Wright rumbles through Rio; Malia, Tati each finish fifth

Malia Manuel wasn’t sure if she’d be heading to her first semifinal of the season until she was already paddling in from her quarterfinal heat. She and Sally Fitzgibbons scrapped for waves in the difficult conditions, Tuesday during finals day at the Oi Rio Pro.

But the news from the tower wasn’t positive for Manuel as she approached the beach. Needing a 6.91 on her final effort, she found a right with under two minutes to go and did some quick work on a pair of turns. Her number came in at a 6.47, which opened the door for Fitzgibbons to remain in the contest.

But while Manuel earned her second fifth-place result of the year, the real story is Tyler Wright taking down her third contest win in four events this season. Wright showed she doesn’t need to be on her home soil to walk away with a title and maintains the yellow jersey after topping Fitzgibbons in the final.

Three out of four wins might indicate Wright holds a dominant advantage, but she’s still less than 3,000 points ahead of Courtney Conlogue, who lost to Fitzgibbons in the semis. There is plenty of time left for many of the talented contenders to get back in the mix.

But there’s no denying that the Tyler we’re seeing is the one that created so many expectations in 2014, when she finished the season runner-up to Stephanie Gilmore. Last year was a little bit of a setback as she reached just one final all season.

Now it’s all coming together through the first portion of 2016.

Tatiana Weston-Webb wasn’t able to improve upon her fourth consecutive quarterfinal in a loss. She fell behind early as Conlogue scored a 9.00, but the heat was still in doubt until Conlogue backed it up with a 7.50 with under six minutes to go to make things much more difficult for Tati.

The result still keeps her in fourth for the season, behind just Wright, Conlogue and Carissa Moore.

Four straight semifinal losses would be great for most competitors, but Moore is probably frustrated not having reached a final yet this season. She couldn’t crack the top two, falling to Wright in the semis. She just hasn’t found the right waves late in contests, which is usually her forte.

Moore’s next opportunity to crash the Tyler-Courtney party will be May 29 in Fiji, before a long break leads up to the US Open in late July.

Rio now belongs to the men’s event, which is still yet to start the third round. Sebastian Zietz will be facing Adam Melling in a crucial heat to assure a top-10 result. Zietz hasn’t faced Melling at all the past two seasons, so there isn’t much history to speak of. Melling enters ranked 28th and hasn’t made it past round three this year. Seabass, ranked second, enters as a decided favorite.

Other big matchups include defending world champ Adriano de Souza taking on upset-minded Lucas Silveira, John John Florence against Alejo Muniz and Gabriel Medina facing Deivid Silva, who eliminated Matt Wilkinson in round two.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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