PHIL TAYLOR endured more than a few nervy moments before defeating Chris Dobey 3-1 as he started the final William Hill World Darts Championship campaign of his legendary darting career.
The 16-time World Champion is hoping to make a fairytale ending to his amazing career, but was made to sweat just to get through the opening game of his farewell appearance at Alexandra Palace.
All eyes are on the 57-year-old this year and perhaps the enormity of the situation hampered him in his first outing - and he admitted he was struggling a bit for energy.
"I lacked a bit of energy against Chris tonight, I slacked a little bit and it's not me. I'm tired," said Taylor.
"I never used to be like that before, I could win a tournament and then play another tournament, it's strange. I've got a few days off now to get ready for the next one."
It was a very un-Taylor-like start as young star Dobey threatened to be the ultimate party pooper by going 1-0 and 2-1 up early on, but Taylor settled to bag the next two legs and win the opening set against the throw.
It was more routine for Taylor in the second set as Dobey offered little resistance - apart from taking one leg when he hit a 180 and 60 outshot - as a 3-1 scoreline left the Stoke legend on course for a straight sets win.
Dobey led at the start of set three, with Taylor taking out 105 in leg four to level with the tie's first ton-plus finish - but just as he prepared to close out the win the Bedlington thrower produced an 11-darter to extend the contest.
Dobey really started the nerves jangling around Alexandra Palace in the fourth set as a 104 checkout saw him break the throw for a 2-1 lead to put him on the brink of levelling up the match - only to miss two shots at double 16 for the set.
Taylor took all three darts to hit double 16 to level it up, and made no mistake in the final leg - to his and the crowd's relief - as he booked his place in the second round.
"There was a lot of pressure on me, but to get through Chris Dobey [was good]," said a relieved Taylor. "When they keep on about the future of darts, that's your fella I think.
"And you've got Dimitri [Van den Bergh] as well, they're lovely kids and they're the ones to push the game on I think."
Taylor admitted the prospect of retirement is a tough one, but that it's even harder playing in the big events and not finding that all-conquering form of old.
"The fire's gone," he added. "I want to win, I've still got the fire in the belly to win, it's just the old utensils are not working as good as they used to. It's awful, it's killing me.
"And you know by my interviews, I have been very critical of certain players, sometimes justified maybe sometimes not. I've been a little bit bitter and I'm gutted that I can't play what I can, and that's what's killing me really.
"I'm really trying so hard and I can't do what I used to do. So I've got to shut up now."
New World Youth Champion Dimitri Van den Bergh is aiming high after he produced a 104.17 average - the fifth best first round effort in tournament history - to see off former Stephen Bunting 3-1, despite the former Lakeside Champion hitting a 170 checkout.
"My ambition, the way I'm feeling, I'm ready for something big," said Van den Bergh. "My dad says I am and when my dad says it, then it's true.
"So I'll keep working and I'm going for the quarter-finals at least, and if I get to the quarter-finals I'm definitely going for more, I never give up."
Well-fancied debutant Rob Cross showed glimpses of what he can do in his 3-0 victory over preliminary round winner Seigo Asada - hitting back-to-back 180s in the last two legs as he finished with an impressive 104.12 average.
"I've had a two-week build-up leading into this and I think there was a bit of pressure and that showed in the first set," said the European Championship finalist. "It gradually got better.
"People who you talk to were buzzing for this two months ago and I didn't understand - and now I do. It's a phenomenal place, I absolutely love it. It's brilliant, very special."
Japanese qualifier Asada had earlier overcome Australia's Gordon Mathers 2-1 in a sudden-death leg to secure his spot in the first round as the pair made their World Championship debuts.
Saturday sees two sessions of action at Alexandra Palace with Mervyn King, Robert Thornton and Benito van de Pas in action in the afternoon session, while two-time World Champion Gary Anderson and Jelle Klaasen open their challenges in the evening session.
William Hill World Darts Championship
Friday December 15
Seigo Asada 2-1 Gordon Mathers (P)
Stephen Bunting 1-3 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Phil Taylor 3-1 Chris Dobey
Rob Cross 3-0 Seigo Asada