Morais continues hot streak by taking down Seabass at Bells

It didn’t take long to recognize that Frederico Morais was going to be a major factor this week. Sebastian Zietz found that out in round five of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, Tuesday in Victoria, Australia.

The waves have been as good as ever for each day of competition, leading to big numbers up and down the draw. Nothing short of excellence has sufficed and every heat has provided an opportunity for huge scores.

Morais and Zietz matched up to start round five, each eyeing a spot in the quarterfinals. The day hadn’t started in an ideal fashion for Morais, who took a spill and needed some patching up. But he remained focused and took command quickly. Zietz is always a threat in big waves with plenty of open face, but Morais has appeared even more comfortable on this particular right hander. He started off impressively and finished even stronger, earning an 8.93 and a 9.17 on his final two waves for an 18.10 to 13.16 victory.

It’s only the second time Morais has ever reached a Championship Tour quarterfinal and his first as a full-time competitor this season. He’s been one of the better frontrunners in this contest and looks prepared to continue building towards his best CT finish to date.

For Zietz, it’s a second straight ninth-place result and should keep him in a comfortable rankings position. He wasn’t a second-round casualty at any of the three Australian events and he appears focused on getting better each and every heat. Close wins over Leonardo Fiorovanti and Julian Wilson kept him moving right along before Morais blocked his path. Seabass entered the contest ranked 14th in the world and should remain in that general vicinity as the tour moves on to Rio.

Ezekiel Lau is primed for his best CT result after he topped both Adriano de Souza and Filipe Toledo in round four to jump directly into the quarterfinals. Lau took out Kolohe Andino and Conner Coffin earlier in the competition, showing off his hacks to some hefty approval.

Of the final eight competitors, Lau was certainly the biggest long shot to reach that point. The rest of the draw was peppered with the biggest names like John John Florence, Mick Fanning, Jordy Smith, Filipe Toledo, Joel Parkinson, Caio Ibelli, de Souza and Morais.

Florence, again, put on an indescribable display in a round-four comeback win. Fanning had leapt into a lead with a 9.93 score on his way to an 18.86 total. He wound up throwing away three waves with the lowest being a 7.07.

Was that enough to hold off John John? Nope. Florence kept himself alive with a 9.57 score halfway into the heat and then threw the air of the day — maybe week, or month, or season — with just a minute remaining.

He needed a 9.30 and that seemed like a guarantee as Florence walked through his throngs of fans still awaiting the judges’ decision. If there was an imperfection in the fluttering alley-oop, I surely didn’t spot it. But the judges stopped him just shy of perfection with a 9.97 for the 19.27 total and a spot in the quarters.

It’s hard to lose a heat with an 18.86 total. It’s not quite as hard if your opponent is John John. The way the waves have been rolling through Bells Beach, no lead has been safe and no total has been out of reach.

Conlogue back in contention

Picking up back-to-back Bells Beach titles, Courtney Conlogue jumped from eighth to fourth in the rankings with clutch performances on Sunday. Conlogue came from behind to take down Stephanie Gilmore in the final, ringing the bell for the second consecutive season.

She went through Isabella Nichols, Nikki Van Dijk, three-time Bells champ Carissa Moore and defending world champ Tyler Wright just to reach the final heat. It was a necessary result for Conlogue, who finished runner-up to Wright for last year’s world title. She’s now back in the mix behind Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons and Wright as the women get set for Rio.

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

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