Inspired Littler lights up Ally Pally on debut, as Wright exits

Luke Littler (Simon O'Connor/PDC)

Teenage superstar Luke Littler produced a record-breaking performance on a night of history at the Paddy Power World Darts Championship, as two-time winner Peter Wright crashed out in straight sets.

Wright, a World Championship winner in 2020 and 2022 – suffered a chastening defeat at the hands of Jim Williams, yet it was Littler who stole the headlines at Alexandra Palace on Wednesday.

Littler – the fourth youngest player to compete at the World Darts Championship – registered the highest ever average by a debutant in the sport’s flagship event, on a remarkable night in the capital.

The 16-year-old celebrated Winmau World Youth Championship glory in Minehead last month, and he reaffirmed his credentials with a breath-taking display against former Lakeside Champion Christian Kist.

Littler sent out an early statement with a blistering three-leg burst, reeling off 14 and 15-dart holds, while pinning a clinical 91 combination on the bull to draw first blood with a 110 average.

The Warrington thrower continued his rampant run in the second stanza, following up legs of 13 and 14 darts with a fourth maximum and an 11-darter to move to the cusp of a famous victory.

Despite Kist’s spirited resistance, Littler refused to relent, kicking off set three with a brace of 180s, before backing up a 106 outshot with a 15-darter on tops to round off a dream debut.

“It was an amazing experience,” reflected Littler, who averaged 106.12, crashed in seven maximums and pinned nine of his 18 attempts at a double.

“I knew my practice was going well, but I didn’t think that I would take that on to the stage.

“To hit the highest average on debut at the World Championship – this definitely ranks at the top of my achievements so far. It’s unbelievable.”

However, Wright became the biggest name to crash out of the tournament on an action-packed Day Six, after suffering his earliest exit at the World Championship since 2018/19.

Williams delivered a crushing 124 checkout on the bull to win a tightly-contested opening set, which prompted a change of darts from the Scot at the first interval.

Wright’s woes were compounded when he squandered seven darts to restore parity in a dramatic second set, and Williams capitalised with a clean sweep in the third to ease through to the last 32.

“It was tough to see Peter struggling up there,” conceded Williams, who dumped out James Wade at the same stage of last year’s event.

“It’s a weird feeling. Obviously you want to win, but it’s difficult, because you’re playing somebody you normally watch and you don’t want to see them suffer.

“I’ve had two strange games so far. My focus has been terrible, but sometimes when the pressure is on you your focus is better, so hopefully there is more in the tank.”

Earlier in the day, Ross Smith survived a late scare – and the wrath of the Ally Pally wasp – to book his place in round three with a 3-1 success against Niels Zonneveld.

The former European Champion crashed in seven 180s and a spectacular 170 checkout to cap off an eye-catching display, which also saw him convert 41 per cent of his attempts at double.

Elsewhere, Ryan Joyce put down a marker on his Alexandra Palace return, registering a 100.32 average to see off former CDC Continental Cup champion Alex Spellman in a high-quality affair.

Spellman stormed to the opening set without reply, although after winning a second-set decider, Joyce claimed the last five legs in 14, 11 14, 12 and 16 darts to book a meeting with 2021 semi-finalist Stephen Bunting.

William O’Connor produced a clinical display to ease past Indian qualifier Bhav Patel, averaging 98.47 and landing a brace of ton-plus checkouts to progress in nine straight legs.

O’Connor’s former World Cup partner Steve Lennon also moved through to round two, after recovering from a two-set deficit to deny Challenge Tour runner-up Owen Bates.

Bates looked poised to celebrate a debut win after landing a brace of ton-plus finishes to lead 2-0, but an emotional Lennon fought back from the brink, winning nine of the last 12 legs to complete the comeback.

Meanwhile, Radek Szaganski will take on Dutch legend Raymond van Barneveld in round two, after the Pole marked his World Championship debut with a gruelling five-set victory over Marko Kantele.

Szaganski – a Players Championship winner in October – won six of the last seven legs to outlast Kantele, converting 142, 80 and 74 finishes in consecutive legs to complete the comeback.

Richard Veenstra also secured victory on his Ally Pally bow, converting 104, 112 and 142 finishes on his way to a straight-sets success against New Zealand’s Ben Robb, in a contest featuring five ton-plus outshots.

The first round action will draw to a close in Thursday’s double-session, with Littler returning to the stage to face UK Open champion Andrew Gilding for a place in the third round.

2018 champion Rob Cross will also get his campaign underway, as world number seven Danny Noppert and last year’s semi-finalist Gabriel Clemens enter the fray.

Click here for match stats & results.

2023/24 Paddy Power World Darts Championship
Wednesday December 20
Afternoon Session
3x First Round, 1x Second Round

Radek Szaganski 3-2 Marko Kantele (3-1, 2-3, 2-3, 3-1, 3-0) (R1)
Steve Lennon 3-2 Owen Bates (1-3, 2-3, 3-1, 3-1, 3-1) (R1)
William O'Connor 3-0 Bhav Patel (3-0, 3-0, 3-0) (R1)
Ross Smith 3-1 Niels Zonneveld (3-0, 3-2, 2-3, 3-1) (R2)

Evening Session
3x First Round, 1x Second Round

Ryan Joyce 3-1 Alex Spellman (0-3, 3-2, 3-1, 3-0) (R1)
Richard Veenstra 3-0 Ben Robb (3-2, 3-1, 3-2) (R1)
Luke Littler 3-0 Christian Kist (3-0, 3-1, 3-1) (R1)
Jim Williams 3-0 Peter Wright (3-2, 3-2, 3-0) (R2)

Thursday December 21
Afternoon Session (1230 GMT)
2x First Round, 2x Second Round

Mickey Mansell v Xiaochen Zong (R1)
Luke Woodhouse v Berry van Peer (R1)
Madars Razma v Mike De Decker (R2)
Rob Cross v Thibault Tricole (R2)

Evening Session (1900 GMT)
4x Second Round

Andrew Gilding v Luke Littler (R2)
Danny Noppert v Scott Williams (R2)
Gabriel Clemens v Man Lok Leung (R2)
Damon Heta v Martin Lukeman (R2)