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The WSL 2021 Finals Men’s Preview

So here we are. The season proper of the Championship Tour has come to a close, nine months after it restarted in Hawaii to kick off a season which was destined to face plenty of hurdles. And those hurdles certainly weren’t avoided – numerous events were replaced or cancelled completely, including the historic Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach and perhaps most spectacularly the Outerknown Tahiti Pro, which was initially scheduled to be the final event of the regular season before being shelved just days before it started. But rather than clattering into them, the WSL managed to clear each and every of those jumps that they faced. It wasn’t always perfect, but they got there, and the world crown is waiting for whoever can put it all together in one historic day at Trestles.

To preview both the men’s and women’s event, we’ll look at each of the four ‘Matches’ which will take place on both sides of the draw – take a look here for a refresher on how it will all work. This will be something of a speculative preview format given we’ve never had a season determined this way before, but here we go.

Match 1 – Conner Coffin (4) vs Morgan Cibilic (5)

The first clash of the men’s bracket, and the only for which we know for certain the two competitors, sees arguably the two biggest surprises of the season go head-to-head. Certainly Cibilic fits into that category in his rookie year, and while Coffin is a more established CT surfer, he’s never finished higher than seventh and was outside the top five until the final event this season. So how do they match up?

The two have vastly contrasting surfing styles, with Coffin renowned for his effortlessly smooth technique and Cibilic relying a lot more on power, but we haven’t yet had a chance to see them match up in a one-on-one heat. We also haven’t seen them a lot at Trestles given the CT hasn’t been there since 2017. Coffin competed in 2016 and 2017 and didn’t make a whole lot of noise either time, but he’s progressed significantly since then and should be suited by the long, stretched out walls of the right-hander at Lowers. 

So the conclusion is relatively unsatisfying – we don’t have a whole lot to go on heading into this matchup. Based on his performance this year, Cibilic is capable of putting together the higher two-score total at his best but is equally capable of faltering, while the consistent Coffin is a more reliable bet to accumulate scores in the 6-8 range but may struggle to go much higher. 

Match 2 – Filipe Toledo (3) vs Winner of Match 1

We don’t yet know who will have the pleasure of matching up against Filipe Toledo in Match 2, but whoever it has will have their work cut out for them. One of the most dynamic surfers in the world, Toledo has had a bit of an erratic season, failing to advance past the Round of 32 three times while also winning twice and making another semi, and he heads to Trestles having alternated wins and 17th-place finishes at his last four events. 

This suggests that if he’s off, either Coffin or Cibilic could beat him, but the reality is that if he’s anywhere near his best he should be too good. And unfortunately for whoever ends up being his opponent here, history suggests he generally reserves that for Trestles. He’s technically the reigning champion of the Hurley Pro here, having won the last time it was staged in 2017, while in each of the two years prior to that he made the semi-final. The more space he has to strut his stuff on a wave the better he is, and on the endless walls at Trestles he has plenty of that. As mentioned he’s capable of putting in disappointing performances at times, but based on how he has surfed here in the past it would be a big surprise to see him fail to advance through to Match 3.

Match 3 – Italo Ferreira (2) vs Winner of Match 2

Ferreira finished only marginally ahead of fellow Brazilian Toledo in second place, but they accumulated their 30-odd thousand ranking points in vastly different ways. Unlike Toledo, Ferreira was very consistent all season, winning just one event but advancing to at least the Round of 16 at every contest and only twice failing to make the quarters. In two of those events, however, he was knocked out by a potential opponent here, having lost his only matchup against Coffin this year at Narrabeen before being knocked out by Toledo the next week at Margaret River – though he did also beat Toledo in their only other matchup, which took place earlier in the season at Newcastle. 

Ferreira has competed in the Hurley Pro here on three occasions and didn’t do much damage in any of them, finishing 13th twice and 9th once, but those instances all obviously occurred in 2017 and earlier when he was a far less accomplished surfer. The pocket rocket is the reigning world champion and has the advantage of having been in a title-winning position over all of his three potential opponents, and if he meets either Coffin or Cibilic he’ll head in as a comfortable favourite. If Toledo advances as expected, however, he will have a much more difficult task ahead of him to make it through to the Title Match.

Title Match – Gabriel Medina (1) vs Winner of Match 3 

This is it. The big one. And unlike the three matches before it, the title match is best-of-three, meaning whoever makes it through will have to beat Medina on two occasions if they want to be crowned world champion – not an easy task. Medina has been the best surfer in the world all year by a long way, making the final in five of the seven events and finishing on 43,400 points, nearly 12,000 ahead of Ferreira in second.

It’s a potential flaw of the format that he will be sitting waiting on the beach all day while everyone else is competing in the water, and if the Title Match was just a one-off heat he would be a lot more vulnerable. In a best-of-three format, however, he will be mighty tough to beat, particularly given his record against most of his potential opponents. He’s been responsible for knocking Coffin out of two contests this season, Cibilic a whopping four, and Ferreira two as well, while none of those surfers have beaten him. The one man he hasn’t beaten this year is Toledo. They’ve only met once, in the final at the Surf Ranch Pro, where Toledo got the upper hand, and given Trestles resembles a wave machine as much as virtually any spot in the world, he might be the best chance of knocking Medina off his proverbial perch.

So – who’s going to win?

The million-dollar question. Undoubtedly Medina heads in as favourite, not just because he only has to win the Title Match, but also because he’s been the best surfer all year by some margin. Both Cibilic and Coffin would do well to get past just one Brazilian, let alone three, while Ferreira’s record against Medina doesn’t exactly instil a great deal of confidence in his ability to go all the way. Toledo is probably the biggest danger – he has prior form on this wave, has a one-zip advantage over Medina this season and has to be considered a chance as a result. I’m tipping him to get past either Cibilic or Coffin in Match 2 before knocking off Ferreira in Match 3, and while he can take the world’s number one ranked surfer all the way to a third heat in the Title Match, Medina might just be too good and take home his third world title.

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