BAHRIAN DARTS MASTERS - PDC STARS REIGN SUPREME
Some of Darts biggest stars took to the stage last night for the first time in Bahrain with the inaugural Bahrain Darts Masters to play for the specially-designed Date Palm trophy and claim a £20,000 top prize.
The event saw 8 Asian representatives take on the like of Gerwyn Price, Peter Wright, Luke Humphries and Jonny Clayton at the Bahrain International Circuit.
The first round saw all eight PDC stars progress to Friday's final stages, although the growing strength of the sport in Asia was shown in the challenge of several stars to push their big-name opponents all the way.
Two-time World Champion Wright delighted the Bahrain crowd by wearing the pattern of the national flag on his shirt and head but had to hit back to overcome Japan's Toru Suzuki 6-3.
Wright sported the distinctive red-and-white flag and rose to the occasion on the event's debut at the Bahrain International Circuit, despite a plucky effort from emerging star Suzuki.
The Japanese ace, a two-time World Championship qualifier, came from a leg down to lead 2-1 in a solid start - only to miss his chance to create a two-leg lead in the fourth leg.
Wright pounced to level and took four of the next five legs to move through to a quarter-final tie with Rob Cross.
"I enjoyed it," said Wright. "The outfit is down to Jo, and everyone appreciated the outfit and my hair - even on the way to the venue there were cars beeping to us when they saw me.
"It's good to be pushed and I'm happy to get through the game. We all know that the players who have come through the Asian Tour are getting better every year, and every country we go to they're improving.
"I've got a difficult game next against Rob Cross, who played really well last year. It's good to be in Bahrain and I'm looking to try and win the beautiful trophy tomorrow."
Dimitri Van den Bergh - a World Series winner in Copenhagen and Amsterdam last year - survived a major scare against TV debutant Alain Abiabi, who came from 4-1 down to level at five-all before missing a match dart at tops in the deciding leg.
Van den Bergh landed eight 180s in the match and also missed double 18 for a nine-dart finish, but saw the Philippines thrower take out 103 and a 14-darter during his gutsy challenge.
Elsewhere, Luke Humphries came from 3-1 down to defeat Hong Kong's Man Lok Leung, who impressed with an 11-darter in some strong early darts.
Humphries capitalised on seven missed doubles across three legs from Leung as he moved into a 5-3 lead, before reeling off a fifth straight leg to wrap up victory.
Reigning World Series of Darts Finals champion Price opened his challenge for another global title with a 6-2 win over Singapore's Paul Lim.
Lim took the game's opening leg, but Price book-ended a run of five straight legs with checkouts of 112 and 124, and after the veteran star took leg seven, he wrapped up the win with a superb 139 combination.
"I thought I played a decent game and was pretty clinical," said Price. "I slipped up in a couple of legs but Paul played pretty well and was quite steady.
"Hopefully I'll improve tomorrow - the big checkouts were there but I need to up my scoring. The crowd were great and I love doing well in these World Series events and promoting the sport all around the world.
"If I can win tomorrow, it also gives you confidence for the rest of the tournaments."
New World Champion Smith, though, averaged over 98 and landed a ten-dart finish in his superb 6-1 win over Bahrain qualifier Abdulnasser Yusuf.
Smith opened the game with a bullseye finish and took out 131 with two double tops as he opened up a five-leg lead before wrapping up victory.
"I had goosebumps on my walk-on and I enjoyed it," said Smith. "It felt different hearing John McDonald introducing me as World Champion and world number one.
"I was a bit nervous up there but I managed to find my feet. Dimitri will be up for it tomorrow but I just want to keep winning."
The day's most impressive performance came from Jonny Clayton, as the 2022 New South Wales Darts Masters winner whitewashed Bahrain's Basem Mahmood with a 104 average and six doubles from 11 attempts.
Clayton finished 96, 134 and 122 in the opening four legs and punished late misses from Mahmood as he moved through to an all-Welsh quarter-final tie with Price.
Former World Champion Cross overcame India's Nitin Kumar 6-2, opening the tie with a 140 checkout as he raced into a 4-0 advantage before closing out the win.
Raymond van Barneveld was a 6-2 winner against Japan's Yuki Yamada as the five-time World Champion made a winning return to the World Series of Darts stage, setting up a quarter-final tie with Humphries.
Following Thursday's first round action, the Bahrain Darts Masters concludes on Friday with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final taking place in one bumper session.
The Bahrain Darts Masters will be broadcast live from 1900 local time (1600 GMT) via ITV4 in the UK, through the PDC's worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV (excluding Germany, Austria & Switzerland based subscribers).
2023 Bahrain Darts Masters
Thursday January 12
Dimitri Van den Bergh 6-5 Alain Abiabi
Rob Cross 6-2 Nitin Kumar
Luke Humphries 6-3 Man Lok Leung
Gerwyn Price 6-2 Paul Lim
Peter Wright 6-3 Toru Suzuki
Michael Smith 6-1 Abdulnasser Yusuf
Raymond van Barneveld 6-2 Yuki Yamada
Jonny Clayton 6-0 Basem Mahmood
Friday January 13 (1900 local time, 1600 GMT)
Michael Smith v Dimitri Van den Bergh
Luke Humphries v Raymond van Barneveld
Peter Wright v Rob Cross
Gerwyn Price v Jonny Clayton
Best of 11 legs
Smith/Van den Bergh v Humphries/Van Barneveld
Wright/Cross v Price/Clayton
Best of 13 legs
Best of 15 legs
C/D : Dave Allen PDC