'I'd put him right at the top of the heap'
HE'S been away for the best part of a year but surfing legend Kelly Slater is tipping Mick Fanning will be a major contender for a fourth world crown this season.
Australia's bid to win both the men's and women's crowns in the same year for only the seventh time in history received a major boost on Tuesday with Fanning confirming he has healed enough from a series of personal dramas and tragedies - and the trauma of his very public shark attack - to return to the competitive arena fulltime.
"I'm excited to put the singlet on again," Fanning said ahead of the start of his world title bid at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, potentially as early as next week.
"It's not in my nature to be half-hearted so now that I'm committed I'll be doing everything I can to get a win."
Fanning, who did a handful of events last year to keep up his qualifying points, said he was pleased he had the courage to take a time out from the sport following his shark attack in mid 2015, a marriage breakup and the death of his older bother Peter, the second sibling he has lost.
"At the of 2015 I just felt empty," Fanning said recently.
"I just felt I didn't have any drive left and needed a time out.
"That had been coming for a few years but I think I only had the courage to do it then after everything had happened."
Slater, chasing a 12th world crown this year, says Fanning will be a major threat.
"If Mick (Fanning) is in 100% I'd put him right at the top of the heap," Slater said.
"You'd be silly to not think Mick is top three in the world right now.
"Having won at so many different breaks and being so dominant at places like Bells (Beach) and Jeffreys Bay, there's no way he's not a contender."
Just a month ago Fanning said he was still unsure he would return to the tour fulltime but now says he is fully committed to his bid for a fourth world crown.
"Like everyone else I'm getting super excited about this year's line-up of surfers - it might be the best field from the top seed to No.34 we've ever had," he said.
"I also think it's the biggest group of legit title contenders we've ever seen on the tour ever and I want to be part of the race."
The last time Australia won both the men's and women's world crowns was in 2012 courtesy of Joel Parkinson and Stephanie Gilmore.