Fanning return leads to dream Quiksilver Pro heat
THE world won't have to wait long to see Mick Fanning and Kelly Slater clash in the surf after both drew heat seven in the opening round of the Quiksilver Pro on Tuesday.
In a dream match up, three-time world champion Fanning - who announced his return to full-time competition this week - will go head-to-head with eleven-time world champion Slater, who is likely to retire at the end of 2017.
Fanning and Slater's clash could not have been scripted better, with both signalling their desire to secure another world championship in 2017.
Although Slater has done it all, he said he'll be throwing everything at his pursuit for a 12th world title. Standing in his way, though, is Fanning, who Slater considers a major threat to his championship aspirations.
"If Mick is in 100% I'd put him right at the top of the heap. You'd be silly to not think Mick is top three in the world right now," Slater said.
"All things considered, having won at so many different breaks and being so dominant at places like Bells and Jeffreys Bay, there's no way he's not a contender."
The clash comes after Fanning announced his return to full-time competition after stepping back last year following a 2015 season that witnessed his world-famous shark attack at the J-Bay Open, the loss of his older brother Peter, and a runner-up finish in the title race to Brazilian Adriano De Souza.
Fanning, who was tuning up on Wednesday in huge swells at Snapper Rocks with the likes of Sally Fitzgibbons, said he was refreshed and ready to go ahead of the opening event on the World Surf League calendar.
"2015 was a tough year. A lot happened to me on camera and in my personal life," Fanning said.
"I just felt exhausted by the end of it. Fortunately, I was in a position to step away from the tour and have some time to myself.
"It was nice to have 2016 off somewhat and decompress but I'm excited to put the singlet on again."
The decision to return to the tour in 2017 wasn't one Fanning took lightly but the calibre of surfers lining up on the tour helped him rediscover his motivation in committing full-time.
Joining Fanning and Slater is Frenchman Jeremy Flores who is considered an outsider in the heat, which shows the depth of this year's field.
"It might be the best field from the top seed to number 34 we've ever had," Fanning said.
"I also think it's the biggest group of legit title contenders we've ever seen on the tour and I want to be part of the race."
Tweed world champions Joel Parkinson and Stephanie Gilmore, along with veteran Josh Kerr and up-and-comer Jack Freestone are also set for day one action.
Quiksilver Pro round one:
Jack Freestone (AUS), Kolohe Andino (USA), Kanoa Igarashi (USA)
Kelly Slater (USA), Mick Fanning (AUS), Jeremy Flores (FRA)
Adriano de Souza (BRA), Josh Kerr (AUS), Bede Durbidge (AUS)
Roxy Pro round one:
Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), Malia Manuel (HAW), Lakey Peterson (USA).