Mick Fanning won his round-three heat as Rip Curl Pro favourites were eliminated.Mick Fanning’s free-and-easy attitude as he heads into retirement may have put him on the path to a dream finale at Bells Beach.
The surfing great has progressed to a quarter-final showdown with fellow n Owen Wright at the Rip Curl Pro.
And Fanning – the only surfer in the final eight to have rung the famous bell – has seen his prospects surge following the eliminations of past winners Jordy Smith and Matt Wilkinson.
World champion John John Florence and tour leader Julian Wilson have also been sent on their way.
Fanning knocked out dangerous countryman Wilkinson in the fourth round, finishing 0.33 points ahead of American Patrick Gudauskas in the three-man heat on Tuesday.
Wilkinson scored the highest wave of the heat (7.5) for a total of 13.17 but Fanning was able to compile a score of 14.33 from his two best waves.
Fanning rued his tactics but said being behind in the contest sparked him into action.
“It wasn’t nerve-racking because we’re good friends so if that was the end, at least I was out there with two mates,” Fanning said.
“I sort of gave Wilko that one wave and made a big mistake.
“Then I just wanted to start catching waves.
“If was going to lose, I wanted to lose surfing. I was just stoked to get a couple of waves in the end.”
Three-time world champion Fanning and perennial championship contender Wright, who finished second in his third round heat behind Tahitian Michel Bourez, are the only ns remaining in the draw.
“There’s still a lot of surfing to do. He’s surfing really well at the moment but I’m not really worried about it,” Fanning said.
Florence was convincingly upset by fellow Hawaiian Ezekiel Lau, enduring the same third-round fate as Gold Coast Pro winner Wilson.
n rookie Wade Carmichael, who shocked South African Smith a day earlier, was knocked out in the fourth round as Wright and Bourez qualified.
Locals Joel Parkinson and Adrian Buchan lost in the third round.
Fanning has not won an event since the 2016 J-Bay Open in South Africa having returned a year after being attacked by a shark.
Bourez and Gudauskas will meet in the first quarter-final, Lau and Italo Ferreira will meet in the third, and Gabriel Medina and Frederico Morais will battle for the last semi-final spot.
In the women’s event, six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore is ‘s last title hope and faces a semi-final against American Caroline Marks after ousting Sage Erickson (US) in their quarter-final.
The other semi pits Brazilian Silvana Lima against Hawaii’s Tatiana Weston-Webb.