Michael van Gerwen survived two missed match darts from Joe Cullen before prevailing in a final-leg shootout to reach the PDC world championship quarter-finals.
After the first two sets were shared, Bradford’s Cullen held his nerve on double four to win the third. The No 16 seed then broke Van Gerwen with a 123 checkout on his way to a 3-1 lead at the interval.
Both players averaged 100+ across the first four sets with Cullen hitting 13 maximums, but the Englishman missed two break darts at 2-1 down, allowing the No 1 seed to pull a set back. With the sixth set poised at 2-2, Cullen had his first match dart, narrowly missing the bullseye.
Van Gerwen forced a deciding set but Cullen quickly moved 2-1 up, and had a chance to win the match on a 164 checkout, but missed the bull again. Cullen still had a chance to win the deciding leg on his own throw but van Gerwen turned up the pressure, a vital 180 setting him up for victory on double eight.
After the game, the three-time champion said the fourth-round tie was “one of the toughest world championship matches I’ve ever played. He was playing phenomenal and he put me under pressure loads of times.
“I had to do everything in my power to beat him,” van Gerwen added. “I came back after the 3-1 break still with a lot of confidence, and I’m really glad I managed to do it. I had to keep up with him and it wasn’t easy.”
Earlier, James Wade recorded the first nine-darter in five years at Alexandra Palace but the feat failed to inspire the No 7 seed as he lost 4-2 to Stephen Bunting, joining the growing list of top seeds to suffer an early exit.
Bunting, who won the BDO world title in 2014, rallied from 2-0 down to level the match, before Wade wrote his name into the history books with back-to-back 180s followed by a 141 checkout. There was an understated reaction from Wade at the empty venue, and the perfect leg had little impact on the match.
Merseyside’s Bunting won the next two sets to prevail 4-2, setting up a last-16 clash with Ryan Searle. “I can’t believe it, worked so hard over the last few months,” the 35-year-old said after the match. “I’m just so delighted to be here now.”
“He hit the nine-darter and it was probably a bit of a blur for him and for me. Next thing I gave him a fist pump then it was on to the next leg,” Bunting said. “If the crowd had been here it would have been noise galore for the rest of the match. But we all want the fans back, I miss them dearly but I’m just so happy to be into the next round.”
Poland’s Krzysztof Ratajski awaits either Bunting or Searle in the quarter-finals after beating Gabriel Clemens 4-3 in a marathon encounter. Both men missed match darts in a chaotic finale, with Ratajski finally sealing victory on double one.
“It was so emotional. I don’t remember ever having a match like this before,” said Ratajski, who becomes the first Polish player to reach a world championship quarter-final. “The last leg was terrible. It was crazy. I usually lose close matches but today I was lucky.”
In Tuesday’s other games, Dave Chisnall rallied after losing the first six legs against Danny Noppert, prevailing 4-2 to set up a last-16 meeting with Dimitri Van den Bergh. No 11 seed Daryl Gurney eased past Chris Dobey 4-1, while South Africa’s Devon Petersen plays Gary Anderson next after seeing off Jason Lowe.