European Championship Darts: Simon Whitlock kicks off defence with battling win
Simon Whitlock began the defence of his European Championship title with a thrilling 6-4 win over Kim Huybrechts.
Last Updated: 06/07/13 11:39pm
Whitlock had claimed his maiden major title last September when he took victory at the RWE Sporthalle, and having defeated Huybrechts in the semi-finals of that event he overcame the Belgian once again as he sealed a second round spot on Thursday night.
The Australian cruised into a 4-1 lead, but missed four darts at double ten to win a fifth leg as Huybrechts seized the initiative by winning the next three legs to level.
However, the Belgian crucially missed three darts at doubles to take the lead in the ninth, as Whitlock posted a key double nine to move 5-4 up before sealing the victory with a superb 110 checkout.
"It was probably the toughest draw I could have got in the first round because Kim's one of the best players in the world at the moment, and it was a fantastic match," said Whitlock.
"Kim missed his doubles in the ninth leg and gave me my chance, and I took it. I felt as though I had to hit the 110 in that tenth leg and it was massive for me - I'd missed a couple of doubles early on but but I made up for it in the leg that mattered!
"To get through a tough match like that will do me the world of good and it gives me loads of confidence going into the rest of the tournament.
"I felt a little bit of pressure coming back as defending champion but I'm feeling pretty comfortable on that stage and can't wait for the second round on Saturday now."
The second round will see Whitlock take on Colin Lloyd, who impressed with a 100 average and three 13-darters as he overcame in-form Peter Wright 6-4, sealing the victory with a 116 finish.
World champion Phil Taylor, who won this event four times from 2008-2011, opened his bid to reclaim the title with a 6-3 win over Dutch ace Vincent van der Voort.
Taylor took the game's first three legs before van der Voort hit back with a brace, but the number one seed regained his range on doubles to move 5-2 up and, despite his opponent hitting two 180s as he tried to keep the game alive, an 88 finish saw the Stoke star into the last 16.
"I'm pleased to be through because it was a tough test for me," said Taylor. "You're always on edge in the first round because it's a short format and I know what Vincent van do if you give him a chance.
"I started off quite well but it was a little bit scrappy in places. I know I can relax a bit more in the second round because the format's longer, which will suit us all."