Sunday at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry was the quarter final day of the Boyle Sports Grand Slam of Darts. 32 players had started the tournament last Monday and exactly one quarter of them were still in the race for the Eric Bristow Trophy and £125,000 of prize money for the winner before today’s two sessions. It was to be a day of thrillers, with 121 out of possible 124 legs played!
The afternoon started with Michael Smith and José de Sousa, who on Friday became the first Portuguese to qualify for the quarter-finals of a PDC Major Tournament. “The Special One” got off to a great start in the round of the last eight. In the first three legs, which de Sousa all won, he played an average of 108 points and Smith had nothing to compete with at first with his 89 average. With a score of 1:4, the Bully Boy went into the first break.
In the following Smith did not manage to improve at all and especially his usually great scoring let him down. De Sousa on the other hand played 101 points on average over the first ten legs and marched into the next break with a clear 8:2 lead.
Then the Bully Boy finally got into the game, while de Sousa’s first mistakes crept in when it came to hitting the doubles. As a result, Smith was able to secure six consecutive legs and equalised the match in a rush at 8:8. It developed into an absolute neck-and-neck race and until the score of 14:14 none of the players managed to gain even a lead of two legs. The decision was then brought about by the Achilles heel of Michael Smith. He missed one dart to take the lead with a break to make it 15:14 and then missed three more darts to equalise at 15:15. De Sousa took advantage of this and was the first semi-finalist with a 16:14 win.
“I am overjoyed! Michael has been in great form over the last few weeks and this win against him is something really big for me,” de Sousa said, pleased with his success.
The second match of the afternoon could also offer some great excitement. Damon Heta from Australia, who, like de Sousa, was into his first major quarterfinal, was up against eight-time major champion James Wade.
“The Machine” started off fantastically well and had an average of over 110 points over the majority of the first session. Only a few missed doubles prevented a 5:0 lead and with 4:1 to Wade the players went into the break.
Heta, who played a strong game himself, got into the second session well and made it 4:3 before Wade took control again. With the score at 6:4 the next break came and Wade always managed to keep his lead of two to three legs. Both players managed to keep their average at about 100 points – absolute world class over this long distance.
At 13:12 for Wade, Heta hit a great 101 finish to equalize – the first tie since the 0:0.
But Wade used his experience, kept his nerves and was able to take the lead again, before he took out 96 points with the last dart to make it 15:13 and to get the decisive break. The final score was 16:13, with Wade playing an average of over 100 points over the entire game.
“At some moments I felt weak where I should have pulled away,” said a critical Wade after the game.
The evening session was opened by the two Young Guns Nathan Aspinall and Dimitri Van den Bergh. Aspinall had eliminated reigning Grand Slam Champion Gerwyn Price from the tournament last night, while Van den Bergh was the dominant player of this year’s tournament, scoring well over 100 points on average in each of his games. In their quarter-final, both players were to stay well below the average of 100, but this was made up for by incredible tension and drama.
Especially Van den Bergh had problems to reproduce his performances of the last days and missed many chances especially on the doubles. Aspinall took advantage of that and was able to win the first three sessions all by 3:2 and led 9:6. But also “The Asp” missed chances again and again and Van den Bergh could equalise after 22 legs at 11:11.
In the final phase, a rollercoaster ride of emotions developed for both players. First the “Dreammaker” took pole position for the win and took the lead by 14:12, before Aspinall took three legs in a row and was only one leg away from victory. In the decisive 31st leg, Aspinall was then unable to find the triples and Dimitri Van den Bergh won this darts thriller with a final break.
“Today it was an incredible fight! I couldn’t find my way to the game I’ve been playing the last few days. The feeling when the matchdart went in – just incredible,” said Van den Bergh at Sky Sports.
But whoever thought that the climax of drama had been reached that evening should be proven wrong, because the match between Michael van Gerwen and Simon Whitlock was still to come. The Wizard had managed to defeat the number 1 of the world not only in the World Matchplay but also in the World Grand Prix recently.
MVG got a good start into the match and immediately averaged well over 100 points. But Whitlock always managed to stay in contact with Mighty Mike with very good scoring and after two sessions it was 6:4 for van Gerwen.
At 11:7 it seemed as if the Dutchman could pull away, but immediately Whitlock struck back with a break and could even equalise at 12:12.
A 146 finish by van Gerwen at 15:13 then seemed like the decisive step towards the semi-finals. But the match still had a dramatic twist in store. First MVG missed three match darts at 15:13 and Whitlock managed to equalise the match again at 15:15.
In the last leg MVG again set the tone and put himself in a good position to win. But the three-time World Champion missed five more darts for the match and Whitlock converted on double 8 for the win. The Australian hit a fabulous twenty 180s and set a new record for the Grand Slam of Darts!
“There are no words to describe it! This is one of the best victories of my career,” said a beaming Whitlock in his interview after the thriller.
Tomorrow evening Sky Sports, DAZN, Sport1 and RTL 7 will broadcast the two semi-finals starting at 7pm GMT.
2020 Boyle Sports Grand Slam of Darts, Sunday, November 22, quarter finals, Best of 31 legs
Michael Smith 14:16 José de Sousa
Damon Heta 13:16 James Wade
Nathan Aspinall 15:16 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Michael van Gerwen 15:16 Simon Whitlock
2020 Boyle Sports Grand Slam of Darts, Monday, November 23 (7pm GMT), semi finals, Best of 31 legs
Simon Whitlock – José de Sousa
Dimitri Van den Bergh – James Wade