"My Quarterfinal with Steph is going to be a sick one," Courtney Conlogue prophesied after her Round of 16 win in the Corona Bali Protected. "She looked in great form in her last heat so it will be game on, as always."
With the early exits of Jeep Leader Caroline Marks and World No. 2 Malia Manuel, there now exists a power vacuum at the top of the ratings. In the upcoming Quarterfinals at Keramas, it will be the powerhouse matchup between Conlogue and Gilmore that decides who fills it.
Conlogue, never short of confidence or belief, came to Bali in red-hot form following her win at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. Prior to that, the 26-year-old had a claim to be one of the most consistent surfer on the CT over the last six months. After missing the first half of 2018 due to an ankle injury, she capped her return to full fitness with a win at the US Open of Surfing. That her opponent in the Final at Huntington was Stephanie Gilmore will only give Courtney more optimism.
Including that victory, the Californian has won three of the last six CT events, which is World Title pace. Moving into the final eight after her defeat of Manuel in the Round of 16 in Bali, Gilmore is currently the first obstacle in Conlogue's way to a 13th CT win and a potential claim on the Jeep Leader's Jersey.
"I've surfed against Stephanie multiple times and it's always a great battle," said Conlogue. "And I'm looking forward to the fight."
Gilmore's 2019 form so far has been less impressive. Since claiming her 7th World Title last year, the 31-year-old failed to progress past the Quarterfinal stage at the Gold Coast and Bells.
Therefore, Bali is crucial if she wants to live her dream of a winning a record 8th World Title. In the Round of 16, Gilmore showed the type of surfing that drove her to a win last year. She logged both the highest individual wave score and highest heat total of the round in defeating Keely Andrew. A spark seemed to have been lit.
"I was so excited to surf because the waves were so good and that's a great headspace to be in," she remarked after her heat win. "I knew if I got two waves I could make it happen." Gilmore fell in the Quarterfinals at Keramas last year and is determined not make the same mistakes again. After that loss Gilmore stated, "Priority was the devil." It was her desire to wait for the perfect Keramas wave that cost her.
She has since recalibrated her strategy and this year has been much busier -- sitting wider in the lineup and snapping at any wave that might provide a platform for her mix of rail carves and tail release flair. A win at the Corona Bali Protected would be her 30th CT victory and put her fairly back in the World Title race.
However, Keramas can suit the muscular progression of Conlogue as much as it does the power of Gilmore. Their tube riding skills, usually an area of strength they wield over other opponents, cancel each other out. With each surfer having so much to gain, and therefore an equal amount to lose, the only win-win situation is for us, the spectator.
Whoever can come out on top will have gained significant ground in not only winning the Corona Bali Protected, but also in their quest for a World Title. Whichever way the heat goes, it's going to be fiery matchup. Or as Courtney said, " ... it's going to be a sick one."