The Monsoon Cup, the prestigious final round of the 2010 ISAF World Match Racing Tour being sailed in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia has turned the hard fought world of top level match racing upside down.
Two British sailors are leading the event after a tough day two out on the water. Ian Williams
(Team GAC Pindar), the 2006 and 2007 ISAF Match Racing World Champion, was a distant fifth on points going into this event. Today he sailed outstandingly, showing great skill in the light and very tricky conditions, qualifying for the quarterfinals with a 7-0 scorecard.
(TEAMORIGIN), the triple olympic gold medal winner is close on Williams' heels having lost just one match on day one to Philip Robertson
(WAKA Racing). After two days of racing Ainslie sits at 5-1, having completed one less match than Williams.
(Mirsky Racing Team), the West Australian skipper who is also mathematically in the World Championship running, is close behind the leaders, having suffered just two losses from seven matches (5-2). Mirsky went down to Williams and Francesco Bruni (Team Azzurra) in hard fought matches.
The leaders can only look back in amazement at the chaos behind them.
In the middle of the day, the World Match Racing Championship tour leader Mathieu Richard
looked anything but relaxed, seemingly suffering a serious form slump in this event.
Down, Richard did not seem to be making good decisions. In the critical match against Francesco Bruni
(Team Azzurra) Richard just won the start on the pin, in light and shifty conditions. After a slow tacking duel Richard was three lengths ahead. On the left Bruni was in pressure and reduced Richard's lead to less than one length. A bad tack from Richard and a gain on a shift from Bruni, meant a lead change before the top mark. Richard struggled back and into the lead down the run but Bruni went hunting for pressure and shifts. Richard inexplicably did not cover, the number one match racing rule, and so conceded the match to Bruni.
The afternoon did not improve for Richard and a loss to Ben Ainslie (TEAMORIGIN) left him 0-4 in eleventh place. But clearly the determined Richard was not yet ready to give up the Championship title dream and things turned a little his way. Richard finished the day 3-5 and in seventh place.
Looking despondent the French skipper explained: "We have not been sailing well. We still have a lot of work to do, we need six wins to be sure to get into the quarterfinals and we have to beat Minoprio (ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing), Mirsky and Robertson to get there. Right now it does not look good."
In match racing mind games abound and Ben Ainslie is not adverse to loading on the pressure.
When asked why some of the favourites were not going so well, Ainslie replied: "It's the conditions more than anything. It's very tough out there. There can be just metres between a win and a loss in these very light conditions; it's hard for the whole team just calling the breeze. Mathieu would be no doubt be doing better if there was a steadier breeze, so it's more about match racing.
"Yesterday and today the results have been coming more from general sailing ability - finding the pressure, picking the right side of the course and it's probably easier for dinghy sailors than for some of the match racers. (Particularly those with three Olympic Golds and one Silver it seems.)
"It's going to be difficult for Richard from 3-5 but there is time yet, and it's going to be hard for Adam Minoprio too - maybe harder. They are very good sailors so they will probably claw their way into the quarters, but if they don't it would be a dream for us,"
(ETNZ/Black Match Racing) had a horror day on the water. They were defeated soundly by Jesper Radich
and suffered a second loss to Peter Gilmour
and YANMAR Racing. Then Ian Williams inflicted a third defeat on Minoprio, leaving the reigning World Champion smarting with three losses in five matches.
The race against Williams said it all today. The Kiwi skipper picked up a penalty in the pre-start and crossed the line prematurely, allowing Williams to get away with a good lead. Minoprio fought back strongly, closing what had at one stage appeared to be an invincible lead for Williams to just six seconds at the finish, but wasn't able to get ahead of the Brit.
It's clear that all is not well in the Minoprio camp. Asked whether this was because it is Minoprio's last season, (he is joining the Team New Zealand Volvo Round the World campaign), the defending World Champion replied "We should be over that; we should be concentrating on getting on with this event."
The skipper continued. "We just have not yet hit our straps. We've been making amateur mistakes and yes there's been some frustration.
"We are 2-4 so it's crunch time now. Today we just had a succession of poor starts - we are just glad today is over."
On Friday, the task is ahead of the ETNZ/Black Match Racing Team who have to win at least four races against this list of opponents - Richard, Bruni, Ainslie, Hansen and Koo - a tall order the way they are currently sailing.
The harsh reality is that unless there is a big lift in spirits and concentration, it could be unhappy final match racing days for the 2009 ISAF World Champion.
At the end of day Press Conference, a confident Ian Williams subtly applied the pressure on Richard and Minoprio. Williams stated "We are pleased with 7-0 into the quarterfinals. The guys are keeping me calm and focused and we are looking forward to the finals. Right now there is a bunch of sailors doing their best to make sure Minoprio and Richard have to fight all the way.
"Both times I won the World titles I did it from eighth place in the round robins. Losing races is a valuable learning experience. You have to just not lose too many and you do make the cut."
So the mind games continue. Looking at the leader board Williams has plainly qualified and Ainslie, Torvar Mirsky
and Radich look comfortable. Behind them it seems there are six crews fighting for four quarterfinal placings.
Standings at end of first three flights:
Ian Williams (GBR) - 7 wins 0 losses
Ben Ainslie (GBR) 5 wins 1 loss
Torvar Mirsky (AUS - 5 win 2 losses
Jesper Radich (DEN) - 5 wins 2 losses
Francesco Bruni (ITA) - 4 win 2 losses
Bjorn Hansen (SWE) - 3 wins 3 losses
Mathieu Richard (FRA) - 3 wins 5 losses
Peter Gilmour (AUS) - 3 win 3 losses
Adam Minoprio (NZL) - 2 wins 4 loss
Keith Swinton (AUS) - 2 win 4 losses
Philip Robertson (NZL) - 2 win 5 losses
Jeremy Koo (MAS) - 0 wins 8 losses
ISAF Match Racing World Championship microsite
World Match Race Tour - www.wmrt.com