A semifinal stage of epic proportions has been set for the final day of the Billabong Pro Mundaka with ASP World Title contenders Mick Fanning (AUS), Kelly Slater (USA) and Taj Burrow (AUS) along with defending Billabong Pro Mundaka Champion Bobby Martinez (USA) all winning their Quarterfinal heats at the back-up venue of Bakio today.
Slater and Burrow needed to finish equal 3rd or better in the Billabong Pro to ward off a rampaging Fanning from clinching the 2007 Foster's ASP World Title in Spain. Having drawn each other in Semifinal 2, one surfer is assured a final berth and thus a 1st or 2nd place finish, the other will leave with the equal 3rd they needed to take the race to Brazil.
"I won that heat and I have to go to Brazil now," Slater said. "Sometimes it's hard to define exactly what you have to do, but right now I know exactly what I have to do. I have to go to Brazil and I have to win, that's about it."
Slater may have won his eighth ASP World Title in Mundaka last year, but was relieved just to remain in contention after eliminating France's Jeremy Flores today. Had Flores beat Slater, the title would have been guaranteed to an Australian for the first time since Mark Occhilupo's win in 1999.
"If I lost it that heat it would have been an Australian title no matter what, but I think surf fans around the world want to see the race continue for a little bit longer, no matter who wins it," Slater said. "Mick is in the driver's seat and Taj and I are just along for the ride trying to catch up to him; trying to draft him, so to speak."
Slater and Burrow have surfed against each other 15 times in elite tour competition, with Slater besting Burrow 10 of those 15 times. Their 16th encounter will occur either tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 13th or Sunday, Oct. 14th – the last day of the waiting period. Burrow won their last clash in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa this year and went on to take out the event and post his second win of the season.
"Taj and I have had some good battles over the years, we'll see how it goes," Slater said. "This is his first year to have two wins and probably the first year he's been real serious about going after that World Title. He's pretty focused. We've had heats before here in Mundaka. I stole a win from him here and I'm sure he'll be looking to get me back for that one, but I'm looking to get him back for J-Bay."
Burrow beat fellow Australian Bede Durbidge in the last Quarterfinal of the day to earn his Semifinal berth against Slater. Sitting in 3rd on the ASP ratings, Burrow needs to beat Slater if he hopes to better his chances of having a legitimate shot at earning his first world title.
"It's just another heat," Burrow said. "Kelly is Kelly so it's going to be a hard one for sure. I'm just looking to nail another contest."
Whether its Burrow or Slater who advance will ultimately be less critical to the race than whether they beat Fanning should he advance over Martinez and into the Billabong Pro Final.
"It works out pretty good for Mick with me and Kelly on one side of the draw doesn't it," Burrow said. "One of us is going to have to get knocked out and it's coming down to crunch time so we're all going for it."
Fanning took on Taylor Knox (USA) in his Quarterfinal clash, but easily beat the Californian 14.33 to 6.17.
"Taylor has been surfing insane for the last three contests. He didn't have the result he wanted in France, and I knew he wanted a good one here," Fanning said. "It's always tough going up against Taylor, he's always so solid."
Fanning's Semifinal berth in Spain is his 9th in the last 13 events. He's won two events this year, and will be hard to beat if he wins another.
"You have to keep the pressure on, it's not over yet," Fanning said. "I've got to keep getting through heats, get another good result and try to finish strong here. "I've got Bobby Martinez next. He's the defending champ and he has been surfing insane this event. With Kelly and Taj both through their heats, they are going to have to fight it out through that one too. That's surfing, it just comes down to the end."
Martinez earned the highest wave score of the event thus far, a 9.70 out of 10.00, for slotting himself into the only real barrel ridden in the Billabong Pro Mundaka this year.
"I don't know where it came from," Martinez said. "It looked really nice with a steep part on it. I paddled for it and thought that I maybe could get a little barrel, it stayed hollow and I just went for it. I got lucky because I haven't really seen any waves like that today since I've been watching. I guess I was in the right place at the right time."
Martinez eliminated Phil Macdonald (AUS) in Quarterfinal 1 and will feature in the first Semifinal against Fanning when the event runs next. The defending champ is sitting 13th on the ratings and has much less at stake than Fanning. He claims not to be too fazed by the draw.
"I feel the same way I feel about any match up," Martinez said. "Mick is winning right now, but I'm not afraid to lose. I've lost all this year and I've lost all my life so I'm just going out to go out there fighting. I've got nothing to lose so I'm going to give it all I've got."
The next call on competition status will be made at Mundaka tomorrow morning at 9am.
BILLABONG PRO MUNDAKA SEMIFINAL MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Bobby Martinez (USA) vs. Mick Fanning (AUS)
Heat 3: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Taj Burrow (AUS)
BILLABONG PRO MUNDAKA QUARTERFINAL RESULTS:
Heat 1: Bobby Martinez (USA) 15.87 def. Phil MacDonald (AUS) 12.50
Heat 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) 14.33 def. Taylor Knox (USA) 6.17
Heat 3: Kelly Slater (USA) 10.90 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA)
Heat 4: Taj Burrow (AUS) 15.94 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 13.33
TODAY'S BILLABONG PRO MUNDAKA ROUND 4 RESULTS:
Heat 6: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 14.34 def. C.J. Hobgood (USA) 7.16
Heat 7: Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.83 def. Royden Bryson (ZAF) 6.83
Heat 8: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 8.93 def. Leonardo Neves (BRA) 8.24