Peter Wright continued the defence of his Betfred World Matchplay title with an epic tie-break victory over Krzysztof Ratajski, as Michael van Gerwen eased past Joe Cullen on a thrilling night of second round action at the Winter Gardens.
On a blistering night in Blackpool, two-time World Matchplay winner Van Gerwen defeated Cullen in a repeat of last month’s Cazoo Premier League final, after Wright denied Ratajski in the game of the tournament so far.
The World Champion looked poised to breeze through to the last eight after storming into a 7-3 lead, converting 127 and 125 checkouts and firing in a brace of 11-darters.
Ratajski rallied, reeling off four consecutive legs to draw level at seven apiece, before defying a magnificent 10-darter from Wright by landing back-to-back 180s en route to a 12-dart riposte.
Nevertheless, the Polish number one was staring down the barrel after squandering three darts to break throw and lead 10-9, with Wright leaving 16 after nine darts in the following leg.
However, the world number one returned the favour by frittering away three match darts, and Ratajski capitalised, sinking a two-dart 77 combination to send the contest into overtime.
The pair traded holds as the drama continued, although it was Wright who kept his cool, following up his third 11-darter of the evening by pinning double 10 to triumph with his fifth match dart.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Wright, who averaged 103.5 and landed ten 180s to set up a last eight showdown against Dimitri Van den Bergh, in a repeat of last year’s final.
“You need to be in matches like that sometimes to see where you are. That has definitely got me ready for Dimitri now.
“Dimitri is playing really well. He has won two World Series titles recently, he’s taken his game to the next level, so it should be another tight game. Bring it on!”
Van den Bergh recovered from a sluggish start to complete an 11-6 victory over debutant Rowby-John Rodriguez in Tuesday evening’s opener.
The 2020 champion, bidding to reach a third consecutive World Matchplay final, reeled off four straight legs to establish a 4-2 cushion – an advantage he would never relinquish.
Rodriguez spurned one dart at double 16 to level at five apiece in a crucial tenth leg, and he was suitably punished by the Belgian, who extended his lead to 8-4 to pile on the pain.
The Austrian reduced the arrears with a fifth maximum and a 13-darter, but this only provided a temporary reprieve, as Van den Bergh wrapped up a convincing victory with a stunning 146 outshot.
“I have dreams that I am chasing. I’m loving it,” said Van den Bergh, who averaged 98.62, landed six 180s and converted 11 of his 18 attempts at double.
“Rowby is one of my best friends. He is a class player and he’s finally showing what he can do.
“You cannot give these players chances. I want to improve because at the moment I don’t feel like I’m playing fantastically, but I’m so working so hard.”
Van Gerwen’s hopes of completing a World Matchplay hat-trick are still alive, after he eased past a profligate Cullen to seal his spot in an eighth quarter-final in the sport’s summer showpiece.
The Dutchman was below-par in his opening round win over Adrian Lewis, yet he showed no signs of fragility in the early exchanges against Cullen, racing into a 4-1 lead with an imperious 111 average.
The pair traded four consecutive 180s in a remarkable fifth leg, and the high-scoring continued in leg six, as Cullen cut the deficit with a 12-dart break to double his tally.
However, the Masters champion never recovered from squandering four darts at double to level proceedings, with Van Gerwen winning seven of the final nine legs to complete a comprehensive 11-5 success.
“I was on a mission. I started off really well and that gave me a lot of confidence,” said the three-time World Champion.
“I’m still not 100%, everybody knows that, but even when I’m at 90%, I can beat everybody in this tournament.
“This is one of the most important tournaments of the year. You want to perform here, and I’m so glad to be in the quarter-finals.”
Van Gerwen will take on Nathan Aspinall in the last eight, after the former UK Open champion produced an impressive late flurry to edge out 2007 champion James Wade 11-9 in a high-quality contest.
Wade landed three ton-plus checkouts within the opening ten legs, taking out 126, 105 and 118 finishes to level at five apiece, before winning back-to-back legs in just 27 darts to move 7-5 ahead.
Aspinall responded emphatically, following up a 13-darter with a 68 finish, before landing a crucial 82 checkout on tops in leg 17 to secure the lead, which he cemented with a comfortable hold of throw.
Wade preserved his hopes with a 13-darter, but the Stockport star stormed to victory in sensational style, following up a third maximum with an 81 combination for a 12-dart hold.
“Every game I play is always a battle. James is a fantastic player. I knew it was going to be a tough game,” reflected Aspinall, who was beaten by Van Gerwen in the quarter-finals of last year’s tournament.
“I really enjoyed it. I struggled in the middle part of the game, but I think my will to win got me through that in the end.
“I’m still learning all the time and I’ve learned a lot about my myself this week. I want to win it. I want this to be the year of the Asp.”
The second round draws to a close on Wednesday evening, as world number two Gerwyn Price continues his title bid against five-time quarter-finalist Dave Chisnall.
Third seed Michael Smith meets Dirk van Duijvenbode in a mouth-watering tussle, while 2019 champion Rob Cross takes on former Grand Slam champion Jose De Sousa in another crunch clash.
Elsewhere, UK Open champion Danny Noppert faces two-time TV title winner Daryl Gurney, twice a semi-finalist in Blackpool.
2022 Betfred World Matchplay
Tuesday July 19
4x Second Round
Dimitri Van den Bergh 11-6 Rowby-John Rodriguez
Nathan Aspinall 11-9 James Wade
Peter Wright 13-11 Krzysztof Ratajski
Michael van Gerwen 11-5 Joe Cullen
Wednesday July 20 (1900 BST)
4x Second Round
Daryl Gurney v Danny Noppert
Jose de Sousa v Rob Cross
Gerwyn Price v Dave Chisnall
Michael Smith v Dirk van Duijvenbode
All matches the best of 21 legs