Aussie women advance in El Salvador surf
Seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore has set up an all-Australian quarter-final against Isabella Nichols after surviving the elimination round at the World Surf League event in El Salvador.
Surfing finally got underway at Punta Roca after three lay days, with Gilmore finishing third in her opening heat, which was convincingly won by compatriot Sally Fitzgibbons.
But the Queensland great relished the rising swell at the right-hand break to post a big two-wave total of 14.40 in the sudden-death round, ousting 2021 world title runner-up Brazil's Tatiana Weston-Webb (9.13).
Nichols, currently ranked one spot below Gilmore in eighth, won her opening heat against world No.2 Brisa Hennessy and American Caroline Marks in her return to the tour.
Hennessy, who cut her foot during the heat, was later eliminated by wildcard Marks.
Reigning world champion Carissa Moore also had to make her way through elimination but did it in style, racking up the day's best score with a 15.66 total against American wildcard Tia Blanco.
"It's always a bit nerve-wracking when you find yourself in the elimination round and this morning I just felt a little out of sorts with the low tide," said Moore.
"We haven't had a swell like this on the bank since we've been here so it was great to have another opportunity to feel out the line-up and get a little more confident out there."
Fitzgibbons has a quarter-final meeting with France's Johanne Defay.
Fellow Australian, two-time world champion Tyler Wright didn't travel to El Salvador after experiencing complications from her recent bout of COVID-19.
The men also completed their opening round, with Australia's Jack Robinson bidding for a third straight title after wins in G-Land and Margaret River.
With the contest the first Championship Tour event to be held in El Salvador, Robinson won his three-man heat against Josh Burke of Barbados and Samuel Pupo.
Three Brazilians, current world No.1 Filipe Toledo, Gabriel Medina, Caio Ibelli, and Yago Dora, also had commanding opening round victories.
Australian rookie Jackson Baker notched an upset win over Italo Ferreira and Kolohe Andino.
Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater withdrew pre-event due to a mystery injury, while Hawaiian John John Florence pulled out with a knee injury.
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