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With One Event to Go, Which Women Can Still Qualify for the WSL Finals?

With one event to go, just two of the five women who will compete in the WSL Finals at Trestles have been confirmed. Both Carissa Moore, currently ranked number one in the world, and Johanne Defay, ranked number two, are locked into the top five, meaning that whatever happens in Tahiti at the tenth event of the season, they’ll get a crack at the world title in September. The remaining three positions, however, are far less certain. Tatiana Weston-Webb, Stephanie Gilmore, Brisa Hennessy and Lakey Peterson are tightly bunched together in positions three to six, and are the best-placed surfers to advance to the finals. But there are four more below them who could still theoretically join the party, with Tyler Wright looking particularly ominous down in seventh. Here’s what needs to happen in Tahiti for each of the remaining chances to qualify.

3rd: Tatiana Weston-Webb (42,610 points)

After an excellent run over the last four events which culminated in a win at the Corona Open J-Bay, Weston-Webb is now in a terrific position to earn another chance at the maiden world title which so agonisingly eluded her last year. The only competitors currently outside the top five who can steal her spot are Lakey Peterson in sixth and Tyler Wright in seventh, but if Weston-Webb makes the final in Tahiti she’ll qualify regardless of what else happens. 

If she makes it to the quarterfinals, then Wright can’t catch her, and to be knocked out of the top five both Gilmore and Hennessy would need to advance to the semis, and Peterson would need to win the tournament; a pretty unlikely outcome. 

Realistically, if she makes the quarterfinals Weston-Webb will almost certainly qualify, and even if she loses in the Elimination Round, unless Wright wins the event she’ll need a lot to go wrong for her to slip outside the top five.

4th: Stephanie Gilmore (41,625 points)

Gilmore’s attempt to win a record eighth world title has also received a boost over the last few events courtesy of a number of strong results, most notably a win in El Salvador and a semi-final appearance at J-Bay. And though she has nearly 1,000 points less, her situation is virtually identical to that of Weston-Webb.

If Gilmore reaches the final in Tahiti, her spot in Trestles is assured and she could theoretically finish as high as second if she wins. 

If she, too, makes the quarters, then Peterson would need to win and Weston-Webb and Hennessy make the semis to knock her out, while if she finishes one round ahead of Weston-Webb she’ll pass her on the leaderboard and also be assured of a finals berth. In reality, only an Elimination Round exit will see her struggling, but even then she’ll be in the box seat.

5th: Brisa Hennessy (40,285 points)

Hennessy is far and away the most vulnerable current member of the top five, virtue of both her lower points total and her form over the past few events. Her best way to ensure qualification, aside from winning the event, is to finish at least a round ahead of Gilmore and two ahead of Weston-Webb – if she does this, she’ll have made at least the semis and have qualified. 

She’ll also advance if she finishes in the same round or better than both Peterson and Wright. She has not, however, made it past the quarterfinals in the last five events; if history repeats, and either Peterson makes a semi or Wright wins the event, she’ll be exposed, and if she loses in the Elimination Round it’s likely she’ll tumble out of the top five at the last hurdle.

6th: Lakey Peterson (39,005 points)

Peterson’s poor result at J-Bay saw her fall from third to sixth, such is the closeness at the top of the leaderboard, but she remains a big chance to qualify for Trestles regardless. 

If she finishes no less than one round worse than Wright, she’ll be guaranteed to stay ahead of the Aussie and will need only to overtake one of Hennessy, Gilmore or Weston-Webb to qualify. To pass Hennessy she only needs to advance one round further than the Costa Rican, but she’ll need to finish a couple of rounds ahead of Gilmore and Weston-Webb to pass them. 

Essentially, if she makes the final she’ll almost certainly qualify; if she makes a semi she’ll need one of Gilmore or Hennessy to be knocked out in the quarters or earlier, or Weston-Webb to be knocked out in the Elimination Round, assuming Wright doesn’t win the event; if she is knocked out in the quarters herself, she’ll need Hennessy to lose in the Elimination Round and Wright to not make the finals; and if she fails to get past the Elimination Round, she won’t surf at Trestles.

7th: Tyler Wright (36,460 points)

Wright fully deserves to be surfing at Trestles, but she’ll need a big performance in Tahiti to get there. With an almost-4,000 point gap between her and Hennessy in fifth, the two-time world champ will need, at the very least, a finals appearance to make the top five, assuming all the surfers above her compete. 

If she finishes runner-up in Tahiti, she’ll finish on 44,260 points. That won’t be enough to pass Weston-Webb, but will see her pass Gilmore and/or Hennessy if they are knocked out in the Elimination Round, and will see her pass Peterson if she falls in the quarterfinals or earlier; she needs to go past two of them to make the top five. 

That is more unlikely than not to happen, but if she wins this event her prospects are a lot better. She’ll still only pass Weston-Webb if the Brazilian is knocked out in the Elimination Round, but anything less than a semi-final appearance for Gilmore and Hennessy will see them passed by Wright, while she’ll also pass Peterson unless she is also in the final. The equation is clear for Wright; a top-two finish here is a must, while a win is the only way to truly turn the odds in her favour.

8th: Gabriela Bryan (35,155 points)

From Gabriela Bryan, sitting in eighth place in the world rankings, and onwards, the chances of qualification get decidedly more slim. She needs to make up even more points than Wright, meaning that while even a runner-up result will give her a chance to qualify, she would need plenty to go right for it to be enough; more specifically, for Gilmore, Hennessy and Peterson to be knocked out in the Elimination Round, and Wright not to win the event. 

If Bryan wins, she’ll give herself a bit more of a chance of qualification, though she will still need a few others to fail. She can’t pass Weston-Webb, can only pass Gilmore if the Aussie falls in the Elimination Round, and can only pass Hennessy if she doesn’t make the quarters. She’ll also fail to pass Peterson if she makes the final. 

Essentially, anything less than win for Bryan – who has never won a CT event before – will almost certainly be insufficient to finish top five, while even with a maiden victory she’ll need a lot to go right.

9th: Isabella Nichols (34,675 points)

The last surfer with a mathematical chance of qualifying is Isabella Nichols, but that chance is slim to say the least. A win is the only way she can make the jump from ninth up to fifth, but even that will see her banking on a number of the best in the business falling at an early stage. The equation for her is pretty simple; with a win, she needs Gilmore, Hennessy and Peterson to all lose in the Elimination Round, and she’ll make the top five. Anything else will see her fall short.

With seven surfers fighting for three spots in the WSL Finals, there’s plenty on the line at the upcoming event in Tahiti. As mentioned, however, the last couple of those are little more than a mathematical chance to qualify. Most likely, the spots will be shared between Weston-Webb, Gilmore, Hennessy, Peterson and Wright. None of the first four of those names are separated by much, and though Wright is a little further back she’s also arguably the most dangerous competitor of them all. The season might be 90% complete, but there’s still plenty of water to go under the bridge before we know who will compete in the second incarnation of the WSL Finals. 

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