English underdog Ross Smith etched his name in the Grand Slam of Darts history books as he defeated Michael van Gerwen 5-4 to reach the tournament's knockout stages on Tuesday.
'Smudger' looked pristine as he held off a 'Mighty Mike' comeback attempt while recording nine 180s, a new record for a group-stage match at the Grand Slam of Darts. Smith, 33, sailed into a commanding 3-0 lead before losing four legs in a row, but the Dover man held firm to beat MVG for the second time in four career meetings.
The narrow victory was enough to secure a runner-up finish in Group G, advancing beyond the opening stage for the first time in his career. Smith had failed to win a match in each of his two previous appearances at the Grand Slam of Darts (2013, 2019) but now looks a different prospect.
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“I wanted to show everyone what I can do against the best in the world,” said Smith, who hit a maximum in each of the nine legs. "Hopefully I can kick on now. I’m loving my darts and I’m so happy with life in general, so I just want to keep going."
His reward is a second-round fixture opposite Luke Humphries, who will also be making his debut in the competition's knockout phase. The No. 6 seed won two of his three matchups to top Group H, hoping to build on quarter-final runs at the European and World Championships earlier this year.
Van Gerwen's loss to Smith wasn't enough to prevent the Dutchman from finishing atop the Group G summit. Darts fans were in awe of Tuesday evening's clash, where both players were at one point averaging around 115.
"Mad how Ross Smith has kinda gone from a decent player to genuinely world-class overnight," wrote one viewer. Another praised the Englishman's "mental" achievement of hitting a maximum in every leg.
Smith ultimately finished with an impressive 108 average while Van Gerwen settled closer to 105 in an exhilarating contest. The latter will face Northern Ireland's Josh Rock next at the Grand Slam of Darts, which is being held at the Aldersley Leisure Village in Wolverhampton.
Smudger stunned the masses when he toppled Michael Smith to clinch the European title in his first televised major final in October. Having set the Grand Slam alight with a piece of group-stage history, the underdog will be hard-pressed to replicate his feat in the elimination phase.
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