Val Smith is a win away from retaining her singles title at the bowls world championships in Adelaide after completing an ultimately comfortable semi-final victory against Canada's Kelly McKerihen today.
Smith successfully set aside the disappointment of relinquishing the pairs crown to Australia yesterday by advancing into Sunday's final on the back of an engrossing duel, won by the Black Jacks veteran 21-12.
Although Smith was never in danger of elimination, McKerihen stretched the contest to almost 2-1/2 hours by mounting a courageous fight back when an early finish loomed at the Lockleys club.
Smith led 19-7 after 16 ends to require just two more shots to book a spot in the decider but a dogged McKerihen defied the New Zealander until the final bowl of the 21st.
After putting her feet up for a well-deserved rest Smith learned she will face a rematch with Australia's Karen Murphy, who beat England's reigning Commonwealth Games singles champion Natalie Melmore 21-15 in the other semfinal. Smith shaded Murphy 21-20 in the opening round of pool play and is obviously keen to achieve a similar outcome after her setback in the pairs. Champions at Christchurch four years ago, Jo Edwards and Smith had to settle for silver when beaten 16-12 by Kelsey Cottrell and Rebecca Quail and while her teammate could agonise over the defeat, the world's No 3-ranked singles exponent was back on the rinks at the earliest possible opportunity.
Smith sprang out of the blocks to build an 8-2 lead after five ends - the ideal start in the race to 21 - and she showed no inclination to surrender that advantage although McKerihen was defiant in the face of adversity.
The Kiwi's buffer had expanded to 15-3 after nine ends and although McKerihen - who downed the Kiwi 21-18 in the second round of pool play - won consecutive ends for the first time by claiming the 10th and 11th, she could only pick up a shot on each.
In contrast Smith tended to build her tally with multiple gains and she also displayed her ruthless streak on the seventh when coolly turning a three shot deficit on the head into a one shot gain with a superb draw on her last visit to the mat.
McKerihen then rallied to secure back-to-back ends for a second time - a mini resurgence worth just two shots - and she then delayed Smith's march to victory by twice killing the 17th end with pin-point drives.
Smith held the two she needed close out the match thanks to a subtly weighted final bowl than even McKerihen clapped but the New Zealander was soon reciprocating the applause when the Canadian's drive successfully cannoned the jack off the green to reset the end.
Smith led off and again drew within range of the decider before McKerihen spoiled the end a second time with another exacting drive; she then stayed alive with a toucher that finally brought the elongated 17th to an end.
McKerihen added a three on the 18th, the first time she scored more than a solitary shot to trim the deficit to single figures, though Smith was never really stressed.
She picked up a single on the 19th to crawl closer to the finish line but then gifted McKerihen a shot on the 20th when nudging the jack from her potential shot bowl.
However, the wily Smith made no mistake with her final roll on the next to finally execute the match-sealing shot.
Smith is the only Black Jack in action today; the women's triple of Lisa White, Jan Khan and Mandy Boyd go for gold tomorrow against Australia's Natasha van Eldik, Lynsey Armitage and Murphy.
Of these accolades, which would you like to win most?