Sally Fitzgibbons finds form ahead of Olympics with WSL win at Rottnest Island

Sally Fitzgibbons finds form ahead of Olympics with WSL win at Rottnest Island

Australian surf star Sally Fitzgibbons sent a message to her Olympic rivals with victory at the World Surf League event at Rottnest Island. With just under two months before the start of the Games in Tokyo, where surfing will feature for the first time, Fitzgibbons found form in Western Australia to claim her first title of the season.

But Australian rookie Morgan Cibilic fell just short of snaring a maiden WSL event title after being beaten by world No 1 Gabriel Medina in the men’s final.

Earlier, Fitzgibbons beat Frenchwoman Johanne Defay 15.24 to 11.23 in the final, having dominated her all-Australian semi against Tyler Wright, to rocket to No 2 in the world rankings. The result saw 30-year-old Fitzgibbons rise from sixth, putting her in a good position to finish in the top five and qualify for the new-look WSL title decider at the end of the year as she chases a long-sought maiden world title.

“It feels so good to be back in that winning circle,” said Fitzgibbons, whose last WSL triumph was at the Rio Pro in June 2019. “I’m just exhausted. I gave it everything. I’ve set those goals [of finishing in the top five] all year and just quietly gone about them. I believe it’s possible.”

Wright, who opted against a warm-up surf before the semi-final, struggled for fluency throughout the heat and fell over a remarkable seven times. The 27-year-old two-time world champion could only manage a two-wave total of 7.64, far short of Fitzgibbons’ 15.43. Defay upset four-time world champion and current world No 1 Carissa Moore in the other semi-final, but fell short in the decider.

Fitzgibbons, who hails from Gerroa in NSW, felt the conditions at Rottnest suited her. “To wake up and there’s so much energy in the swell, it was such a pleasure to be out there and try to crack the code,” she told the WSL broadcast. “It’s got a few similarities to a bunch of different waves at home. So I kept telling myself ‘oh, there’s a section out front of my house’. And I try to accelerate off the bottom and trust my instincts. On a few of them there’s some pretty crazy ends.”

Moore entered her semi-final as a hot favourite to progress, and boasting a 7-1 head-to-head record against Defay. But it was Defay who set the early pace, and her late 8.83 wave secured the win 13.50 to 12.83.

Cibilic, in his first year on the main tour, progressed to his maiden WSL final with victory over countryman Liam O’Brien in their semi-final showdown at Strickland Bay. In tricky conditions, Cibilic posted a two-wave total of 10.67 out of 20 to edge out O’Brien (8.33).

Cibilic cut his foot on the rocks in the dying moments of that win, but he made a bright start to the final when he posted a 7.27 ride to put the pressure on Medina. The two-time world champion responded with an 8.50 to go with his earlier 7.00, meaning Cibilic needed an 8.24 to snatch back the lead.

Ciblic was patient in his approach, but he could not find another scoring wave of any significance, meaning he finished on 7.87 compared to Medina’s 15.50. Brazilian Medina is the runaway leader on the world rankings with two wins and two runner-up finishes from five events.

Cibilic rocketed from 11th to fifth on the back of his best-ever result. The top five surfers will qualify for September’s season-ending event in Lower Trestles, California, where they will battle it out for the world title.

“I’m so happy man. I can’t believe it,” Medina told the WSL broadcast after winning at Rottnest. “That was amazing. I had so much fun at this event. It’s been my best year so far. I’m so happy.”