Tue, Jul 5, 5:15pm by Staff Writer
The last time surfer Mick Fanning competed at Jeffreys Bay on South Africa’s Eastern Cape, one of the biggest sporting stories of 2015 evolved when he was attacked by a shark in the final.
The three-time world champion returns there again this week as favourite to win the sixth stop on the WSL Tour despite the dramatic events of 12 months ago and the fact he goes into the event under an injury cloud.
Fanning has endured enough trauma to last a lifetime since he famously came face-to-face with a white-pointer on July 19 last year. After overcoming his near-death experience, he returned to the water but then suffered a series of major personal setbacks. His brother Peter passed away and then his marriage came to an end.
On the water, he then lost the world title in the very last event of the year, beaten by Brazil’s Adriano De Souza at Pipeline.
Fanning then announced he would pick and choose his events in 2016, meaning he wouldn’t contend for the world title. It also left open the possibility that he would choose to skip J-Bay.
But while Fanning missed events at Margaret River and Rio, he returned to the Tour with a solid 5th place finish in Fiji with an eye to being ready for J-Bay.
And so he heads into the event as $7 favourite with Sportsbet, just ahead of John John Florence ($7.50), local hope Jordy Smith ($9), the top-two in the world title race Gabriel Medina ($9) and Matt Wilkinson ($10) as well as surf legend Kelly Slater ($9).
However, while fear may not keep Fanning out of the water, an ankle injury may. He sprained his ankle last week and has been walking around in a moonboot.
He believes he should be right to surf, but would benefit greatly if the start of the tournament, scheduled for Wednesday, is delayed by poor conditions as often happens.
Fanning’s favouritism is far from based on sentiment, as he won this event in 2014, and was on track to defend his title when the shark took a liking to him last year. In the end, that event was cancelled and he and Julian Wilson were declared as joint second place getters.
Fanning is rated a $1.45 chance to win his opening heat against Conner Coffin and Alejo Muniz.
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