Top seeds bounced in Brazil as upsets abound at Oi Rio Pro

On this Mother’s Day morning, I’m thinking of my grandmother who just turned 90 years old a few months ago. Her voice and accent are so specific that I’m sure I’ll be able to mimic her with precision for the rest of my life.

One of Grandma’s favorite phrases is just a simple “oy.” It’s short and sweet, but it packs plenty of punch and emotion and lets everyone know that things are not as they should be. Any little thing that either goes wrong or may go wrong gets the “oy” treatment.

I’m sure that many of the competitors in Brazil have experienced the same sentiment over the past few days during the aptly named Oi Rio Pro. The best in the biz are now watching from the beach and there are huge opportunities to be had for those further down the rankings list.

The biggest stunner of the weekend has been defending world champ John John Florence falling in round three to wild card Yago Dora. Florence, who holds the yellow jersey and won this event last season, had problems staving off the unheralded local talent twice in this contest. He barely outpointed him in round one and wasn’t so lucky in their head-to-head meeting.

Any time John John loses feels like a major event, but for it to happen against a non-tour regular so early in a contest has been unheard of for some time. Since winning in Rio last year, Florence has made the quarterfinals at every tour stop except for one (2016 Hurley Pro at Trestles).

This certainly isn’t the end of the world for John John, but a semifinal appearance for either Jordy Smith or Owen Wright would give either surfer the yellow jersey heading into Fiji.

But for Dora, he hasn’t had the look of someone willing to be content with one huge upset. How far he goes will still depend heavily on the conditions, but he’s shown a knowledge and comfort level that is allowing his skill to be on full display. He may not be considered one of the favorites, but he’s moved out of the dark horse category, as well.

Sebastian Zietz had a difficult matchup in round three, falling to Wiggolly Dantas. The Brazilian scorched a pair of nines and put things out of reach with an 18.27 to 11.73 victory. Seabass entered ranked 10th on tour and this result shouldn’t change that very much. He’ll likely remain in the 10-13 area.

But Kolohe Andino, Filipe Toledo and Caio Ibelli were also knocked out early in successful upset bids, meaning that half of the top 10 didn’t make it out of round three.

On the women’s side, things have been funky since the start in Saquarema. Laura Enever knocked out Tatiana Weston-Webb in the second round for just the second time in Tati’s career, which has spanned 27 events. This seemed like a great place for Tati to start building some 2017 momentum, but that’s being put on pause for now.

Wild card Bianca Buitendag also knocked out Carissa Moore in round two. This is Moore’s worst Championship Tour event result since 2010 and she’s going to have a lot of ground to make up if she hopes to be in the title hunt at all this season.

Nikki Van Dijk then went on a rampage, knocking out Courtney Conlogue in round four and current points leader Stephanie Gilmore in the quarterfinals. She’s now set to take on Johanne Defay in a semifinal heat, while Tyler Wright and Sally Fitzgibbons battle for the other spot in the final.

A win for Fitzgibbons or Wright would give either at least a share of the season points lead, while it would be a major boost for Defay or Van Dijk, who sit in seventh and eighth place, respectively. But having Gilmore out of the way for now opens things up again for everyone.

With all that madness, it seems silly to try to predict a winner. But I love how Julian Wilson is surfing and I think he may wind up taking on Gabriel Medina in the men’s final. For the women, I think Wright bests Defay for the title.

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

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