MICHAEL VAN GERWEN had to produce an outstanding performance to see off Paul Nicholson on the opening night of the 2018 Unibet European Championship on Thursday in Dortmund.
Reigning champion Van Gerwen was in top form as he began his bid to claim a record fifth successive European Championship win, but overcame an early scare before storming through to the last 16.
Nicholson threatened to stun the world number one when he kicked off with back-to-back 12-darters, only to see Van Gerwen rattle off six consecutive legs in a breath-taking display at the Westfalenhalle.
After Nicholson had taken out 127 on the bullseye, Van Gerwen responded with an 11-dart leg before levelling up - and then punished his opponent for six missed darts to win the fifth leg by bedding double one.
The Dutch sensation went on to take out a showpiece 170 checkout and averaged 110.32.
"It wasn’t that easy," said Van Gerwen, who is chasing a fifth successive European Championship title.
"At the beginning he put me under big pressure and I still played well. I was still feeling good and I had no other choice than to play like that.
"Paul played really well and put in a good performance. He kept me under pressure, it’s only a short format and anything can happen but he missed a few darts to go 3-2 up and I took great advantage of that."
Van Gerwen's next opponent is Steve West, who won a last-leg decider with a 106 checkout after Mervyn King had narrowly missed the bull.
Peter Wright made light work of Jermaine Wattimena as the world number two claimed the only whitewash win of the opening night.
The Scotsman averaged 101.33 and hit six doubles from eight attempts as he set up a second round clash against Simon Whitlock.
2012 European Champion Whitlock produced a superb start to his campaign, seeing off Steve Beaton 6-3.
The Australian ace averaged over 101 and landed 75 percent of attempts at doubles, including a 128 checkout to complete the win.
"My doubles were good so I'm happy to win that game because Steve's amazing," said Whitlock.
"I've still got more to come - I've been playing really well lately but I haven't got the results I've wanted and it is really important to me to show what I can do in the big tournaments. Tonight is the start of that."
Emerging Richard North stunned number four seed Ian White with a 6-1 demolition on his debut in the tournament.
Romsey's North, who reached two semi-finals on the European Tour this year, won six consecutive legs in a dominant display against an out-of-sorts White.
"I thought it would be much more difficult than that but Ian seemed to struggle," admitted North.
"It can be a struggle in the first round sometimes and that seemed to happen to him for some reason and I just took advantage."
North faces Rob Cross in round two on Friday evening after the World Champion came from 4-2 behind to defeat Danny Noppert 6-4.
Michael Smith produced a professional display to defeat Ireland's Steve Lennon 6-3 and will face Joe Cullen in round two after the Yorkshireman won the last five legs of his 6-2 success over Jelle Klaasen without reply.
The first round concludes on Friday afternoon before Thursday's winners play their second ties on Friday evening.
Following Thursday's opening night, Van Gerwen is now the 8/15 favourite with sponsors Unibet to take the title on Sunday evening.
The £400,000 tournament is being shown live on ITV4 and through the PDC's international broadcast partners, and for PDCTV-HD Rest of the World Subscribers.
Unibet European Championship
Thursday October 25
Steve West 6-5 Mervyn King
Richard North 6-1 Ian White
Simon Whitlock 6-3 Steve Beaton
Michael Smith 6-3 Steve Lennon
Joe Cullen 6-2 Jelle Klaasen
Michael van Gerwen 6-2 Paul Nicholson
Rob Cross 6-4 Danny Noppert
Peter Wright 6-0 Jermaine Wattimena
Friday October 26
Afternoon Session (1345 local time, 1245 UK time)
Jonny Clayton v James Wilson
Darren Webster v Stephen Bunting
Gerwyn Price v Kyle Anderson
Mensur Suljovic v Cristo Reyes
Daryl Gurney v Ricky Evans
Max Hopp v William O'Connor
James Wade v Martin Schindler
Adrian Lewis v Dave Chisnall
Evening Session (2000 local time, 1900 UK time)
Joe Cullen v Michael Smith
Simon Whitlock v Peter Wright
Richard North v Rob Cross
Michael van Gerwen v Steve West
Friday Afternoon Session
1/4 Mensur Suljovic v 3/1 Cristo Reyes
4/5 Darren Webster v Evens Stephen Bunting
4/6 Max Hopp v 11/8 William O'Connor
6/5 Jonny Clayton v 4/6 James Wilson
1/2 James Wade v 6/4 Martin Schindler
4/9 Daryl Gurney v 15/8 Ricky Evans
8/15 Gerwyn Price v 6/4 Kyle Anderson
10/11 Adrian Lewis v 10/11 Dave Chisnall