New Zealand elects to bypass semifinals and move straight to Louis Vuitton Cup finals 

click to enlarge Trimmer James Dagg, right, and grinder Winston Macfarlane, second from right, run to the other side of Emirates Team New Zealand as skipper Dean Barker, left, watches during an America's Cup challenger series sailing race against Luna Rossa Challenge of Italy, Tuesday, July 23, 2013, in San Francisco. Emirates Team New Zealand won the race. - AP PHOTO/ERIC RISBERG
  • AP Photo/Eric Risberg
  • Trimmer James Dagg, right, and grinder Winston Macfarlane, second from right, run to the other side of Emirates Team New Zealand as skipper Dean Barker, left, watches during an America's Cup challenger series sailing race against Luna Rossa Challenge of Italy, Tuesday, July 23, 2013, in San Francisco. Emirates Team New Zealand won the race.

With the Louis Vuitton Cup round-robin title wrapped up, Emirates Team New Zealand is opting to skip the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals and head straight to the finals, setting up a showdown between Luna Rossa Challenge and Artemis Racing in the semis.

New Zealand clinched the top spot in the round robin last week, giving the Kiwis the choice of competing in the semifinals, which get underway on Aug. 6, or advancing directly to the best-of-13 final, slated to begin on Aug. 17.

New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said the Kiwis "thought pretty hard" about competing in the semifinals before announcing their decision on Sunday.

He said the team eventually concluded that using the next three weeks to make boat modifications was more valuable than head-to-head competition.

"It obviously takes time," Barker said.

New Zealand earned its ninth point of the round robin on Sunday by defeating Luna Rossa for a fourth straight race, this time by three minutes, 20 seconds.

The Italian boat's performance was a dramatic improvement from last Tuesday's race when the Kiwis defeated it by more than seven minutes.

"We've made, probably, a 20 percent improvement on our boat speed in the last 10 days," Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said.

While New Zealand tweaks its boat, the Italians will try to win their first head-to-head race against Artemis, which is looking to join the competition on Aug. 6, in the semifinals.

Artemis launched its new 72-foot catamaran, Big Blue, last week, but skipper Iain Percy said it's unlikely that the team will compete in its last scheduled round-robin races on Tuesday and Thursday.

"In terms of racing before the semis, I think it might be one step too far," he said. "We're never going to say never, but the thing that's very important to us over the next few weeks and into the future is to keep our focus on safety."

The Swedish team showed promise last week by foiling during its first runs on the water. But Percy said Artemis is still getting a handle on its boat.

"We don't want to run before we can walk," he said.

So far, the Louis Vuitton Cup has featured nine solo runs and four blowouts and it looks like New Zealand is going to coast into the 34th America's Cup without any real competition.

"It's going to be difficult for Artemis," America's Cup CEO Stephen Barclay said. "The good news is they straight line speed, but this is a tight course, which means a lot of maneuvering."

But Barclay said he expects the races to be more competitive as the Louis Vuitton Cup progresses next month.

"This are going to tighten up a lot," he said.

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Paul Gackle

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