A bid to knock out his nearest rival for a successful defence of his world match racing title was behind Ian Williams' choice of Taylor Canfield as his quarter final opponent at the Argo Group Gold Cup regatta in Bermuda.
The US Virgin Islands sailor is the only one who could destroy Williams' 17-point lead in the six-event 2013 Alpari World Match Racing Tour. To knock him out at this stage would extend the lead held by Williams and his Team GAC Pindar ahead of the finale in Malaysia in December.
But no-one wanted to pick Ben Ainslie and, with the three other pairings decided, he was left to match Sweden's Bjorn Hansen. If Ainslie can dispatch Hansen, that, too, will help Williams.
Italy's Francesco Bruni, in Luna Rossa America's Cup colours, chose Phil Robertson of New Zealand and another Kiwi, Adam Minoprio, set up a trans-Tasman bit of rivalry by choosing the Australian Keith Swinton.
Williams had just one race to complete on day three of the round robin, was standing at 8-0, but it was against one of his fiercest rivals, Hansen. “As always with Ian there was a lot of screaming and shouting and protest flags all over the place,” said Hansen. “We didn't see everything the way the umpires did, and that cost us two penalties,” said Williams.
He ended 8-1, as did Ainslie, who was helped to one easy win by New Zealander Will Tiller, who thought the shortened course was still twice round. It was not. Ainslie swept by to complete the third round and take the point.
Under the knockout system, two groups of 10 separately race each other in a round robin and the top four in each group make the cut for the quarter final. The overall winner, in this case Ian Williams, picks his opponent followed by second and third. The final two have no choice.
Time and wind permitting, the four best of three winners go into Friday's quarter final, the winners into Saturday's semi-final, the two winners contesting Sunday's final, the two losers the third-place play off. Of the $100,000 prize pot, $50,000 goes to the winner, $20,000 to the second, and $10,000 to third. The convention is that the crew shares in the spoils. Anything Ainslie wins is destined to go to the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, in addition to the proceeds of a charity auction on Thursday night.