Tuesday, May 11, 2004 (Teahupoo, Tahiti) Peru's Sofia Mulanovich today secured consecutive victories by winning the Billabong Pro Teahupoo over Rochelle Ballard (HAW). Competition resumed with round three heats this morning, and organizers of the World Championship Tournament (WCT) opted to continue the women's division, which climaxed in good conditions this afternoon.
Clean 3ft (1m) waves were on offer at Teahupoo throughout the day, though unfortunately remained inconsistent. A slight increase from the southwest direction did occur, with hollow 4ft (1.3m) sets prevailing.
Mulanovich has proved unstoppable of late. The 20-year-old began her incredible run by winning the ISA world title in Ecuador last month, and then backed this up with her first WCT victory in Fiji two weeks ago. She entered the Billabong Pro third on the ratings, but following five more heat wins – highlighted by trademark backhand re-entries, is now situated just behind the lead in runner-up position.
Against Ballard for the second consecutive final in as many weeks, Mulanovich trailed for the first half before locking in a huge 9.23 score – the second best of the entire tournament. Combined with her earlier 5.0 she took control, if only marginally, but managed to keep it for the remaining 10-minutes. With it came another US$10,000 prizemoney and 1,200 valuable ratings points.
"I don't believe it, began Mulanovich, after doing a lap of honor through the lineup on a jet ski. "I'm feeling too good, like it's not real. I feel way more confident about everything now. It's been a great week and was a great final to win. I'm so stoked I made it; I'm overwhelmed (laughs).
"I knew 'Roachie' was winning, but then a wave came from nowhere, she explained. "I didn't do safe maneuvers, but just went for it. Today was pretty small out there, so it wasn't really scary and I think that's why I won (laughs). I love lefts like this, so thank God conditions were favorable to me.
"I feel more relaxed in every heat now and that's what is helping me, she continued. "I've always wanted to be world champion since I was a kid, and yeah, it's a good chance now. I'm just going to try my best and am have fun everyday on tour.
For Ballard, the result amazingly marks three consecutive runner-up finishes this season. Having already reached two finals at Teahupoo previously (2001 & '03), many believed she was destined for her first victory at both the venue and for the year today. A confident 7.83 ride proved her best however, and the 33-year-old was searching for another worth 6.41 during the latter part of the decider. Nonetheless, she retains pole position on the ratings heading into the next WCT in France.
"I'm actually really stoked to have three finals in a row, began an emotional Ballard. "I'm just a little disappointed in not winning. I know I have a great chance of winning (the world title). This is my year and I'm really excited about it.
"The waves just weren't there today, she added. "I'm really happy for Sofia. I'm stoked on this contest and am going to win it one year. Forget the three times a charm – four times a charm (laughs). It was a good event and hopefully it will be a lot better next year.
Equal third today were six-times world champion Layne Beachley (Manly, AUS) and WCT newcomer Laurina McGrath (Byron Bay, AUS).
Beachley, the 2001 Billabong Pro winner, posted the highest combined scores of the event during her quarterfinal for 17.5-points, showing her determination to amend below average results this season. The 31-year-old was also named the prestigious Laureus Alternative Sportsperson recipient yesterday, but none of these elements helped against Ballard, who created a strong lead and left the Australian searching for another 7.6 score.
"It just went flat, and I guess the one wave I could have gotten a score on I fell, recalled Beachley. "I waited for sets which unfortunaly never came. She surfed a much better heat than I did. I'm bitterly disappointed, that's for sure, but at least this result will probably prevent me from having to do the WQS tour to re-qualify (laughs). I was considering retirement at the end of last year, but I've come back and basically put myself in the line of fire. I've got to step up to it. The girls are very confident and hungry, and I'm not doing very well in defending my world title right now. Hopefully I can place better in the next five events.
McGrath has proved a major surprise in 2004, gaining admission to WCT via winning a surf-off between three other injury wildcard applicants at the start of the year. Since then she hasn't looked back however, with a quarterfinal finish on Australia's Gold Coast, and now her second consecutive semifinals berth. The 21-year-old put in a valiant effort against Mulanovich, collecting an 8.17 to move well within range, but again on her last wave as the seconds ticked down, her score proved slightly less than desired.
"It wasn't quite enough, so I tried again on the last wave, even though I knew it probably wouldn't do it, explained McGrath, who rode both waves onto the exposed reef. "I got a little graze on my back for the last turn, but I knew I had nothing to lose. I'm really happy with semis again and am absolutely loving the WCT. The waves are that much better and I really like the format. I'm happy with the way I've gone so far.
Finishing equal fifth in the Billabong Pro Teahupoo were Chelsea Georgeson (AUS), defending Billabong Pro champion Keala Kennelly (Kauai, HAW), and Brazilians Jacqueline Silva and Maria 'Tita' Tavares.
Kennelly, a three-time event winner at Teahupoo, was unable to add another title to her amazing track record at the treacherous break. The Kauaian losing a re-match of last year's final to Ballard, in what was a slow quarterfinal – yet drama packed towards the end. Both locked in good set rides halfway through the clash, but the goofy footer still required a 5.18 score at completion.
Silva won the opening WCT on Australia's Gold Coast this year, but was eliminated by McGrath in today's quarterfinals. The Brazilian improved on previous results at Teahupoo to gain some consolation, and is now rated third.
"All the other years I've placed ninth here, so I'm happy with a fifth, said Silva.
Billabong Pro Teahupoo Women's Division
1st Sofia Mulanovich (PERU) 14.23 —US$10,000
2nd Rochelle Ballard (HAW) 13.5 — US$6,000
Semifinals (1st>Final; 2nd=3rd receive US$4,000)
SF1: Rochelle Ballard (HAW) 12.6 def. Layne Beachley (AUS) 9.17
SF2: Sofia Mulanovich (PERU) 14.17 def. Laurina McGrath (AUS) 13.84
Quarterfinals (1st>Semifinals; 2nd=5th receives US$3,000)
QF1: Layne Beachley (AUS) 17.5 def. Chelsea Georgeson (AUS) 11.5
QF2: Rochelle Ballard (HAW) 11.17 def. Keala Kennelly (HAW) 9.57
QF3: Laurina McGrath (AUS) 11.5 def. Jacqueline Silva (BRA) 6.83
QF4: Sofia Mulanovich (PERU) 16.6 def. Maria Tavares (BRA) 10.26
Round Three (1st>Quarterfinals; 2nd=9th receives US$2,750)
H1: Layne Beachley (AUS) 14.07 def. Melanie Bartels (HAW) 7.17
H2: Chelsea Georgeson (AUS) 11.17 def. Heather Clark (ZAF) 7.5
H3: Keala Kennelly (HAW) 16.67 def. Melanie RedmanCarr (AUS) 8.17
H4: Rochelle Ballard (HAW) 12.5 def. Prue Jeffries (AUS) 7.0
H5: Jacqueline Silva (BRA) 7.74 def. Megan Abubo (HAW) 6.83
H6: Laurina McGrath (AUS) 13.07 def. Samantha Cornish (AUS) 12.5
H7: Maria Tavares (BRA) 14.73 def. Trudy Todd (AUS) 10.5
H8: Sofia Mulanovich (PERU) 12.33 def. Pauline Menczer (AUS) 11.57
Official ASP Ratings after event #3
1. Rochelle Ballard (HAW) 2,916-points
2. Sofia Mulanovich (PERU) 2,760
3. Jacqueline Silva (BRA) 2,304
4. Laurina McGrath (AUS) 2,064
=5. Layne Beachley (AUS); Chelsea Georgeson (AUS); Maria Tavares (BRA) 1,860
8. Melanie RedmanCarr (AUS) 1,476
=9. Keala Kennelly (HAW); Samantha Cornish (AUS); Trudy Todd (AUS) 1,272
9. Keala Kennelly (HAW); Samantha Cornish (AUS); Trudy Todd (AUS) 1,272