Matt Wilkinson is keeping his mind on the process. All of the success he's enjoyed this year has come from his trust in it. It's more of a belief system, forged ever so steadily by identifying any detrimental habits and replacing them with better ones. That is, more than anything, a simple recipe for success. But it's not always easy to stick to. Especially when you've got the weight of the world title on your mind.
The thing about pressure is it blurs vision. Blurred vision causes confusion. Confusion cranks up emotions. And spiked emotions always tend to trump logic. That pattern is one many people are familiar with, athlete or not. The Matt Wilkinson of yesterday was no different.
Wilko entered Teahupo'o facing an uphill battle. He drew former event winner and trials dominator Bruno Santos in Round One, and Bruno held serve, forcing Wilko into a sudden-death match on Sunday with Tahitian Hira Teriinatoofa.
With John John Florence and Gabriel Medina already in Round Three, Wilko's Jeep Leader yellow jersey was very much at stake. It would have been easy for him to let the pressure blur his larger vision. But fortunately for Wilko he stuck with his game plan, and earned a tough win in trying conditions.
His reward is a Round Three rematch with Bruno.
Those conditions were the story of the day at Teahupo'o. It was small, inconsistent, and blustery for most of the day, making every single heat a grind. And as the afternoon progressed, the high-profile casualties mounted.
The first big one to fall was Adriano de Souza. The former world champ couldn't find any rhythm in a wave-starved heat with rookie Alex Ribeiro. It was one of the lowest scoring affairs imaginable. Adriano's highest score was a 3.00. Ribeiro's was a 3.33, yet it was enough to give him his first win of the entire season.
It was a tough loss for De Souza. The reigning world champion had quietly worked his way back into the world title hunt over the past few events. He entered Tahiti ranked No. 4, so this loss is a major setback.
Round Two is really where most of the drama exists on tour. It's where careers are made and lost. And on forgettable days like this one, where the waves are sub-par, a lot of damage can be done. Filipe Toledo, Caio Ibelli, Jack Freestone and Stu Kennedy are just a few notable names who also suffered painful losses.
But Conner Coffin may have suffered the worst. With seconds left to go he'd taken a nice lead over Dusty Payne in what became a solid back-and-forth battle. The conditions seemed to improve for their match, and they pounced. After several decent exchanges Payne was in need of a mid-range 6 with minutes to go. He caught one with under 15 seconds left, and turned it into a 7 with a dreamy little barrel. It was a tough win for Payne…he took a board to the chin during one trip to the inside. He'll be surfing with stitches in Round Three against Joel Parkinson.
Kanoa Igarashi and Miguel Pupo also went the distance, in the final heat of the day. Igarashi needed the highest score he could muster (which happened to be the highest of the day) to get past Pupo, and he did it with some nice backhand barrels and turns.
When competition resumes, all eyes will be back on the world title race. On paper, John John Florence's match with Alex Ribeiro seems like a foregone conclusion. Alex, like we said, just won his first heat of the year. But John John won't be taking anything for granted. Wilkinson, meanwhile, has the big dog in Bruno. And Medina has a very tough match on his hands with Kai Otton, who is always dangerous at Teahupo'o.