Ash Barty supports Steph Gilmore, Mick Fanning at Bells Beach surfing event

Aussie surfing champion Steph Gilmore admitted she was “a little bit nervous” when recently retired Ash Barty made a surprise visit.

Seven-time world surfing champion Steph Gilmore admitted the presence of retired tennis great Ash Barty made her a “little bit nervous” at Bells Beach on Tuesday.

Barty, the defending Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, shocked the sporting world last month when she announced her retirement from tennis at the age of just 25.

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But Barty’s love for sport remains and she took the chance to head to the Rip Curl Pro event to watch “a few mates do their thing”.

Those friends included Gilmore, who progressed to the round of 16 – where she will meet India Robinson – after defeating Brisa Hennessy and Molly Picklum in the fourth heat.

“I was actually a little bit nervous when I saw you here,” Gilmore told Barty after the heat.

“I thought ‘I’m going to have to put on a good show’.”

Gilmore said she was “stoked” Barty was at Bells Beach to support her and loved the tennis legend’s passion for all sport.

“To retire from your sport and just want to go to watch other sports is really special,” Gilmore said.

Barty admitted to knowing little about surfing.

“But that’s all right. This is unreal, the first time for me coming down here, a beautiful part of the world, and get to watch a few mates do their thing – it’s pretty cool,” she said.

“It’s nice to be here and watch the pros do their thing, and I get to enjoy it as a fan.”

Barty said she was a “land dweller” but that Gilmore was the “best (surfing) teacher in the world”.

“One day she might get me out there,” she said.

Sally Fitzgibbons also progressed to the round of 16 but needed to do so via an elimination heat.

“After my first heat, I had another chance, paddled out with a fresh start, and just enjoyed my experience no matter what,” two-time Bells winner Fitzgibbons said.

“When you put your heart and soul into your surfing and sometimes don’t have scores come your way or the results don’t flow, it can sometimes break your spirits a bit and that’s when you dig deep and trust in the work you’ve put in.

“I’m so comfortable down here and love competing here so it’s good to be back.”

In the men’s event, Mick Fanning progressed to the round of 32 after finishing second in his elimination heat behind Morgan Cibilic in his elimination heat.

Four-time Bells Beach winner Fanning now has the tough task of beating in-form world No. 1 ranked Japanese star Kanoa Igarashi.

“(Monday) was a bit embarrassing on my behalf, so it was nice to go out to go out and get some waves,” Fanning said.

“It was cool coming up against Morgan and Seth (Moniz), two kids I absolutely love and cheer for on Tour, but I’m stoked to click into gear.”

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