If history is any guide, then tomorrow's round robin race between Ineos Team UK and Luna Rossa could have strong overall implications for the fate of the Prada Cup.
It's early days for a pivotal match, but that is how it feels this weekend, especially for the Italian syndicate.
They face a must-win race against Ineos Team UK on Saturday afternoon (4pm) to stay alive, then would have to trump the same opponents again on Sunday to progress straight to the Prada Cup final as top qualifiers (Luna Rossa would progress via a tiebreak, by virtue of winning the final race).
All three challengers in this regatta have the luxury of a safety net – knowing they are guaranteed a 'second life' in the semifinal regardless of what happens in the preliminary rounds – but it's a tightrope they might prefer to avoid.
In the past round robin supremacy has been a strong predicator of the final placing.
In Bermuda and San Francisco Team New Zealand were well ahead of the field, and maintained that advantage through the rest of the Challenger selection series to take out the Louis Vuitton Cup.
In 2007 in Valencia Team New Zealand topped the round robin standings – edging Oracle by a point – and eventually ended up in the Cup match. It was the same pattern in 2003, with Alinghi just ahead of One World and Oracle (by one point) after the round robin phase, in 2000 (Prada) and 1995 (Team New Zealand).
The last time the round robin leader failed to contest the America's Cup was in 1992, when Nippon Challenge fell away after making the early running.
The prize at stake this weekend is two-fold; a three week window for development, testing and upgrades before the Prada Cup final (February 13 onwards) and the opportunity to avoid a potentially dangerous American Magic, if Patriot can be restored following last week's capsize.
"We take each race at a time," said Ineos Team UK skipper Ben Ainslie. "Hats on to American Magic for how they have responded and by all accounts getting back on track for the semis.
"They are a top outfit and they are going to be dangerous for the semifinal so there is a lot on the line for both our teams here, in terms of getting that direct route to the final."
When asked what advantages would be gained from finishing top, Ainslie was unequivocal.
"It buys you time," said Ainslie. "And as we all know, time in this game is everything, with the flexibility to make upgrades to the boat. Some upgrades might be an overnight job, some might take two, three, four days.
"It buys you the flexibility to change a few things where you might not otherwise get the chance. It is going to be significant on the overall outcome of this Cup."
Luna Rossa face an early test of their mettle. They were streets ahead of the British in December, winning their second clash by 3:45 after Ineos had retired from their first.
But things have changed. The British prevailed by 28 seconds last Friday, then recorded a double with an 18-second win last Sunday. However, that race was extremely close, arguably the best of the Prada Cup so far, with multiple lead changes. Luna Rossa were ahead for the first three legs, before Ainslie and tactician Giles Scott picked a wind shift to gain the ascendancy.
"[There is] no desperation," said Luna Rossa co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill. "We don't get desperate at Luna Rossa. It's more excitement to be honest. It's a great opportunity.
"There is a real incentive here for both teams to win [Saturday's] race and if we do that there is a lot of incentive for Sunday as well. There is a lot on the line and that is a great test for the two of us."
The Australian also expects American Magic to return at the same level they displayed before their accident last Sunday.
"There is no doubt they will be back," said Spithill. "They were very quick leading into this competition and I don't expect that to change. They will do repairs and come back. But for now we can't worry about them. All we are focussed on is [Saturday]."
Ineos Team UK tactician Giles Scott said it was a simple equation.
"We took a lot of lessons from racing these guys," said Scott. "It's clear that the boats are reasonably well matched in terms of performance and the boat that comes out on top will be the boat that races better."
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.