Nathan Aspinall will take on Joe Cullen in Saturday’s Betfred World Matchplay semi-finals, after the pair won through enthralling ties against Chris Dobey and Daryl Gurney respectively on Thursday.
Day Six saw the first two quarter-finals take place at the Winter Gardens, and it was Aspinall and Cullen who broke new ground in Blackpool with impressive victories.
Aspinall produced the performance of the night to defeat Dobey 16-12, producing a sensational mid-game burst to move through to his first semi-final at the Empress Ballroom.
The Stockport star signalled his intent with a 128 checkout in leg four, although Dobey was the dominant force in the early exchanges, moving 6-3 ahead with eye-catching 140 and 100 finishes.
However, Aspinall continued his relentless assault on the treble 20 to seize control, winning seven of the next eight legs to establish a commanding 12-8 cushion.
The 32-year-old landed a crucial double-double 92 finish in leg 18, and he continued his charge by following up a 12-dart hold with a clinical 116 checkout to move two legs away from victory at 14-8.
Dobey displayed darting defiance of his own, firing in a brace of 11-darters and winning four of the next five legs to preserve his slender hopes, surviving two match darts during that spell.
Nevertheless, Aspinall regained his poise to seal his progress, pinning double eight to triumph with a 99 average and ten maximums.
“We threw everything at each other tonight. I think it was a fantastic game of darts," said Aspinall, who had succumbed to Michael van Gerwen at the quarter-final stage in each of the last two years.
“It was always going to be a tough match tonight against my best pal. I love Chris to bits, but we have to go up there and be professional, and I think it was a fantastic advert for the sport.
“I’m in a good place. I feel so confident. I’m so happy with the way I’m playing, the way I’m finishing.
"I don’t think anybody can beat me, and I’ve not felt like that for a long, long time.”
Earlier in the night, Cullen also won through to his first World Matchplay semi-final with a hard-fought win over Gurney, who paid the price for a disastrous start to the contest.
Gurney raced into a 5-0 lead against Gary Anderson in his last 16 tie, but this time was on the receiving end of an early blitz by a clinical Cullen, who stormed to a clean sweep in the opening session.
The Northern Irishman responded with 77, 86 and 92 combinations to reduce the arrears to 6-3, and he continued his comeback with a spectacular 132 on the bull in leg 13.
Cullen replied with a delightful 142 checkout to restore his four-leg buffer at 9-5, although a tenacious Gurney won three of the next four legs to cut the gap to just two.
However, the two-time semi-finalist surrendered his throw when trailing 10-8 and 12-10, with back-to-back 13-darters moving Cullen to the cusp of victory at 14-10.
The Yorkshireman fired in maximums in four consecutive legs in his race to the finish, and a sublime 162 set-up shot helped him complete another 13-darter to wrap up a 16-11 success.
“It was a battle, but I ground that result out,” reflected Cullen, who averaged 97 and landed eight 180s to cap off a professional display.
“I think the first session won me that game. It was pretty even after that, but I found some big scores and big finishes when I needed them most.
“It feels great to be in the semi-finals. I feel like I can win this tournament, but it’s about producing it on the day.
“This sport has been my life over the last decade, so it would mean everything to win this title. I believe I’m good enough, and now I want to write my name into history.”
The quarter-final action concludes on Friday, as sixth seed Luke Humphries takes on Australian number one Damon Heta, while Wales’ World Cup winner Jonny Clayton plays Ryan Searle.
The Betfred World Matchplay will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK, through the PDC's worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV (excluding UK, Germany, Austria & Switzerland based subscribers).
Images courtesy of Taylor Lanning/PDC
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2023 Betfred World Matchplay
Thursday July 20
Joe Cullen 16-11 Daryl Gurney
Nathan Aspinall 16-12 Chris Dobey
Friday July 21 (2000 BST)
Ryan Searle v Jonny Clayton
Damon Heta v Luke Humphries
Best of 31 legs