Put the champagne back on ice.
It’s a case of so close, but not quite yet, for Team New Zealand, who are one victory away from retaining the America’s Cup.
Luna Rossa are in death or glory mode, knowing they have to go unbeaten from here. It sets up the perfect climax for Wednesday, when the nation will once again come to a halt.
The Cup’s fate could have been decided today, but the weather gods intervened, as a series of wind shifts meant the second race could not be started on time, with Team New Zealand ahead 6-3 on the scoreboard.
That delay probably came as a relief for the Italians, giving them a chance to reset, after they suffered another improbable defeat at the hands of Team New Zealand.
They would have been drained – mentally, physically and emotionally – after the way the opening race played out, which is not the best time to face a do-or-die contest.
At the same time, the abandonement of race 10 would have been a slight, but only slight, setback for the Defender, who had all the momentum after their fourth win on the bounce – and would have sensed the chance for a kill.
In the end the delay was perhaps fitting, as it means that race nine can be savoured and appreciated for 24 hours, rather than being overshadowed by a possible triumph.
On Tuesday Course C was used for the first time since January 29 – on the opening day of the Prada Cup semifinals – and the stadium course delivered a grandstand occasion.
Given what was at stake, the race was the best of the summer, even surpassing the classic between Ineos Team UK and Luna Rossa.
It was gripping, tense, terrific and tight, everything you would want, but rarely get in the latter stages of an America’s Cup match.
The Italians, who clearly are a click slower than Team New Zealand in these conditions, sailed a magnificent race, but again suffered a cruel defeat.
They scrapped to get a minute lead off the start, then held it for the best part of five legs, despite Te Rehutai pursuing them like a panther. Luna Rossa also pulled off an impressive luff before the fourth gate, elbowing their opponents well off the course, in one of the more aggressive moves of the regatta.
But it wasn’t enough, as the result came down to a single wind shift, with Team New Zealand reaping the benefits of a latent gust on the right-hand side of the course. It was cruel on Luna Rossa, but as has happened previously in this regatta, Te Rehutai brilliantly put themselves in position to take advantage, executing a complex 270-degree gybe at the fourth gate to engineer a split and create an opportunity.
It may have also come down to some local knowledge, with Burling and Tuke operating in a patch of water they know so well, where they won 2019 49er world championships.
Team New Zealand’s ability to stay close as the trailing boat was again highly impressive, and their transitions were swift, having improved significantly in a week.
The margin at the first gate was a second, after the Italians used their high mode to eke out a narrow advantage, which had extended to eight seconds at the end of the opening lap. At times the action was breath-taking; twice the boats were separated by a matter of metres as they crossed, with both helmsmen holding their nerve superbly.
Team New Zealand continued to hunt down Luna Rossa, who defended skilfully, before the fateful moment ahead of the fifth gate.
READ MORE: The best spots in Auckland to watch the America’s Cup
Heading into the Cup racing?
• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the cup.
• Make sure your AT Hop card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride.
• Don’t forget to scan QR codes with the NZ Covid tracer app when on public transport and entering the America’s Cup village.
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.
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