Finals day is set at the Corona Open China hosted by Wanning, a men's and women's Qualifying Series (QS) 5,000, after vital duals unfolded in women's Round 4 as well as both men's and women's Quarterfinal action. Friday's pulse of swell dropped slightly with two-to-three foot (1 - 1.5 metre), inconsistent waves making their way into Riyue Bay and making strategy more important than ever. Chess matches ensued between some of the top QS threats and former Championship Tour (CT) elite with upsets aplenty.
Women's Upsets Aplenty, Familiar Faces Thrive
Women's Round 4 kicked into high gear with head-to-head battles getting underway and big performances from the likes of former CT competitor Claire Bevilacqua, who eliminated former CT veteran Coco Ho, and Netherland's Eveline Hooft after she took down event standout Kirra Pinkerton.
QS veteran Philippa Anderson started her day with a brilliant showing in the slow conditions against former CT surfer Pauline Ado (FRA) but a big Quarterfinal showdown awaited with Hinako Kurokawa - who eliminated defending event champion Mahina Maeda. Kurokawa took the lead halfway through and never surrendered it, nudging closer toward her first-ever major QS Final.
"I know Philippa (Anderson) is a really good surfer and I just wanted to catch the first wave of the heat," said Kurokawa. "Then I actually missed that first wave (laughs) so then I wanted to just get a quick start and find a backup right away. That strategy won't really change knowing the conditions will be about the same. My goal this year is to try and make it into the Top 10 and maybe even the Top 5 for a chance to qualify."
But, 2019 CT Rookie of the Year Brisa Hennessy didn't have an early exit in mind and obliterated the left point lineup with a day's best 8.33 and 15.16 heat total (out of a possible 20) in Round 4 before a solid performance over Hooft in their Quarterfinal bout. The 20-year-old already has a solid result in the books to start 2020 but knows there is more left in the tank as she looks to improve her already impressive backhand attack. Hennessy now prepares to face the dark horse of Kurokawa in a stout Semifinal battle. (Interview in video)
Joining Hennessy as one of the top QS threats in this event, Vahine Fierro also took down an in-form Bevilacqua and looks to crack her first major QS victory here at Riyue Bay.
Men's Powerhouses Prevail
Former Tour competitor Keanu Asing scorched through another crucial heat, this time with left point specialist Lucca Mesinas. Asing continues to showcase his world-class backhand attack, that's led him to multiple victories on the QS and a CT victory in France, with the men's top heat total of a 14.83 (out of a possible 20) and 7.83 (out of a possible 10) single-wave score. But the road doesn't get any easier from here as he now prepares to face off with Patrick Gudauskas in a big Semifinal. (Interview in video).
"I just thank God for giving the strength to get through that one and I know Lucca (Mesinas) is so good on his backhand," said Asing. "I knew I had to take away his quality attributes and put a stranglehold on the heat. Looking at the draw beforehand I would've put him as one of the top two or three guys here who could've made a Final. I have a reason why I'm here and I wear my heart on my sleeve and that just goes to show in my performances."
Two of the event's biggest threats met in Quarterfinal Heat 1 with former CT competitor Patrick Gudauskas taking on dark horse and QS warrior Nicholas Squiers. A slow start turned into a wave-for-wave battle between the experienced veterans that transpired into a nail-biting finish. Gudauskas' last scoring effort earned the San Clemente, California, surfer a 6.07 (out of a possible 10) before Squiers stood up just before horn and gave his best effort to a wave that didn't quite provide the critical sections needed - falling just 0.30 short of the requirement.
"Nic Squiers has been surfing great the whole event and I was claiming that he was probably the most in rhythm with the wave," said Gudauskas. "He was always in the heat before me so I watched all his heats and that was a crazy heat. It was pretty slow but there were definitely a couple of opportunities toward the end."
Also notching big Quarterfinal wins, Rio Waida and Shun Murakami will decide who joins one of the former CT elite in a Final clash. Waida not only has some of the Asian support on hand, but also an Australian crew in his corner cheering for every turn.
"I stay with a lot of the Australians at different events like Sri Lanka and it's really cool to have them backing me," said Waida. "My goal was to make the Quarterfinals here in China and yesterday when I made it I felt like my job was done so I just wanted to enjoy the wave. Now I'm in the Semifinals and just so stoked."
Event organizers will convene at 6:45 a.m. CST to determine a possible start to either men's Quarterfinals or women's Round 4 of competition.
The Corona China Open QS 5,000 hosted by Wanning will run at Riyue Bay, Wanning, Hainan Island, China in the best conditions between January 6 - 12. Tune in live throughout the event window via www.WorldSurfLeague.com, Facebook Live or the WSL App.