The afternoon session kicked off with the battle of the youth. Max Hopp made his European Championship debut at the tender age of 17, with Cristo Reyes at just 28 is still just a darting rookie. In a game full of scintillating scoring Reyes opened up a 3-2 lead going into the interval. A second break doubled the Spaniards advantage and with Hopp disorganized on the doubles, Reyes seized the advantage for a 6-2 victory.
Young Austrian Rowby-John Rodriguez joined Reyes in Saturday’s second round, with a 6-4 win over Christian Kist. The bookies couldn’t split the duo before a dart was thrown but the debutant took a 5-1 lead. With the shackles off, Kist hit 8 perfect darts and was within millimetres of a ninth, managing to haul back three legs on the spin. Rodriguez held his nerve on the final double to secure the victory.
Stephen Bunting could hardly believe his luck as he was given the time and space of Hasselt to open up a 3-0 advantage. White showed tremendous character to scrape the remaining two legs back, leaving him with all the chance of an incredible comeback. Bunting eventually stopped the rot, halting Diamond’s momentum to regain the lead. The game would be in the balance heading into the deciding leg. Bunting, who gained valuable TV experience in the Premier League this year, gathered himself to continue his revamp in form.
Michael Smith continued his exhilarating form with by grinding out a win over Gerwyn Price. Bully Boy lost focus from an almost certain winning position to concede victory against Jamie Lewis at the Grand Slam last month. Smith was quick out of the traps, taking 3-1 lead. Price swiped the final leg going into the interval with an incredible 161 checkout. The Welshman restored parity upon his return and momentarily lead before Smith turned on the afterburners to reach Saturdays round of 16.
Simon Whitlock breezed into the second round with a simple win over Scandinavian qualifier Magnus Caris. The 2012 Champion showed an element of consistency that has been missing in recent weeks and may give him the edge as he looks for a second European title.
John Henderson brought the Belgian crowd to a standstill as he halted the progress of recent Grand Prix winner Peter Thornton. Hendo has been camera shy in recent months, dropping like a fly in major TV tournaments. But this was different, he was flowing with confidence, and once big bad John gets into a rhythm there’s no stopping him, as Thornton soon found out.
Justin Pipe halted his dire form by producing a classic performance against Dutchman Dirk Van Duijvenbode. The latter’s charismatic entrance did him no good as the Force raced into an early lead. Van Duijvenbode, who has the edge in the head to head stats between the two, got on the scoreboard with Pipe one leg away. He then capitalized on a missed double 10 but just stood and watched at the world number 19 wrapped up a much needed victory.
Alan Norris put in a creditable performance on his PDC television debut, but could do nothing to stop Peter Wright progressing. Norris, who joined the PDC following last years BDO World Championship, hit two nine darters in his opening fortnight as a PDC player, but could not reproduce this spectacular form, to surprise the rampant Wright.
Cristo Reyes 6-2 Max Hopp
Christian Kist 4-6 Rowby-John Rodriguez
Simon Whitlock 6-2 Magnus Caris
Justin Pipe 6-2 Dirk van Duijvenbode
Michael Smith 6-4 Gerwyn Price
Ian White 5-6 Stephen Bunting
Robert Thornton 4-6 John Henderson
Peter Wright 6-3 Alan Norris