Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton set up an all-Welsh tie at the Betfred World Matchplay with opening-night wins in Blackpool on Saturday as Dimitri Van den Bergh made a winning start to his title defence.
The World Cup-winning pair will now clash on Tuesday night after breaking their respective losing streaks as the World Matchplay returned to the Winter Gardens.
World Champion Price had not won in the event since 2016, but came from 2-0 down to defeat Jermaine Wattimena 10-4, checking out 132, 108 and 127 as he pulled clear in the latter stages.
Premier League Clayton, meanwhile, erased the memory of three previous first round exits by claiming a maiden win in the event with a 10-7 defeat of another Dutchman, Dirk van Duijvenbode.
The pair’s second round date will be the highlight of Tuesday’s last 16 ties, with Price insisting that their friendship will be forgotten when they step on stage.
“Jonny’s a great friend of mine but I know if I play my A-game then it doesn’t matter who I play,” said Price. “The only enemy I’ve got up there at the moment is myself.
“I just concentrate on my own game and if I play well, then I definitely win. I haven’t played much this year and coming into this I’m not very confident.”
“I started off really slowly and had to fight my way back into the game. I hit some big doubles but I was nowhere near how I can play.
“I know where I’ve gone wrong in the past but I’m here to win it. If I can win this, the rest of the year is looking good.”
Clayton settled the better against Van Duijvenbode by opening up a 3-1 lead, only for the debutant to hit back as he followed up a 164 finish in taking a 5-4 lead.
Clayton then won four legs in a row to pull clear, and maintained that advantage to progress to the last 16 for the first time in the event.
“My confidence is massive and I’m flying high,” said Clayton. “I know my game is there but I still had that little monkey on my back, and hopefully I can go on and win it now.
“Dirk is a very good darts player and he wasn’t going to back down because I’m the Premier League champion. I held my nerve and got over that winning line.”
Looking ahead to his tie with Price, Clayton added: “I’m here to win that trophy. I don’t care if he’s world number one, when we go on that stage we’re enemies.
“We’re there to do a job and I’m here to pick a trophy up. I’m not here to make up the numbers.”
Reigning champion Van den Bergh opened the night with a special reception as he lifted the Phil Taylor Trophy on stage ahead of play beginning, and he concluded the action with a 10-5 defeat of Devon Petersen.
With both players making their Winter Gardens debuts, it was Van den Bergh who held his nerve the best, winning five straight legs from 2-1 down to pull away from the South African.
“I had goosebumps tonight,” admitted Van den Bergh. “To lift the trophy was an amazing feeling and I loved it, but I still had to do my business later and I did that.
“Devon wasn’t as strong as he can be and at the end of the game I showed what I’m capable of.
“I need to take the positives from today but also learn from the negatives. It was a big lesson for me.”
Van den Bergh’s win sets up a second round tie on Tuesday against Dave Chisnall, who enjoyed his first World Matchplay win since 2018 as he overcame Vincent van der Voort 10-8 in the tournament opener.
Van der Voort led 2-1 early on, but Chisnall took out 124, 161 and 100 as he moved into a 5-3 advantage, defying a 129 combination from the Dutchman.
Chisnall also led 7-5 before Van der Voort levelled after 16 legs in a tight contest, but the five-time quarter-finalist took out 76 to break the deadlock and double ten to seal victory.
“It was amazing to be back in front of fans, absolutely brilliant, and we want that feeling,” said Chisnall. “It was nice to have them back and to win.
“I was feeling good today. The 161 gave me a lot of confidence but it was a nip and tuck game all the way through.”
The Betfred World Matchplay continues on Sunday with a double session of first round action at the Winter Gardens.
Former champions James Wade and Rob Cross take on Luke Humphries and Ross Smith respectively, while two-time semi-finalist Glen Durrant meets debutant Callan Rydz.
2020 World Champion Peter Wright plays Danny Noppert in the evening session, while Grand Slam of Darts champion Jose de Sousa takes on Gabriel Clemens.
The action will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK, through the PDC’s worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and RTL7, and on
2021 Betfred World Matchplay
Saturday July 17
Dave Chisnall 10-8 Vincent van der Voort
Jonny Clayton 10-7 Dirk van Duijvenbode
Gerwyn Price 10-4 Jermaine Wattimena
Dimitri Van den Bergh 10-5 Devon Petersen
Sunday July 18
Afternoon Session (1300 BST)
4x First Round
Krzysztof Ratajski v Brendan Dolan
Glen Durrant v Callan Rydz
Rob Cross v Ross Smith
James Wade v Luke Humphries
Evening Session (1930 BST)
4x First Round
Joe Cullen v Chris Dobey
Michael Smith v Ryan Searle
Peter Wright v Danny Noppert
Jose de Sousa v Gabriel Clemens