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World Darts Championship: Michael Smith, Simon Whitlock and Cameron Menzies all win on opening night

Michael Smith survives opening-round scare to make it through at Ally Pally; the World Darts Championship runs all the way until the final on January 3, 2024 - we're back on Saturday afternoon at 12.30pm, live on Sky Sports Darts

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A look back at some of the best action for the opening night of the World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace

Reigning champion Michael Smith began his World Darts Championship title defence with victory but only after surviving a huge scare to defeat Dutch debutant Kevin Doets on opening night at Alexandra Palace.

Smith created global headlines with his sensational triumph in January, producing an incredible nine-darter in a leg dubbed 'the greatest of all-time' on his way to a 7-4 success against Michael van Gerwen.

The world No 1 was facing the prospect of becoming the first defending champion to lose their opening match in the sport's showpiece event since 2009, before he fought back magnificently to keep his hopes alive.

World Darts Championship: Friday's Results

Kevin Doets 3-0 Stowe Buntz (R1)
Cameron Menzies 3-0 Rusty-Jake Rodriguez (R1)
Simon Whitlock 3-2 Paolo Nebrida (R1)
Michael Smith 3-2 Kevin Doets (R2)

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Michael Smith dug out this huge 142 in the final set to leave his opponent Kevin Doets shaking his head in disbelief

Doets, who reached the fifth round of this year's UK Open after winning his PDC Tour Card for the first time in January 2022, dumped out Grand Slam of Darts quarter-finalist Stowe Buntz in the opening match of the tournament.

The world No 66 came into the meeting with St Helens star Smith on a high, but it was the reigning champion who made a strong start by sealing the opening set 3-1 with 60 per cent on the doubles.

The talented Dutchman responded by claiming the second set in a deciding leg against the darts for parity with a 100.3 average after Smith failed to hit tops to move clear of his opponent.

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Smith pinned this superb 150 during his 3-2 victory over the Dutchman

Doets, nicknamed 'Hawk Eye', continued to find the target and he despite a huge 150 checkout from Smith, he produced winning legs in 12, 14 and 13 darts to move within a set of causing a almighty upset.

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However, Smith wrapped up set four 3-1, including a whopping 121 checkout to send the match all the way.

Smith landed a majestic 142 checkout under immense pressure to regain the lead in the decider and despite missing five darts at a double, he eventually claimed victory with a neat 67 finish on tops.

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Wayne Mardle heaped praise on Smith after his close opening win at Ally Pally

"It's one of them, I managed to fall over the line, no nerves, no pressure, I'll have a good Christmas now," Smith told Sky Sports.

Simon Whitlock, the 2010 runner-up, missed five darts before winning a slow-burner of a contest against former PDC Asian Championship finalist Paolo Nebrida to set up a showdown with two-time champion Gary Anderson on Saturday evening.

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Paolo Nebrida found checkouts of 116 and 121 but eventually lost out to Simon Whitlock in a nervy contest

'The Wizard' was forced to dig deep to battle past Nebrida, using all of his experience to avoid a shock exit.

"I've just been messing around with my darts too much. I've been like Peter Wright," Whitlock admitted.

And on facing Anderson next, he replied: "I'm a big 180 hitter and they weren't there today, but tomorrow is a different day. Maybe they will turn, maybe I will turn up and me and Gary will have a great game."

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Whitlock credited his experience for getting him through a razor-thin opening-round contest

Cameron Menzies came through a fiery encounter against Rusty-Jake Rodriguez to reach the second round.

The Scot, who is the partner of Fallon Sherrock, closed out a 3-0 success over Austria's Rodriguez with four 180s and 50 per cent on the doubles to move through.

"I was so nervous today, because I knew that game meant a lot," revealed Menzies, who prepared for his opening round clash with a plumbing shift this morning.

"Winning that game meant the world to me, and I think going to work today helped me relax, because it made me realise that darts is a hobby for me.

"Obviously I would like to be in a situation in the future where I can give up work, because I know in spells I can score as well as the best, but it's still my finishing that separates the top ten from a player like me."

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Rusty-Jake Rodriguez threw his darts off the table after going down two sets to Cameron Menzies

Live World Darts Championship

Live World Darts Championship

What's happening on Saturday at the World Darts Championship?

Dave Chisnall at the World Darts Championship
Image: Dave 'Chizzy' Chisnall headlines he action on Saturday afternoon at Alexandra Palace

The first double session at this year's tournament will take place, as two-time world champion Gary Anderson opens his title challenge with a clash against Simon Whitlock.

World Darts Championship: Saturday Afternoon Fixtures

Lee Evans vs Sandro Eric Sosing (R1)
Connor Scutt vs Krzysztof Kciuk (R1)
Jules van Dongen vs Darren Penhall (R1)
Dave Chisnall vs Cameron Menzies (R2)

World Darts Championship: Saturday Evening Fixtures

Jamie Hughes vs David Cameron (R1)
Keane Barry vs Reynaldo Rivera (R1)
Scott Williams vs Haruki Muramatsu (R1)
Gary Anderson vs Simon Whitlock (R2)

Dave Chisnall, a 2021 semi-finalist, takes centre stage in the afternoon when he faces Cameron Menzies, while American No 1 Jules van Dongen makes his debut against DPA qualifier Darren Penhall.

The sport's biggest event sees 96 players compete for the Sid Waddell Trophy and £2.5m in prize money at Alexandra Palace. You can watch all the action live on our dedicated Sky Sports Darts channel.

Watch the World Darts Championship all the way until the final on January 3, 2024 - live on Sky Sports Darts. NOW Sports Month Membership: £21 a month for 6 months

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