MICHAEL VAN GERWEN began his challenge to win a fourth successive Unibet Masters title with a 10-6 defeat of Kim Huybrechts on Saturday, as Gary Anderson, Gerwyn Price and James Wade joined him in the quarter-finals.
World number one Van Gerwen has never lost on the Arena MK stage since the £200,000 Masters event moved to Milton Keynes in 2015, and continued that run with a convincing display against Huybrechts.
Van Gerwen stormed into a 9-1 lead with an imperious performance as he left the Belgian trailing after the opening two legs were shared, hitting an 11-darter and a 132 bull finish in one of three 12-darters, averaging 111 as he moved to the brink of victory.
Three missed match darts in leg 11 allowed Huybrechts to save the game, before he then took out 88, 107, an 11-darter and a 160 finish as he pulled back to 9-6 with a spirited fightback.
Van Gerwen, though, landed his fifth maximum of the game to open leg 16, before hitting tops to complete the win, setting up a quarter-final against 2014 Masters winner James Wade.
"Winning is the most important thing but I'm not totally happy," said Van Gerwen. "I started thinking about tomorrow and that's the biggest mistake you can make - I knew I was going to win and I switched off.
"I didn't make a lot of mistakes but who cares how you win as long as you win. After I was 9-1 up I played poorly but a win is a win and I can't complain.
"It's about what happens in the future and you always have to be hungry for more, and I feel comfortable for this year. I'm going to make it four in a row. I know I'm good enough and I want to win this."
Wade defied a near-nine-darter from Simon Whitlock as he moved into the quarter-finals with a 10-8 win in his tie with the Australian.
Whitlock twice held a two-leg lead in the early stages as finishes of 69 and 68 saw him secure breaks of throw for a 3-1 and 4-2 advantage, before Wade took four in a row as he moved ahead for the first time at 6-4.
Whitlock's superb 142 checkout saw him reply, while Wade finished 120 as he moved 8-6 and 9-7 up.
Whitlock then opened leg 17 with two 180s as he set up a possible nine-dart finish, and landed another treble 20 and then the treble 19 in his bid for a 141 finish, but landed inside the double 12 to miss out on a perfect leg.
The Australian did take the leg to keep his hopes alive, but Wade was first to a finish in the next as tops secured his spot in the last eight.
"I'm happy I won," said Wade. "Simon didn't play as well as he should have done but I was steady and did enough to win.
"I've put a lot of hard work in and adjusted my throw a little bit. My throw has dropped six to eight inches and for the last month I've worked hard on my game.
"I just want to do what I know I can do. I'm excited about my darts and I can look forward to tomorrow."
2017 Masters finalist Gary Anderson began his challenge to go one better on Sunday night with a 10-4 defeat of Dutchman Benito van de Pas, moving through to the final day of the event despite continuing his struggle against a back problem.
Anderson has been having treatment for the injury since the World Championship but defied the ongoing pain to move into the last eight, where he now meets Gerwyn Price.
The Scot won the opening four legs without reply - taking out finishes of 85 and 78 in the process - before a 115 combination and double 16 saw Van de Pas hit back.
Anderson finished 109 and a brace of 68 finishes as he won another five legs to move 9-2 up, with Van de Pas - using a new set of darts to begin 2018 - finishing 74 and 67 to keep his hopes alive before the number four seed took out 99 to seal the win.
"I didn't expect too much because my back's been bad for the last three or four months and I'm a bit stiff from the treatment I've been having," said Anderson.
"It's going to be a long road for me and it could have been easier tonight, but you get annoyed when you can't hit what you should be hitting.
"Benito is a good player and he's got a lot of talent, but he always seems to struggle against me and I'm glad I scraped through."
Welshman Price, meanwhile, made a winning Masters debut as he hit back from behind on three occasions before emerging a 10-7 winner against number five seed Daryl Gurney.
Some impressive early finishing saw a Price 104 finish sandwiched by checkouts of 102 and 112 from Gurney as the opening four leg were shared, before double top and double ten gave the Welshman a 4-2 cushion.
Gurney then won three legs in a row, including a break of throw in leg eight with a 94 finish despite two 180s from Price, as the World Grand Prix champion edged 5-4 up.
Price took out 108 to hit back before coming from 6-5 down to win three in a row as he gained command of the contest before closing out the win.
"I can play better than that but I'm happy to be through and hopefully I can improve on this tomorrow," said Price.
"I've been struggling with an ear infection. I started practising with an earplug in and it didn't work, but I put it in after the first break and it seemed to work because I started to find my feet.
"I think I put myself under a little bit of pressure and I wanted to come out all guns blazing and play really well.
"I wanted to get through this game and then push on, and prove to myself that I deserve to be where I am. I didn't play brilliantly today and I have to improve my game to win this tournament but it was a good stepping stone."
The £200,000 tournament concludes on Sunday, with the afternoon session featuring the quarter-finals ahead of the evening's semi-finals and final.
The opening two quarter-finals feature Friday's winning players, as number two seed Peter Wright opens up against 2015 finalist Raymond van Barneveld, before World Champion Rob Cross takes on Champions League of Darts winner Mensur Suljovic.
Watch live on ITV4 and through the PDC's international broadcast partners.
PDCTV-HD Rest of the World Subscribers (ouside of UK, Ireland and Netherlands) can watch live in PDCTV-HD.
2018 Unibet Masters
Saturday January 27
First Round x4
Simon Whitlock 8-10 James Wade
Daryl Gurney 7-10 Gerwyn Price
Gary Anderson 10-4 Benito van de Pas
Michael van Gerwen 10-6 Kim Huybrechts
Sunday January 28
Afternoon Session (12.45pm)
Peter Wright v Raymond van Barneveld
Mensur Suljovic v Rob Cross
Gerwyn Price v Gary Anderson
Michael van Gerwen v James Wade
Best of 19 legs
Evening Session (7pm)
Wright/Van Barneveld v Suljovic/Cross
Van Gerwen/Wade v Price/Anderson
Best of 21 legs
Best of 21 legs
Gerwyn Price Interview
A great win for the Welshman! Hear from Gerwyn Price following his victory over Daryl Gurney pic.twitter.com/kTYFy3pbBN— PDC Darts (@OfficialPDC) January 27, 2018
Michael van Gerwen Interview
Benito van de Pas
Michael van Gerwen
Pictures by Lawrence Lustig