Foster’s ASP World Tour ratings leader Mick Fanning (AUS) is two heats closer to clinching his maiden world title after winning his Round 3 and 4 Billabong Pro duels today. Thing is, reigning and 8X World Champion Kelly Slater (USA) and World No. 3 Taj Burrow (AUS) aren’t ready to let him run away with it.
Twenty heats of Billabong Pro Mundaka competition were run in very contestable three foot (one metre) waves in Bakio today. The first five heats of Round 4 saw five of eight Quarterfinalists decided late in the day; Fanning and Slater were among them, former 2007 title contender Joel Parkinson (AUS) was not.
Fanning beat wildcard Hodei Collazo (EUK) in Round 3 before taking out fellow Australian Luke Stedman in Round 4 to find himself in the Quarters.
“Luke had a 7.50 to start off with, but you just have to go out there and get your waves,” Fanning said. “Steds is one of those guys who always tends to get the best waves in the heat so I’m just stoked to get through that one.”
Fanning won the first Foster’s ASP World Tour of the year on the Gold Coast of Australia as well as the last tour event in France. With a win here, Slater and Burrow need to finish at least equal 3rd to take the title race to the next stop in Brazil.
“If I can get three firsts the pressure really rolls back on to those two guys,” Fanning said. “I just have to keep really focused and keep the heats rolling hopefully.”
Slater posted a last-minute win over wildcard Tiago Pires (PRT) in Round 3, but his elimination of Adriano de Souza (BRA) in Round 4 was much more convincing. Into the Quarters, Slater knows better than anyone what he needs to do if he plans to go for ASP World Title No. 9. According to him, he has to do it in Spain.
“If I don’t beat Mick in this contest, I’m pretty much out of it,” Slater said. “Right now I’m six heats behind Mick, if I finish one place behind him here that means I’ll be seven heats behind him for the title, so I just need to keep chugging along. It can happen so I feel pretty good a lot more lively.”
Slater has been vocal about Joel Parkinson (AUS) being Australia’s next major title contender in recent years, yet he finds himself alongside Burrow and Fanning as the only three surfers still in the hunt.
“It doesn’t surprise me that it’s Mick in the race, it’s just that Joel has always had such a natural talent from such a young age,” Slater said. “Joel is just so naturally talented, but when you watch him he doesn’t seem as driven as Mick. Mick is a work horse, he’s working harder than any of us out here. He’s definitely more focused, definitely more prepared before his heats. He’s just got this whole scene around him supporting him too, great support from his girlfriend, his team manager and team sponsor, family and friends. He’s created a great atmosphere for himself and it’s really working out for him.”
Parkinson was eliminated by Philip Macdonald (AUS) in Round 4 today. His hopes for a 2007 World Title were crushed as well. Despite finishing in the Top 10 last year, Macdonald finds himself several excellent results from requalifying this year.
“I’m in a lost worse position than Joel is,” Macdonald said. “He’s gunning for a World Title and I’m in 37th trying to get my spot back on the tour. It’s bad luck that he’s no longer in the World Title race but I’m just worrying about myself.”
Macdonald will meet defending champion Bobby Martinez (USA) in Quarterfinal 1.
After a Round 3 walk through, Martinez put on a commanding performance to take out Bernardo Miranda (AUS) in the first heat of Round 4. A huge aerial and throwaway wave scores in the excellent range were proof that despite his bye (courtesy of a withdrawal by Australian Trent Munro) into Round 4, Martinez was well deserving of his Quarterfinal berth.
“It was lucky for me that Trent went home,” Martinez said. “To get a bye, I mean I’ve been struggling, so I’m going to take it. I’m just glad to have made it and still be here competing in the event because I’ve lost in the 17th round so many times this year.”
Title contender Burrow will have to ponder his Round 4 match-up against Royden Bryson (ZAF) overnight, but if his nocturnal reveries are anything like last night’s, he should be on the right track.
“I actually had a dream about it last night, a dream that I won this contest and that everything opened back up again,” Burrow said. “It was a cool, a nice little dream to wake up to. I’m not thinking about the World Title that much… well, actually I am (laughing). But I’m just trying to think about the contest, you know nail it the next couple of events, that’s what I really want to do.”
Billabong Pro Mundaka Contest Director Mike Parsons will make another call on the event status tomorrow morning at 8am. There are 10 heats left and three days to run. Ideally, some surfing will be held at the main site of Mundaka.
“It looks like a slow drop in the swell throughout the day tomorrow, so we’re hoping to at least get through Round 4 tomorrow,” Parsons said. “Ideally, in a perfect world we’d get Mundaka Saturday for the Quarterfinals and finish at Mundaka on Sunday. If there isn’t enough swell tomorrow at Mundaka first thing in the morning we will most likely end up here at Bakio to finish Round 4 to get into a position where we only have seven heats to go for the weekend.”