First Round Finale

Red Dragon Darts

What does a good first round look like?

By the close of play on 23rd December, as the lights temporarily come down on the Alexandra Palace, all World Championship seeds and big hitters will have kicked off their campaigns.

Each first round clash (or in this case second) tells a tale in itself, some of rampant victory and others of troublesome tribulations. But, if your a seeded target, what does a good first round actually look like?

If you are Michael Smith, this year’s defending champion, you will no doubt feel that little bit lighter having come through a tough opener. His performance against Kevin Doets was steely and determined, a match which may well have fallen through his fingers on another day.

It was a reminder of the work Smith put in in the lead up to his Grand Slam and then World Championship win in the 2022 season to find that extra edge in tough moments.

Crucially too it reminded his detractors that he is still a red hot contender and surely the out-and-out favourite to get through his quarter of the draw.

Meanwhile for Luke Humphries, Michael van Gerwen and Gerwyn Price, their first round encounters proved a whole lot less exacting. In all their match-ups, they had opponents who seemed a little caught under the headlights, struggling against the onslaught.

In some ways, there is no worse format to play these big boys in than a best-of-5 set encounter, when all it takes is a 5 minute bad spell to totally lose control of the match. Price’s challenger Connor Scutt in particular seemed to not establish his natural rhythm, a disjointed release hastening his exit from the competition.

Then again, you are playing opponents with one match under their belt already, and no doubt that helped Jim Williams as he eased to victory over Peter Wright.

The Scotsman may have had a very indifferent 2023, but he has won 2 out of the last 4 championships and can be hard to stop when in the groove. Williams certainly had no finishing line-itis, ensuring he wouldn’t be overawed even if Wright wasn’t going to do that for him.

You also get some first round clashes which catch the whole draw alight and send reverberations far beyond one’s own quarter. That can definitely be said for Luke Littler’s seamless rout of Christian Kist yesterday evening, a win of epic proportions.

In victory, he bettered the leading average of the tournament so far by 6 points and put in what must surely be the most impressive debut innings seen at the Alexandra Palace. But can even that have its pitfalls?

Luckily, Littler only has to wait until this evening to prove his first tie was no Worlds aberration, not that many are speculating that anyway.

Up against UK Open Champion Andrew Gilding, we may well see the extents of The Nuke’s B game or how he will respond to different rhythm and more sustained pressure.

So what does a good first round look like?

Here’s my checklist:

1. Don’t leave north London with nagging doubts about form, whether you edged through a 3-2 classic or ran away with a 3-0 demolition job.
2. Whether backed to do things or not, leave your potential future opponents with little doubt about your danger.
3. And most simply…don’t get beat. You still want to be in the mix, after all.


Images: Taylor Lanning and or PDC


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