STEPHANIE Gilmore has survived a close call in her opening round heat at the Roxy Pro in France as she tries to secure her seventh world surfing title.
The Australian superstar had a really close encounter with Sage Erickson and wildcard Vahine Fierro, who lead the affair for most of the 30-minute heat.
But Gilmore answered with back-to-back waves in the last five minutes to take back the lead and advance into Round 3.
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Gilmore is locked in a battle with the United States’ Lakey Paterson for this year’s world crown.
If Gilmore wins in Hossegor, she will join compatriot Layne Beachley as a seven-time world champion.
“Of course there’s pressure on me and Lakey,” Gilmore said.
“I think it’s about who can deal with it properly. Sage and Vahine are such smart competitors and out there you need to be on the best waves so I just had to be patient and it worked out in the end. I have to be fierce right now, we’ve got a pretty intense competition and there’s a lot on the line in this event.”
Peterson suffered a similar slow and low-scoring match-up with Courtney Conlogue and French local Pauline Ado but managed to squeeze through in pole position to match Gilmore.
Peterson will need to finish above Gilmore for a chance to send the Title showdown to Maui, the last stop on this year’s Championship Tour.
“I just love it here so my fiance and I came a week before,” Peterson said.
“I had time to test boards and surf all the banks around. It was more for enjoyment but also good preparation. I’m excited and I hope I can push the title race to Hawaii, it’s just super cool to be in this position.”
Roxy Pro France Round 1 Results:
Heat 1: Bronte Macaulay (AUS) 11.20, Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) 10.50, Caroline Marks (USA) 4.74
Heat 2: Carissa Moore (HAW) 12.17, Coco Ho (HAW) 5.40, Paige Hareb (NZL) 4.63
Heat 3: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 11.36, Sage Erickson (USA) 10.53, Vahine Fierro (PYF) 10.10
Heat 4: Lakey Peterson (USA) 9.67, Courtney Conlogue (USA) 9.03, Pauline Ado (FRA) 7.43
Heat 5: Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) 14.63, Malia Manuel (HAW) 12.83, Macy Callaghan (AUS) 10.77
Heat 6: Johanne Defay (FRA) 14.14, Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 9.97, Keely Andrew (AUS) 6.26
Roxy Pro France Round 2 Matchups:
Heat 1: Malia Manuel (HAW) vs. Keely Andrew (AUS)
Heat 2: Coco Ho (HAW) vs. Paige Hareb (NZL)
Heat 3: Caroline Marks (USA) vs. Vahine Fierro (PYF)
Heat 4: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) vs. Pauline Ado (FRA)
Heat 5: Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) vs. Macy Callaghan (AUS)
Heat 6: Courtney Conlogue (USA) vs. Sage Erickson (USA)