There was a day of drama at Billabong Pro Mundaka yesterday as the title race was narrowed down from five to three.

It’s coming down to crunch time at the Billabong Pro Mundaka and the atmosphere is nothing short of electric as heading into the business end of the ninth event on the Foster’s ASP Men’s World Tour the competition is intense.

With only small waves hitting the famed left hand break that is Mundaka, organisers moved the event 15 minutes drive south to Bakio to contest round four and the quarterfinals in the location’s peaky beach breaks. It was a drama-filled day all round, with some amazing surfing, particularly in the latter stages when the quarterfinals hit the water and the race for the world crown was narrowed from five surfers down to three.

Bowing out of the race was Australia’s Mick Fanning (AUS) and former three-time world champion Andy Irons (HAW). Both were ousted in scintillating heats to Joel Parkinson (AUS), who is also still in contention, and Bobby Martinez (USA) respectively.

Kelly Slater (USA) meanwhile stayed on target to wrap up an unprecedented eighth world crown by winning through to meet Parkinson in semifinal one after he held off a challenge from Tom Whitaker (AUS) in quarterfinal two.

The heat of the day however was the matchup between good buddies Fanning and Parkinson. Neither held any punches as they bashed the lip, landed some big aerials and swooped through some creative arcing turns. In the end though Parkinson was just too strong and in taking the win his feelings were bitter sweet.

"There’s been some good battles between me and Mick (Fanning)," said Parkinson. “That one should have been a final and not a quarter. I’m sad that we met in the quarters, but I’m glad that I got through and I just wish it had of been the final."

“I’ve had a good ratio against Mick, but I hate having to surf against him, not only is it a really hard heat, but it’s kind of emotional. I’m always cheering for him to win so when I come up against him I don’t know who to cheer for." Parkinson, as mentioned, will now take on Slater in the first semifinal to be held tomorrow morning and he is fully aware that he will have to continue his momentum as a loss will instantly destroy any title hopes.

“It’s been a hard run so far. I’ve had Bruce (Irons) and Mick (Fanning)," said Parkinson. “And while I’ve overcome some big obstacles there the biggest is yet to come. I don’t expect anything to be easy."

Slater meanwhile had a quarterfinal heat where quality waves were scarce, yet the seven-time world champion did what he had to and in the end easily defeated Whitaker. “I don’t think there was that much more out there really," said Slater. “Tom (Whitaker) had one wave that looked really nice, but even he said ‘that thing just went flat on me’. With the tide coming up it wasn’t allowing us to do much."

And does a seven-time world champ get jittery being so close to another crown… “I’ll be fine, I’m not too stressed out about anything," said Slater “I’m a little bit antsy, but when I’m not surfing a heat and I get away from the contest a little bit I’m relaxing so it’s not to bad. Consistency wise this is the best year for me. I’ve been much more patient in heats all year and am not trying to rush myself."

The 34-year-old also knows that he faces a huge test tomorrow against Parkinson. “Joel (Parkinson) has been the form guy at the last couple of events," said Slater. “Even at Trestles, he and Taj (Burrow) were the form guys. He just had a little slip up and I got him. If you’re going to win you want to surf against the best guy and Joel (Parkinson) is proving to be that guy at the moment. He’s got a winning record against me so I have to step it up and match him."

Leaving the water with a massive grin after claiming the heat victory was none other than Martinez. Surfing a solid heat the workaholic weaved through, up and over everything to take control against Irons and hang on right to the end. He has taken one event this season, the Billabong Pro in Tahiti, and is showing the same winning form here in Mundaka.

After an indifferent mid season Martinez is extra happy to be finishing in front of the pack again. “I’m really happy, the last three contests I have been in I did badly," said Martinez. “To make it through a heat, let alone to be in the semis… well I’m super happy.

“This heat was as important for me as it is for him, while he could win the world title and I can’t, it’s important for me because I just want to do my best," said Martinez. “I don’t know how many chances I’ll get to surf in this tour so every chance I try to surf like it’s my last chance."

The only title contender yet to compete in the quarterfinals is Taj Burrow (AUS) who will go up against Dean Morrison (AUS) first thing tomorrow. Like Parkinson he must go all the way to the final and take the event in front of Slater to keep the race alive going into Brazil. “It’s going to be interesting for sure," said Burrow “Bring it on I say!"

Forecasts indicate that the conditions will not be much different to those of today but with only four heats remaining organisers are hinting that they could bring the event back to Mundaka and take advantage of the break when tides are right.

"For Mundaka, waist-shoulder high sets will show on the best tides tomorrow," said surf forecaster www.surfline.com "Mundaka will probaby only be contestable in the afternoon. For Bakio, you can expect larger surf in the chest-head high range, with a few bigger sets on the best tides."

Check out all the Results/Photos/Videos on: www.aspworldtour.com and www.billabongpro.com

Round four results:

(1st place to semifinal 2nd receives equal 9th placing and 600 ratings points)

  • Heat 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.57 def Bruce Irons (HAW) 11.00
  • Heat 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.67 def Victor Ribas (BRA) 10.73
  • Heat 3: Tom Whitaker (AUS) 12.00 def Pancho Sullivan (HAW) 4.57
  • Heat 4: Kelly Slater (USA) 16.33 def Cory Lopez (USA) 13.17
  • Heat 5: Andy Irons (HAW) 13.27 def Trent Munro (AUS) 6.16
  • Heat 6: Bobby Martinez (USA) 13.16 def Phil MacDonald (AUS) 12.67
  • Heat 7: Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.33 def Adriano de Souza (BRA) 10.33
  • Heat 8: Dean Morrison (AUS) 13.50 def Damien Hobgood (USA) 12.33

Quarterfinals:

(1st to semifinals 2nd receives equal 5th and 732 ratings points)

  • Quarterfinal 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 16.34 def Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.33
  • Quarterfinal 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 13.23 def Tom Whitaker (AUS) 7.93
  • Quarterfinal 3: Bobby Martinez (USA) 12.40 def Andy Irons (HAW) 11.40
  • Quarterfinal 4: Taj Burrow (AUS) vs Dean Morrison (AUS) - (still to be run)

Semifinals:

(1st to final 2nd receives equal 3rd and 876 ratings points)

  • Semifinal 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs Kelly Slater (USA)
  • Semifinal 2: Bobby Martinez (USA) vs winner of quarterfinal four