Dirk van Duijvenbode 12-10 Kim Huybrechts
Damon Heta 10-5 Josh Rock
Chris Dobey 10-8 James Wade
4x first round
Nathan Aspinall 10-7 Krzysztof Ratajski
Luke Humphries 10-2 Jose de Sousa
Brendan Dolan 10-7 Michael van Gerwen
Michael Smith 10-2 Steve Beaton
Monday July 17 (1900 BST)
4x first round
Dimitri Van den Bergh vs. Ross Smith
Ryan Searle vs. Raymond van Barneveld
Peter Wright vs. Andrew Gilding
Jonny Clayton vs. Gabriel Clemens
LiveScores now available on IrishScores.com