Raymond van Barneveld will take on Michael van Gerwen in a blockbuster second round showdown at the Interwetten European Darts Open, after overcoming spirited Czech qualifier Filip Sebesta on Day One in Leverkusen.
The opening day of the year's second European Tour event saw 16 first round ties take place across two sessions on Friday, with Van Barneveld amongst the stand-out performers at the Ostermann Arena.
The Dutch veteran ran out a 6-3 winner in a high-quality tie against Sebesta, who averaged over 98 and converted all three of his attempts at double, which included a 121 finish in the penultimate leg.
“Filip played really well. He did his country proud tonight,” said Van Barneveld, who also averaged 98 and boasted a 50% checkout success rate.
“I needed to produce almost my best game to beat him, but I’m happy with the win and I cannot wait for tomorrow.”
The five-time World Champion will now take on reigning champion Van Gerwen on Saturday evening, and he is relishing the chance to renew his rivalry with his former World Cup partner.
“Me and Michael have played each other so many times and I cannot wait to play him,” added Van Barneveld, the winner of the inaugural European Darts Open in 2012.
“Michael van Gerwen v Raymond van Barneveld – it’s an A-game. It’s like Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund, it’s like Ajax v Feyernoord, Manchester United v Liverpool.”
There were mixed fortunes for the six German representatives in first round action, with Ian White producing an astonishing comeback to stun home favourite Gabriel Clemens in a last-leg thriller.
Clemens, roared on throughout by a partisan Leverkusen crowd, led 4-1 with a 110 average, but he paid the price for spurning two match darts in leg eight, as White won the last four legs to prevail.
“I don’t know how I pulled that back,” admitted White, who followed up a 161 skin-saver in the penultimate leg with a magnificent 11-darter to seal his progression.
“The crowd were brilliant. They love Gabriel and I understand that, but I just kept going.
“I’m focused. I’m playing my game and that’s what matters. I’d love to go on and win this.”
Ten-time TV title winner James Wade stormed to a 6-1 rout of Florian Hempel in his opener, while European Champion Ross Smith posted a ton-plus average to whitewash European Tour debutant Pascal Rupprecht.
Ryan Meikle also averaged over 100 to dispatch Host Nation Qualifier Nico Kurz, crashing in six maximums to book a showdown against Premier League star Jonny Clayton for a place in the last 16.
Ricardo Pietreczko produced on home soil however, converting a brilliant 170 checkout in claiming a 6-2 win over Geert Nentjes, with two-time winner Peter Wright awaiting him in round two.
Rene Eidams was the second German to advance, as he recovered from 4-2 adrift to defeat Dutch youngster Jurjen van der Velde and create a clash against World Champion Michael Smith.
Elsewhere, fresh from his Premier League homecoming in Newcastle, Chris Dobey eased past Maik Kuivenhoven 6-2 to set up a meeting with former UK Open champion Danny Noppert in round two.
Stephen Bunting came through a hard-fought affair against Daryl Gurney in Friday evening's finale, pinning double four with his eighth match dart to progress in a nervy last-leg shoot-out.
Jim Williams will take on last month’s Baltic Sea Darts Open champion Dave Chisnall on Saturday afternoon, defying five 180s from John Henderson to topple the Scot 6-2 on his European Tour return.
Meanwhile, Ted Evetts stole the show in Friday’s afternoon session, whitewashing former Grand Slam champion Jose de Sousa with a 98 average, while restricting the Portuguese star to just two darts at double.
Krzysztof Ratajski edged out Bradley Brooks in a dramatic last-leg to book his place in round two, surviving five match darts after Brooks had fought back from 3-0 down to force a decider.
Ryan Joyce defied a magnificent mid-game rally from Jermaine Wattimena to run out a 6-4 winner in a high-quality contest, while Brendan Dolan breezed to a 6-1 success against a profligate Steve Lennon.
In Friday’s curtain-raiser, William O’Connor overcame a sluggish start to see off Marko Kantele 6-3, before Andy Boulton marked his European Tour return with a superb comeback win over Luke Woodhouse.
The 16 seeded players enter the fray in Saturday’s second round, with top seed Humphries, defending champion Van Gerwen and world number one Smith amongst the names in action.
The tournament is being broadcast live on Viaplay, DAZN and PDCTV (excluding Germany, Austria and Switzerland) and through bookmakers' websites worldwide.
Click here for results and match stats.
2023 Interwetten European Darts Open
Friday March 24
William O'Connor 6-3 Marko Kantele
Ryan Joyce 6-4 Jermaine Wattimena
Brendan Dolan 6-1 Steve Lennon
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-5 Bradley Brooks
Ricardo Pietreczko 6-2 Geert Nentjes
Rene Eidams 6-4 Jurjen van der Velde
Ted Evetts 6-0 Jose de Sousa
Andy Boulton 6-5 Luke Woodhouse
Jim Williams 6-2 John Henderson
Ross Smith 6-0 Pascal Rupprecht
Ryan Meikle 6-2 Nico Kurz
Chris Dobey 6-2 Maik Kuivenhoven
Raymond van Barneveld 6-3 Filip Sebesta
James Wade 6-1 Florian Hempel
Ian White 6-5 Gabriel Clemens
Stephen Bunting 6-5 Daryl Gurney
Saturday March 25
Afternoon Session (1300 local time, 1200 GMT)
Damon Heta v Andy Boulton
Rob Cross v Ryan Joyce
Dave Chisnall v Jim Williams
Dirk van Duijvenbode v Ted Evetts
Joe Cullen v Ross Smith
Jonny Clayton v Ryan Meikle
Danny Noppert v Chris Dobey
Ryan Searle v Stephen Bunting
Evening Session (1900 local time, 1800 GMT)
Gerwyn Price v Krzysztof Ratajski
Luke Humphries v Brendan Dolan
Michael Smith v Rene Eidams
Peter Wright v Ricardo Pietreczko
Michael van Gerwen v Raymond van Barneveld
Dimitri Van den Bergh v James Wade
Martin Schindler v William O'Connor
Josh Rock v Ian White