The action was hotting up in the Havaianas Beachley Classic yesterday as Layne Beachley won through to the semi-finals by a slither of a point and in doing so regained the No.1 world ranking.
After tour veteran Melanie Redman-Carr's early departure from the event, 34-year-old Beachley secured a vital points boost by winning her quarter-final against compatriot Samantha Cornish by just a quarter of a point, placing her in a solid position to win her seventh world title.
It was also a disappointing morning for 31-year-old Redman-Carr, who lost her round-three duel with fellow Australian Gilmore. Redman-Carr had a terrific start to the year, winning the opening three events of the tour - but yesterday's early exit means she loses her No.1 ranking. "I'm not beating myself up at all about it," Redman-Carr said. "I mean, we had a heat dead on high tide … I don't feel like I did real bad surfing, it's more I didn't have a chance to do any surfing."
Reigning world champion Chelsea Georgeson and Beachley will carve up the Queenscliff surf this morning to determine who will make the classic's final. However, if Georgeson wins the duel, the No.1 spot could also be hers.
"It has been such a see-saw battle," Beachley said. "Mel, Chelsea and I have all been so consistent, and that's what it takes to win world titles. Having said that, if Chels has the ratings lead after this event there are still two amazing events left in Hawaii, and I love Sunset Beach and Chelsea has done so well in Maui, so we'll see how we go. I am not basing my whole existence on winning another world title. I'm just unbelievably thrilled and kind of surprised I am still in contention for a world title at my age. I can't believe I am where I am and sometimes I have to pinch myself to realise it."
Sofia Mulanovich, the 2004 world champion, and Australian wildcard Stephanie Gilmore will match up in the other semi-final, which begins at 8am.
"They are going to be tough semis," Beachley said. "Sofia and Stephanie are going to have a corker of a heat, and me and Chels will be battling it out for ratings points. We always said this event was going to be crucial, we didn't realise how crucial."
The battle is by no means won. Beachley was almost dumped out of the event in the half-metre swell when Cornish startled the Manly local with an 8.25 opening ride. However, Beachley then scored 7.75 and 6.50 rides to get in front. Cornish needed a 6.00 to win the quarter-final but unfortunately that ride never came her way.
Now Beachley is battling a bronchial infection and fatigue from organising the tournament, which, with a $135,000 prize purse, is the richest women's surfing event in the tour's 30-year history. After scoring the 14.25 points to win her quarter-final, Beachley was worn out.
"I'm really happy, very relieved and I'm completely exhausted," she said. "I'm just really glad it's over. I'm into the semis and I have a lead on Mel now, but Chelsea is still there, but the title race is wide open and I think that's what's making this event so exciting."