Peter Wright launches defence of World Matchplay darts in style in Blackpool
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Wright is aiming to become just the fourth player to retain the coveted Phil Taylor Trophy and he eased through to round two with a routine 10-4 win over debutant Latvian Razma.
The world number one raced into a 5-0 lead, landing a brace of 13-darters.
Wright, who averaged 97 and fired in seven 180s, stretched his lead to 8-2 before Razma hit back with consecutive 14-darters, but a sublime 157 checkout in the penultimate leg propelled the world champion to victory.
“The crowd were fantastic and it’s great to be back at the Winter Gardens,” said Wright, who plays Krzysztof Ratajski in round two.
“There are loads more 180s to come, maybe nine-darters as well. I believe I will win it again.”
But it was Rodriguez who produced arguably the performance of the night, averaging 99 to complete a 10-7 success against Clayton, the first seed to exit this year’s tournament.
Rodriguez trailed 3-2 despite averaging in three figures but the Austrian was unfazed, reeling off three consecutive legs to seize the initiative.
Clayton stopped the rot with a superb 130 finish in leg nine only for Rodriguez to respond with a stunning 156 combination.
The Welshman continued to battle away valiantly but former World Cup runner-up Rodriguez sealed the deal with a tidy 13-dart hold.
“I’m in really good form at the moment and in my mind I can beat anybody,” claimed Rodriguez, who will take on Dimitri Van den Bergh in a mouth-watering last-16 tie.
Van den Bergh sent out a statement by powering past Callan Rydz to kick off his bid for a second World Matchplay crown.
The 2020 champion and runner-up 12 months ago maintained his sparkling form with an emphatic 10-2 victory over World Championship quarter-finalist Rydz.
Van den Bergh landed four 180s and produced legs of 11 and 12 darts to storm 4-1 ahead with a 108 average.
Rydz doubled his tally with a 14-darter, but a 116 finish from Van den Bergh sparked a run of six consecutive legs before the ninth seed sealed victory with a spectacular 137 finish.
“I’m very proud of the way I played today,” said the Belgian, who averaged 100 and converted 10 doubles from 14 attempts.
“The crowd are amazing. Every time I hear them singing my name, it makes me so happy.”
Ratajski opened this year’s tournament with an impressive 10-6 win over former Lakeside Champion Stephen Bunting, averaging 98.43.
A brace of 180s in leg three steered Bunting towards a 3-2 interval lead but last year's semi-finalist Ratajski won four of the next five legs.
Bunting hit back from 8-4 down as the players traded 11-darters but the Polish number one was too classy on the night.
“Stephen put me under pressure throughout but I’m really happy,” reflected Ratajski, the number 16 seed. “ I believe I can play much better and I expect to.”
The first round action continues with a bumper double session on Sunday, headlined by two-time champion Michael van Gerwen’s meeting with Adrian Lewis.