Michael van Gerwen survived a major scare to deny an inspired Madars Razma in a captivating first round tussle at the Machineseeker European Championship on Friday, as reigning champion Ross Smith crashed out to German starlet Ricardo Pietreczko.
Four-time European Champion Van Gerwen led 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 before Razma turned the contest on its head, only for the Dutchman to survive a match dart in each of the last two legs to avoid a shock early exit in Dortmund.
Van Gerwen produced 148 and 108 checkouts to establish an early buffer, but a spirited Razma maintained his relentless scoring; firing in a brace of 11-darters to restore parity at four apiece.
The Latvian then conjured up a 112 outshot in leg nine to move to the brink of victory at 5-4, before missing tops for 80 and 142 finishes in a thrilling finale.
Van Gerwen capitalised on his reprieve, firing in a brilliant 12-dart break in the decider to move through to Saturday’s second round, despite Razma averaging almost 105.
“I had to produce something special because Madars was absolutely phenomenal,” conceded Van Gerwen, who averaged 97 and hit 75 per cent of his double attempts.
“You have to give Madars credit. I don’t think anybody expected him to play this well, but I kept my nerve and that’s the most important thing.
“The longer format [in round two] will hopefully help me, but you still have to perform. Everyone is playing well, so you can’t underestimate anyone. You have to be sharp from the beginning.”
Day Two of the £600,000 event saw the remaining first round ties take place on Friday, as debutant Pietreczko dumped out reigning champion Ross Smith to the delight of his home crowd.
Pietreczko, a winner at the recent German Darts Championship, produced a stellar display to set up a last 16 clash against Van Gerwen, averaging 104.28 to celebrate a 6-3 success.
The 29-year-old raced into a three-leg lead and refused to relent, as the reigning European Champion saw his hopes of retaining the title ended.
Smith's defeat means that he became the fifth successive defending champion to lose in the first round of the tournament.
Elsewhere, newly crowned World Grand Prix champion Luke Humphries breezed through to round two with an emphatic 6-1 victory over Brendan Dolan.
Dolan avoided a whitewash with a terrific 148 checkout in leg six, but a merciless Humphries afforded the Northern Irishman just a solitary dart at double to prevail with a 97 average.
However, it was Gian van Veen who produced the performance of the first round, dispatching sixth seed Damon Heta with a 107.34 average to cap off a dream Dortmund debut.
The nerveless Dutchman was imperious throughout, recording the highest average by a European Championship debutant to complete a 6-1 demolition of the Australian number one.
Van Veen’s reward is a meeting with Daryl Gurney, who pinned six of his eight attempts at double to overcome Josh Rock 6-2 in an all-Northern Irish affair.
2022 World Youth Champion Rock produced a ton-topping average in defeat but paid the price for his struggles on the outer ring, and Gurney profited to continue his resurgence.
“Josh has got so much quality so I knew I couldn’t relax,” admitted Gurney, a quarter-finalist in July’s World Matchplay.
“I always feel the pressure when I’m playing in the first round of any major [tournament], so I’m just glad to get the win.
“I was fortunate in the first couple of legs, but I took my chances and that is what darts is all about.”
Krzysztof Ratajski celebrated his first win on the European Championship stage at the sixth attempt, courtesy of a hard-fought 6-3 victory against Joe Cullen.
Poland's number one Ratajski missed double 12 for a nine-darter in leg two, before defying five 180s from a profligate Cullen to book a showdown against Humphries.
Jose de Sousa punished a costly miscount from Jonny Clayton in the penultimate leg of their clash to move through to a second round tie against James Wade on Saturday evening.
The Portuguese star reeled off three straight legs from 4-3 down to deny Clayton, punishing the Welshman’s woes to return to winning ways on the big stage.
Meanwhile, 2018 winner Wade outlasted seventh seed Dirk van Duijvenbode in a scrappy affair, winning the last three legs without reply to end his losing run on the big stage with a first victory in a PDC Premier event since January's Masters.
The second round will take place across two session on Saturday, with World Champion Michael Smith up against 2020 winner Peter Wright in the afternoon’s headline act.
World Matchplay champion Nathan Aspinall will play former finalist Gerwyn Price in another stellar showdown, while two-time European Champion Rob Cross faces Danny Noppert.
Van Gerwen and Pietreczko’s encounter will take centre stage on Saturday evening, with Wade and De Sousa also locking horns for a place in the quarter-finals.
2023 Machineseeker European Championship
Friday October 27
First Round x8
Gian van Veen 6-1 Damon Heta
Krzysztof Ratajski 6-3 Joe Cullen
Daryl Gurney 6-2 Josh Rock
Jose De Sousa 6-4 Jonny Clayton
James Wade 6-3 Dirk van Duijvenbode
Luke Humphries 6-1 Brendan Dolan
Michael van Gerwen 6-5 Madars Razma
Ricardo Pietreczko 6-3 Ross Smith
Saturday October 28
Afternoon Session (1300-1700 CEST, 1200-1600 BST)
Chris Dobey v Stephen Bunting
Rob Cross v Danny Noppert
Gerwyn Price v Nathan Aspinall
Michael Smith v Peter Wright
Evening Session (1900-2300 CEST, 1800-2200 BST)
Gian van Veen v Daryl Gurney
James Wade v Jose de Sousa
Luke Humphries v Krzysztof Ratajski
Michael van Gerwen v Ricardo Pietreczko
Best of 19 legs