They hugged each other for a long time, one immensely disappointed, the other overjoyed, but above all relieved that the great pressure was finally off. 4-3 in a quality match, Josh Rock also eliminated ten-seeded Nathan Aspinall from the World Darts Championship, who is through to the Round of 16 and has confirmed the numerous predictions that had identified him as a secret favorite leading up to the tournament.
The junior world champion is number six among bookmakers behind Michael van Gerwen, Gerwyn Price, Michael Smith, Peter Wright and Luke Humphries. That’s not a matter of course. The Northern Irishman is 21 years old, number 47 in the world, is playing his first season on the professional tour and was working on a chicken farm in Northern Ireland until three months ago. Already in his early teens he had set professional dart throwing as his career goal. He left school at 16 to train more. However, the fact that the breakthrough was planned earlier is shown by his involvement on the chicken farm, where he has been helping chicks to raise since last year. The job was the result of financial problems. The money was no longer enough.
The worry is long gone and so is his time on the farm. He was able to bring in a whopping 94,000 pounds in prize money in his first year, and the round of 16 at the World Cup alone guarantees him another 35,000 pounds and lucrative sponsorship deals. And who’s to say that the story won’t get more episodes in the coming days?
Especially since he has been getting along better and better with the biggest stage of the arrow throwers since the tournament started. The slightly nervous 3:1 in the first round against the Spaniard Jose Justicia was followed by a 3:0 against last year’s World Cup quarter-finalist Callan Rydz. “It wasn’t the best performance yet. But I think we’re going to see a different Josh Rock next round,” he said before heading home for the Christmas holiday. Like Lothar Matthäus, he likes to use the third person. A Josh Rock will do this and intend to do that. This can sometimes be irritating, but it is definitely an expression of his extreme self-confidence. And so there could possibly be another parallel with the German football legend on January 3rd. Matthäus crowned his career in Rome in 1990 as captain of the German national team.
“I think I’ll be world champion,” he had said before the tournament, with just one small caveat: “If not this time, then sometime in the coming years.” Memories are slowly coming back to Rob Cross, who in his debut season secured the world title five years ago. The next opponent waiting for “Rocky” in the round of 16 is Jonny Clayton, number seven in the world. The Welshman defeated Rock’s compatriot Brendan Dolan 4-1. In the quarterfinals there could then be a duel with defending champion Peter Wright.
Against Aspinall, Rock made an early exclamation point and checked 141 points to win the first set. Also thanks to three out of four hit doubles he had an average of 104.69 points. His opponent, however, was unimpressed, countered with his throw-off and then even took a 2-1 lead thanks to a 3-1 break. The averages of the two were just under 100 points. In the fourth round, “Rocky” missed the nine-darter to equalize the set after six perfect throws, but made it 2-2 a little later in eleven darts.
The match came to a head, the pressure on the two players increased noticeably. Aspinall, needing a set against throw, forced the decider in 14 darts. The Englishman threw his ninth 180, followed by Rock’s 12th. It was now a world-class match, but now it also got an additional appeal with a lot of drama. Rock missed two set darts on double 20 and double 10, but Aspinall also missed his chance on double 10: 3-2 to Rock.
Aspinall then fought back into the match and won the sixth round 3-0. The Englishman now had the momentum, but not the advantage of the throw in the seventh set on his side. When Rock spectacularly checked 99 points over tops-tops to make it 2-0, while Aspinall was waiting with ten points remaining, the preliminary decision seemed to have been made anyway. However, “The Asp” broke back again and even had three leg darts to make it 2-2 with 16 points left. He aimed several times, stepped back and then threw – over. His mistakes number 35, 36 and 37. The double rate of 28.8 percent ultimately made the decisive difference. Rock (double rate: 42.4 percent) checked 70 points to win.
“I said to myself: ‘You have to bring about the end now, otherwise the pressure will increase again.’ It was an incredibly close match,” Rock later reported and looked ahead: “A 95 average is fine, but lets go on we can do it better. I can do more.” There is an opportunity to do so on Thursday or Friday when the round of 16 is played. The PDC will announce the exact appointments on Wednesday.
Dimitri van den Bergh (BEL/15) – Krzysztof Ratajski (POL/18) 4:1 (3:2; 3:0; 0:3; 3:1; 3:1)
Nathan Aspinall (ENG/10) – Josh Rock (NIR) 3:4 (2:3; 3:1, 3:1; 1:3; 2:3; 3:0; 1:3)
Jonny Clayton (WAL/7) – Brendan Dolan (NIR/26) 4:1 (3:2; 3:2; 3:2; 2:3; 3:2)
from 8.15 p.m.:
Jim Williams (WAL) – Gabriel Clemens (D/25)
Gerwyn Price (WAL/1) – Raymond van Barneveld (NED/32)
Peter Wright (SCO/2) – Kim Huybrechts (BEL/31)