He may have been one of the first players to bow out of this year’s tournament, but for Christian Kist, he came out of the opening night of the 2018 PDC World Championship at Alexandra Palace last night as one of the biggest winners.
Cast your minds back just seven weeks ago. The 2012 BDO world champion had been whitewashed 6-0 by his fellow Dutchman Jelle Klaasen in the first round of the European Championship.
More alarmingly than the one-sided scoreline, though, was Kist’s performance in Hasselt. A final average of 64.35 – his lowest ever in front of the TV cameras – was clearly as a result of injuries resurfacing into his game.
Then, fast forward to three weeks ago and Kist fell at the first hurdle of the Players Championship Finals, losing 6-3 to Simon Whitlock with a sub-80 average, and when the draw came out a few days later matching him up with the world number one and reigning world champion Michael van Gerwen at Ally Pally, many were fearing the worst for the former Lakeside winner.
So, how pleasing it was to see Kist put in the performance he did, on the biggest of stages, and under the most intense scrutiny, last night. A 100.23 average – just 0.17 short of his highest ever on TV – and a 3-1 defeat to the pre-tournament favourite.
Many of the plaudits went to van Gerwen, who himself averaged 106.17 and took out checkouts of 141, 138 and 114, but Kist finished the four-set encounter with only two 100+ scores less than the man widely tipped to lift the Sid Waddell Trophy for a third time on New Year’s Day.
Van Gerwen won the first set in three-straight legs, and was averaging just shy of 110 at the first break, but Kist was not being completely outplayed. The opening two legs saw him narrowly miss the bullseye for finishes of 164 and 161, before van Gerwen checked out 141 in the third leg to wrap up the set.
Trailing 2-1 in the second set, Kist spurned a dart at double 16 for a 64 checkout to force a decider, and he was punished as van Gerwen finished off 74 on tops with his last dart in hand.
A high-quality third set saw van Gerwen fire in two 12-darters to twice come from a leg behind, before Kist held firm in the decider with a 13-dart leg on double nine to get a set on the board.
That was as good as it would get for Kist, as van Gerwen reeled off three straight legs in the next set, all in 15 darts or less, to begin the defence of his title with a four-sets victory.
But Kist will head back to the Netherlands with renewed hope heading into 2018. His talent cannot be questioned, if he can stay injury-free next season then a performance like last night could just be the catalyst for a big push up the rankings.
Picture: Lawrence Lustig/PDC