Phil Robertson has won so often this year it almost feels like a surprise when he doesn't finish on top of the podium.
The Kiwi had to settle for second at the latest round of the World Match Racing Tour in Chicago, his first defeat in the M32 since before last year's world championships.
The world's No 1-ranked match racer was comprehensively beaten 3-0 by Great Britain's Ian Williams in the final sailed on Lake Michigan but he still holds a 40-point advantage over Williams in the overall standings.
“I think we are seeing the fleet take a big jump forward which is good – everyone is very competitive – even Evan Walker pushed us to the limit”, said the China One Ningbo skipper. “Ian absolutely out sailed us today.”
Robertson and his crew which included NZL Sailing Team member Josh Junior, survived a massive scare in the semifinals, not only coming back from 2-1 down against American Taylor Canfield but also a double penalty in the crucial fourth race.
Canfield jumped out to a four-boat length lead off the startline but opted to gybe and take the less favoured bottom mark allowing Robertson to cross on the next tack and extend for the win. Robertson easily won the deciding race.
Williams quickly got on the board early with a win in the first race of the finals only to narrowly avoid taking a loss in the second after winning the start.
Leading for the majority of the first three legs, Robertson managed to pull back at the first windward mark from where he mounted attack after attack on the downwind, finally forcing Williams into drawing a boundary penalty after he pinned the China One Ningbo skipper out of the race course resulting in contact between the two teams.
However, clearing the penalty at the bottom gate, Williams hooked into a shift on the right hand side of the course to challenge the Kiwi at the final top mark rounding, barely gaining mark protection and clearing ahead in time to limit Robertson from any chance to mount a luff on the final reach to the finish.
An OCS (on course side) penalty at the start of the third race for Robertson sealed his fate as Williams extended through the course handily, winning the 2017 Chicago Match Cup.
“This is great for the team. Phil’s been dominating all year making us all look a bit silly so it’s nice to knock him off his perch”, Williams said.
The win could be a preview of things to come in three weeks' time in Shenzhen, China, where the two skippers meet for the last time this season to decide who will win the overall 2017 tour and the Match Racing world championship. Racing begins on October 24.
“No doubt every single team out there wants us to lose," Robsrtson said. "We are trying to ramp up towards then and learn what we can, and take it into the big one. We have a title to defend; and Ian’s just peaked too early so that’s good. So now we’re looking for redemption.”
Chris Steele and his 36 Below Racing team finished fifth in Chicago after earlier topping qualifying and are sixth in the overall standings.
Many of the teams will head to San Diego for the next round of the Extreme Sailing Series (October 19-22), with Robertson's Oman Air two points behind Adam Minoprio's SAP Extreme Sailing Team in the overall standings.