The Australian Open lost two of its biggest drawcards yesterday with South Coast surfers Sally Fitzgibbons and Tyler Wright both bundled out of the Manly Beach-based tournament without reaching the fifth round.
Defending champion Fitzgibbons, nursing a broken hand, made a surprise exit in round four after producing the third-highest individual heat score of the day in her round-three qualifier.
The 23-year-old produced an impressive 9.37 ride helping her to a score of 17.04 and easy progression to the fourth round.
It was a different story in round four, with the world No 3 struggling in difficult conditions and falling behind Hawaiian world tour rookie Alessa Quizon, Brazilian Silvana Lima and fellow Australian Keely Andrew.
Sitting in fourth place and needing a score of 7.63 with a minute remaining in the heat, Fitzgibbons couldn't find a wave, bowing out with Quizon and Andrew advancing.
"Just to be in the water with some of the best surfers in the world was a huge experience for me," Andrew said.
"I've gained a lot of confidence from that heat and I'm looking forward to the next round.
"My friend Bronte [Macaulay] beat me in the pro junior and I just had to refocus and prepare for this event ... it's working so far."
It was the second high-profile exit of the day after world No 2 Wright failed in the third round.
In her first competition since finishing second on last year's world tour, the Culburra surfer managed scores of 5.33 and 5.17 in her third-round heat.
It wasn't enough with Hawaiian Nage Melamed (13.77) and Peru's Anali Gomez (12.23) progressing.
With Fitzgibbons and Wright both out, Hawaiian world No 1 Carissa Moore will be the hot favourite to take out the title when the quarter-finals begin today.
"It's hard work out there," Moore said.
"At least it's a good warm up, I haven't competed for five months so it's great to get a jersey on and get back into it. You just have to find the treasures and gems out there, which is really good practice."