Torvar Mirsky's 2011 ISAF Match Racing World Championship dream lies in tatters after a dramatic conclusion to the Qualifying stages of the Monsoon Cup saw Francesco Bruni beat the Australian by just half a second in a sudden death match. It completed what was a fascinating day of racing in Malaysia which also saw the wildcard of Will Tiller qualify for the quarter-finals in top spot.
Every match today was a potential Championship changer. With two early wins for Mirsky (AUS) The Wave Muscat and two defeats for Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing, the three main Championship title contenders of Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar, Bruni and Mirsky were tied on five points. Williams faced a sudden death situation, requiring one win from his final race against Mathieu Richard while Bruni and Mirsky had two bites of the cherry. Their second races though were against each other. The script could not have been better written.
And so it came down to their head-to-head. In the match, the lead changed no less than three times. Bruni's decision to repeatedly take the left side seemed to give Mirsky the advantage with the Australian enjoying better boat speed out on the right, the side that teams had favoured all day. On the final run though, Bruni was right on Mirsky's tail and had enough of a speed advantage to push his nose just ahead of the Australian right on the finish line.
A jubilant Bruni, who managed to turn around a run of four straight defeats to beat Mirsky, said, "We never thought we would have needed one metre to get through! Everything has been going against us today and we needed that win so we are so happy but very tired, it was very stressful.
"It's now between us and Ian and it will be close so we need all the extra energy we can get. We have to do this, we have to win! We are confident and we are sailing well. Ian needs to watch his back very carefully."
Meanwhile, a dejected Mirsky commented, "We are devastated, shattered to lose at this stage - we are broken. All credit to Bruni and his team, they pipped us on the line. We went in for the last gybe and in previous races there was enough pressure there but now this time. It really hurts, that moment decided everything. We felt we were a team who would have contended for the title so that's what hurts the most.
"We sailed around after the race and no one on our boat said anything, we are all absolutely devastated. We thought this was one event we could have nailed. We've won two events this year but this leaves a sour taste in our mouth overall.
"The young teams have sailed really well though and are smashing everyone so best of luck to Will and Phil."
Despite posting four wins from five matches yesterday, Williams' Monsoon Cup campaign was still in the balance overnight with a 4-3 scoreline. He needed some quick momentum today however he lost his opening two matches against Phil Robertson (NZL) Team China powered by WAKA Racing and then against Mirsky. On 4-5, Williams really needed to win both his final matches. It looked like it wasn't going to go his way after his match against Bruni was abandoned due to a major wind shift while the Brit was ahead. Williams though showed just why he's in the reckoning to capture a third World Championship by beating both Bruni and Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team to book a place in the knock-out stages.
"They were defining races today and when the pressure is on that's when you really find out the most about yourself,"
said Williams. "We are still in the regatta and that's the main thing so we aren't worrying about what happens with the other teams. The fun really starts now.
"Today, we just tried to keep in the moment and not think about the consequences. We know what to do so it was just a matter of keeping the discipline and hoping that's enough to get us through, which it was."
For Richard, his early exit from the Monsoon Cup is a bitter end to a dismal season. The Frenchman has the same win rate as the Francesco Bruni in the qualifying rounds of the 2011 Tour but has failed to deliver in the knock out rounds, "It's been a terrible year for us, everything went badly and we really struggled, especially compared to last year so it's tough but that's sport. We were the only team to reach the quarter-finals in all the events leading up to here but we lost in the next stage and often after very tight matches. It's pretty much the opposite of last year."
The other main headline of the day was about Will Tiller (NZL) Full Metal Jacket Racing, the young Kiwi wildcard who qualified top with just 3 defeats and ahead of a group of teams skippered by six Tour Card Holders. Having picked Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team as his quarter-final opponent, Tiller said, "We are rapt; it's an amazing achievement for us! Everything just seems to have fallen into place, it's just awesome. We just seem to have got on this roll which is great. Seeing our name at the top of the leaderboard after qualifying is so amazing, especially to be above so many top names.
"The next step is going to be even harder so we are just hoping to push on into the semis and you never know what can happen in those final stages."
The quarter-finals here is all set for a Championship showdown as they will decide the 2011 ISAF Match Racing World Champion with Ian Williams facing his only challenger for the title, Francesco Bruni. Elsewhere, Robertson will face Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing while Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team opted for Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners.
The quarter-finals of the Monsoon Cup will begin at 10:00 (GMT+8) on Saturday 26 November 2011, after the World Match Racing Tour Morning Show with Hannah White. Live coverage from Pulau Duyong continues from 15:00 to 17:00 (GMT +8) on www.wmrt.com
Results after Qualifying Session Three:
Will Tiller (NZL) Full Metal Jacket Racing 8-3
Phil Robertson (NZL) Team China powered by WAKA Racing 8-3
Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team 7-4
Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing 6-5
Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar 6-5
Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing 6-5
Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners 6-5
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team 5.5-5
Torvar Mirsky (AUS) The Wave Muscat 5-6
Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team 4-7
Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team 4-7
Jeremy Koo (MAS) Abdullah Chan/KRT 0-11
Overall Championship Standings - after 7 stages:
1. Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar - 106pts
2. Francesco Bruni (ITA) Bruni Racing - 100pts
3. Torvar Mirsky (AUS) The Wave Muscat - 99.8pts
4. Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing - 78.8pts
5. Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team - 75pts
6. Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team - 74pts
7. Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team - 73.2pts
8. Jesper Radich (DEN) Adrian Lee & Partners - 71.2pts
9. Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team - 69.6pts
10. Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing - 64.4pts