Dimitri Van den Bergh dethroned reigning champion Peter Wright in a Betfred World Matchplay classic on Thursday night to set up a semi-final showdown against Michael van Gerwen at the Winter Gardens.
Van den Bergh defeated Wright 16-14 in an epic contest to book his spot in a third consecutive World Matchplay semi-final, avenging his defeat against the Scot in last year’s final.
Van Gerwen then defied a stirring fightback from Nathan Aspinall to prevail by the same scoreline, producing a magnificent 146 finish to triumph in a thrilling finale.
In the evening’s opener, Van den Bergh defied four ton-plus finishes from Wright to win an incredible contest, averaging 102 and landing 11 maximums to register his first televised victory over the World Champion.
Wright ran riot in the early exchanges, converting a 129 finish on the bull and firing in an 11-dart break to lead 4-1, despite a 104 average from the Belgian.
Wright reeled off a fifth consecutive leg with a 14-darter in leg six, only for Van den Bergh to launch an astonishing fightback, winning ten legs without reply to leave the Scot shell-shocked.
Wright changed his darts on multiple occasions midway through the contest, but Van den Bergh was undeterred, maintaining his barrage of big scoring to establish a commanding 11-5 buffer.
The world number one stopped the rot with a spectacular 140 checkout, and the pendulum appeared to be shifting once more when Van den Bergh squandered three darts for a 13-8 cushion.
Wright capitalised to claim a crucial break of throw, before following up legs of 12 and 14 darts with a nerveless 104 checkout to restore parity at 12-12.
The 52-year-old looked set to complete the comeback after converting a two-dart 89 kill to regain the initiative, but there was yet another twist in a dramatic 26th leg.
The pair traded maximums before Wright wired two darts at double for a 14-12 lead, and Van den Bergh capitalised, producing successive legs of 11 and 12 darts to edge back ahead.
The 2020 champion came agonisingly close to a spectacular 164 finish moments later, but he regained his poise, moving one leg away with a 13-darter, before crashing in a brilliant 177 and pinning double 16 to close out a classic.
“I’ve learned to dig deep, I’ve learned to never give up and believe in my own ability,” said Van den Bergh, who has now won 12 of his 13 games at this event.
“I’m working hard and doing everything I can to chase my dreams and create a beautiful future for my family.
“When I was 4-1 down, I felt it was a repeat of last year’s final, but I wasn’t playing badly, and I managed to stay positive.
“I’m in the semi-finals! There is no pleasure beach, this is Dimitri Van den Bergh’s dreamland, and that’s exactly how I feel right now.”
In Thursday’s second quarter-final, Van Gerwen produced a classy display to overcome a typically tenacious Aspinall, who recovered from 11-4 down to threaten a famous comeback.
Van Gerwen had struggled to produce his blistering best in his opening two matches, but he underlined his title credentials in some style, averaging 101.86 and rattling in 12 maximums.
Following seven consecutive holds to kick off the contest, the Dutchman followed up a break of throw in leg eight with a ruthless three-leg spell to storm into an 8-3 lead.
Aspinall halted Van Gerwen’s charge with a confident hold in leg 12, only for the 33-year-old to respond with back-to-back 12-darters en route to an emphatic 11-4 advantage.
The Englishman rallied, reducing the arrears with a sequence of three straight legs, before following up a 112 finish with a fabulous 164 on the bull to reduce the arrears to 14-10.
His hopes appeared to be fading when he spurned two darts at double six for a third straight leg and Van Gerwen duly capitalised, cleaning up 68 in two darts to move 15-10 clear.
Aspinall refused to relent, landing a second 106 finish and converting a brilliant 90 skin-saver on the bull, with Van Gerwen poised on double 12 for victory.
The three-time World Champion was becoming embroiled in a real battle and Aspinall was starting to believe, surviving three match darts in a dramatic 29th leg to get the contest back on throw.
However, Van Gerwen wasn’t to be denied, producing a sublime 146 checkout on double 13 to seal the deal, and preserve his hopes of lifting the Phil Taylor Trophy for a third time.
“I was 11-4 up, I was in cruise control and I was playing really well, but Nathan never gives up,” reflected the world number four.
“The crowd were on his side as well, and I made it so difficult for myself. I shouldn’t put myself in that position.
“You have to give Nathan credit for putting me under pressure, and it gives me a great boost to come through games like this.
“Dimitri deserves to be in the semi-finals, and if I want to beat him, I have to play really well. It’s going to be tough, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Saturday’s semi-final line-up will be completed on Friday evening, as the remaining two quarter-final tussles take place.
UK Open champion Danny Noppert kicks off proceedings against his Dutch World Cup of Darts partner Dirk van Duijvenbode, before world number two Gerwyn Price plays former Grand Slam champion Jose De Sousa.
Betfred World Matchplay
Thursday July 21
Dimitri Van den Bergh 16-14 Peter Wright
Michael van Gerwen 16-14 Nathan Aspinall
Friday July 22 (2000 BST)
Dirk van Duijvenbode v Danny Noppert
Gerwyn Price v Jose de Sousa
All quarter-final matches are the best of 31 legs
Each game must be won by two clear legs, with up to a maximum of five additional legs being played before the sixth additional leg is sudden-death. For example, should a Quarter-Final game (best of 31 legs) reach 18-18, then the 37th leg would be the final and deciding leg.