Michael Smith defended his PDC World Darts Championship title – but he was pushed all the way by Kevin Doets as the tournament got underway at Alexandra Palace.
Doets, world number 66, had beaten Stowe Buntz 3-0 in Friday’s opening match and looked a dangerous opponent for Smith. The world number 1 started by breaking his opponent’s throw to win the first set 3-1 – but Doets came back to level in the second.
The Dutchman had maintained an average of over 100 in the first two sets, and he carried that form into the third set, holding back the throw in the decider to put Smith under enormous pressure.
Smith, seeking to become only the third player to retain his PDC world title, surged to tie at two sets apiece after Doets missed two darts at double 16. In the first stage of the deciding match, Smith successfully checked out of 142 to break the throw and seemingly take control of the match.
The St Helens star, who won his first Ally Pally title in January with a 7-4 victory over Michael van Gerwen, then showed signs of nerves by missing five darts of the match – but scored a double top of his own throw to cross the finish line with an average of 100.49.
“I almost threw it away a few times,” Smith told Sky Sports. “I had to keep fighting and keep fighting. I didn’t want to go to the last decisive stage, (but) I managed to cross the finish line.
The 33-year-old endured an inconsistent season following his maiden world crown, but insisted defending his title brought extra pressure. “Arriving at Alexandra Palace I felt the same nervousness as last year and that I have felt here every year,” he said.
Simon Whitlock had a five-set battle against Filipino Paolo Nebrida. Both players struggled to hit doubles in a close contest, but former finalist Whitlock hit a double four in the deciding set to set up a second-round meeting with Gary Anderson on Saturday night.
Elsewhere, Scotland Cameron Menzies defeated Austrian Rusty-Jake Rodriguez 3-0. Menzies, who had spent most of Friday in his day job as a plumber, has hit 50% of his doubles and will face No. 11 seed Dave Chisnall on Saturday afternoon.
“I was working but it relaxed me a bit, it made me realize that darts is a hobby and also a very lucky hobby,” Menzies said afterwards. “I was so nervous, I knew this match meant a lot. What’s happening now is a bonus, but winning this match meant everything to me.
The world number 63 now hopes his girlfriend, Fallon Sherrock, can also make it past the first round on Monday night. Menzies added he was happy to avoid Sherrock, who made history with her third-round appearance in 2020, in the draw.
“I play Fallon at home and I’ve beaten her eight times out of 10 but she has moments where she crushes me, which is fair enough,” the 34-year-old said. “I know for a fact that up there, on stage, she would beat me. It’s her scene, she would beat me.