Saturday, March 22, 2008

With Bells on, by Martin Boulton - The Age - 22nd March 2008

WORLD champion Mick Fanning bounced back from an opening-round loss to keep alive his hopes of winning the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach yesterday.

In tricky 1.8- to 2.4-metre surf and a stiff onshore breeze, the 26-year-old outclassed wildcard Stuart Kennedy after going down to fellow Australian Adrian Buchan in the first round.

It was Fanning's first opening-round loss in a tour event for 18 months, but the world No. 2 attacked from the moment the siren sounded in the sudden-death second round to reach the next stage.

The Tweed Heads surfer unleashed his trademark power and speed against Kennedy to quickly record a 7.5 wave and finished with a combined score of 14.17 points from his best two waves.

Kennedy, from Lennox Head, managed a combined score of 5.50 from his best two waves after 30 minutes in tough conditions, which tested the stamina of surfers throughout the day.

He refused to comment after his earlier loss, but Fanning was all smiles after a solid second heat and said he's looking forward to the chance of winning his first tour event of the year.

"It's good to get through and live to fight another day," he said.

Eight-time world champion Kelly Slater progressed straight through to the third round after scoring a 9.5 — the highest score of the day — and finishing with a combined score of 17.50.

The 36-year-old, who calls Florida and Hawaii home when he's not travelling the globe, thrilled the strong crowd with an awesome display against Brazilian Adriano de Souza.

Slater opted for a shorter board than most in the lumpy seas and produced the wave of the day after organisers feared he might not even show up.

"I wasn't actually planning on coming down here," Slater said.

"I did officially pull out of the event, but then I saw the swell forecast and things lined up the right way … it was a good week to come down."

Slater, who opened this year's tour with a win in the Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast, will mount a serious challenge for his ninth world crown if he wins his third Bells Beach title.

"Obviously, I'm in a good position," he said.

"Everyone talks it up and thinks I'm playing cat and mouse with them, but I just say how I feel.

"Sometimes, I don't want to go to the next contest."

Defending champion Taj Burrow, ranked ninth in the world heading into this event, also moved into the third round and said "the plan is to ring the bell" again after edging out Brazilian Leonardo Neves and fellow Australian Nathan Hedge yesterday.

Bede Durbidge, who came third on the Gold Coast, ended Hedge's campaign in Torquay yesterday with a convincing win in the second round.

Joel Parkinson, from Coolangatta, booked a third-round spot after beating fellow Australians Nic Muscroft and Ben Dunn.

"It (was) really tough conditions," Parkinson said.

"You've just got to have a little bit of luck and a little bit of faith, (and) I jagged one early, not much through the middle and fortunately got one at the end just in time."

The second round continues today, with Luke Stedman scheduled to be the first Australian in the water against Chris Ward from California.

Hawaiian and triple world champion Andy Irons moved through to the third round with a combined score of 12.84 on the first day of competition.

"Sixes (were) basically nines out there today," he said. "I just tried to go out there, surf a good heat and get a couple of scores."

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