Humphries eases through on Day Three at Alexandra Palace
Luke Humphries kicked off his bid for Paddy Power World Darts Championship glory with a straight-sets success against Lee Evans at London’s Alexandra Palace on Sunday.
Humphries has been the world’s form player since October, lifting World Grand Prix, Grand Slam of Darts and Players Championship Finals titles to catapult himself to a career-high of world number three.
This saw Humphries arrive in the capital as the pre-tournament favourite, and he extended his remarkable winning run on the televised stage to 14 matches with a hard-fought victory over Evans.
The 28-year-old signalled his intent with back-to-back 14-darters on his way to claiming the opening set, before Evans raised the roof with the first 170 checkout of the tournament midway through set two.
After doubling his lead in a second-set decider, Humphries extraordinarily survived nine set darts to book his place in round three, with Evans missing a trio of set darts at double in three consecutive legs.
"I wasn't at my best there, but the most important thing for me is that it felt good," claimed Humphries - a three-time World Championship quarter-finalist.
"I just wanted to get through my first game, because that's often the toughest, and I know I won't play like that in the next round.
"When I come back again after Christmas, I will be ready to go. It's going to be really tough, but if I play like I can, I think it is going to take a big performance to beat me."
Joe Cullen also moved through to round three in straight sets, overcoming DPA Order of Merit winner Darren Penhall, who plans to walk away from the sport following this event.
Cullen crashed in six maximums, converted nine of his 17 attempts at a double and produced a spectacular 160 checkout to cap off an impressive all-round display.
“I couldn't have wished for it to go any better,” admitted the former Masters champion.
“I was a little bit nervous going up on stage today which doesn’t normally happen, so when Darren hit a 13-darter in the first leg, I thought: ‘I don’t need this!’
“I think I grew into the game and although it wasn’t my best performance, it didn’t need to be, because Darren didn’t play like I know he can.”
Day Three also saw the return of Fallon Sherrock, who saw her hopes of creating more Alexandra Palace history thwarted by a spirited Jermaine Wattimena, who ran out a 3-1 winner in their first round encounter.
Sherrock – featuring in her fourth World Darts Championship – made a bright start, following up her second maximum with a 14-dart break of throw to claim the opening set.
Wattimena responded by winning six of the next seven legs to seize the initiative, although the former Women’s World Matchplay champion fought back to lead in set four.
However, Sherrock paid the price for spurning five darts to force a deciding set, as Wattimena followed up a 110 skin-saver by pinning double five to register his first win at this event since 2020/21.
Elsewhere, Matt Campbell celebrated his maiden victory on the iconic Alexandra Palace stage with a dramatic deciding-set victory against Philippines’ number one Lourence Ilagan.
Campbell had lost his previous four encounters in the sport’s flagship event, although he appeared poised to snap that streak after winning six of the opening eight legs to establish a two-set cushion.
Ilagan fought back magnificently, conjuring up set-winning 100 and 104 checkouts to restore parity at two apiece, having also landed a 153 checkout to open set four.
However, Campbell sealed his progress in sensational style, reeling off legs of 14, 12 and 12 darts in the fifth and decisive set, which included a match-winning 128 outshot.
“Credit to Lourence. He took out some beautiful finishes, but I’m happy to get over the line,” reflected Campbell, a former World Cup of Darts quarter-finalist.
“I felt the pressure from the very first three darts of the match. I put more pressure on myself than anybody else can, but thankfully I kept my cool.”
Ricky Evans will face World Matchplay champion Nathan Aspinall for a place in round three, after kicking off Sunday’s action with a straight-sets success against South Africa’s Simon Adams.
Adams seized the early initiative in an edgy opening set, but Evans responded with a sequence of eight straight legs to triumph, featuring 121, 89 and 112 combinations in a high-quality second set.
Florian Hempel will renew his rivalry with Dimitri Van den Bergh on the sport’s biggest stage, courtesy of an impressive comeback victory against debutant Dylan Slevin.
Following a tentative start to the contest, a superb 167 checkout from Slevin in set two sparked both players into life, but it was Hempel who ran out a 3-1 winner with five 180s and a 91 average.
Niels Zonneveld defied some late finishing-line nerves to secure his first victory at the World Championship, closing out a hard-fought 3-1 win against two-time quarter-finalist Darren Webster.
Webster recovered from a nightmare start to threaten an unlikely comeback, only to squander six darts to force a decider in a dramatic conclusion to the contest.
Meanwhile, Jim Williams won nine consecutive legs in breezing past Guyana’s Norman Madhoo, wrapping up proceedings with an 11-darter to set up a second round tie against two-time winner Peter Wright.
The Paddy Power World Darts Championship continues on Monday evening, as 2021 champion Gerwyn Price kicks off his campaign against Connor Scutt.
Elsewhere, World Youth Championship runner-up Gian van Veen faces Hong Kong’s Man Lok Leung, while Thibault Tricole will make history as the first French player to compete in the sport’s showpiece event.
2023/24 Paddy Power World Darts Championship
Sunday December 17
3x First Round, 1x Second Round
Ricky Evans 3-0 Simon Adams (3-2, 3-0, 3-0) (R1)
Jim Williams 3-0 Norman Madhoo (3-0, 3-0, 3-0) (R1)
Matt Campbell 3-2 Lourence Ilagan (3-1, 3-1, 2-3, 2-3, 3-0) (R1)
Joe Cullen 3-0 Darren Penhall (3-1, 3-2, 3-1) (R2)
3x First Round, 1x Second Round
Florian Hempel 3-1 Dylan Slevin (1-3, 3-2, 3-2, 3-1) (R1)
Niels Zonneveld 3-1 Darren Webster (3-0, 3-2, 2-3, 3-2) (R1)
Jermaine Wattimena 3-1 Fallon Sherrock (2-3, 3-1, 3-0, 3-2) (R1)
Luke Humphries 3-0 Lee Evans (3-1, 3-2, 3-2) (R2)
Monday December 18 (1900 GMT)
3x First Round, 1x Second Round
Mario Vandenbogaerde v Thibault Tricole (R1)
Gian van Veen v Man Lok Leung (R1)
Martin Lukeman v Haupai Puha (R1)
Gerwyn Price v Connor Scutt (R2)