SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle Team USA came into the 34th America's Cup in a hole.

On Saturday, that hole got deeper.

Already entering Day 1 down two points because of a penalty incurred for cheating during last year's America's Cup World Series, Oracle essentially fell four points behind as Emirates Team New Zealand swept Races 1 and 2 on San Francisco Bay.

Officially, New Zealand leads the best-of-17 series 2-0, but in reality, Oracle -- the America's Cup defender -- needs to win two races to get to zero. For all practical purposes, the score is New Zealand 2, Oracle minus-2.

The Kiwis need seven more victories to take the Cup back to New Zealand. Oracle needs to win 11 races to retain the oldest trophy in sports.

Oracle Team USA races high off the water during the second race of America’s Cup in San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. (Jim
Oracle Team USA races high off the water during the second race of America's Cup in San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group) ( Jim Gensheimer )

Despite Oracle's predicament, skipper Jimmy Spithill remained confident, insisting that these two AC72 catamarans are evenly matched and that, "Small, little mistakes here and there will decide the outcome of the races."

New Zealand skipper Dean Barker was equally intent on not getting complacent, saying, "The teams are very even from what we can see."

That appeared to the case in the early going of a very entertaining Race 1, which featured close racing and passing. It was the first time during this summer's regatta, which began with the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series, that spectators saw the type of competition organizers had hoped for with these high-tech, 72-foot, wing-sailed marvels.

New Zealand hit the starting line first, then crossed right in front of Oracle before the first mark, taking a four-second lead. Heading downwind on the second leg, New Zealand pulled out to a lead of about 180 meters. But Oracle rallied and cut the gap to four seconds by the time the boats cleared Gate 2.

Oracle Team USA chases Emirates Team New Zealand  during the second race of America’s Cup in San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. (Jim
Oracle Team USA chases Emirates Team New Zealand during the second race of America's Cup in San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group) ( Jim Gensheimer )

Heading upwind on Leg 3, Oracle and New Zealand nearly came together shortly after exiting Gate 2. During the run back up toward the Golden Gate Bridge, fans gathered along the San Francisco waterfront saw Oracle tack from starboard (the right) and cross in front of New Zealand to take the lead. But, minutes later, New Zealand regained its accustomed position with a similar maneuver.

From there, New Zealand pushed the lead to 25 seconds at Gate 3 and wasn't challenged, going on to win by 36 seconds.

The start of Race 2 was similar to Race 1. New Zealand was first to the line after Spithill tried to draw a penalty on New Zealand -- video replays appeared to show light contact between the boats -- but was denied. The Kiwis led by two seconds at the first mark. At Gate 2, the gap was up to seven seconds, but Oracle lost more ground when it "fell" off its foils and lost speed rounding the mark.

New Zealand wasn't challenged for the rest of the race, winning by 52 seconds.

"We were surprised not to get them a penalty in the start in Race 2, and we weren't able to accelerate as quick as they did," Spithill said. "It's difficult to come back from behind."

Before Race 2, Oracle appeared to have a problem with its 131-foot-tall wing sail -- the film that covers the wing seemed to be peeling off. Spithill said this had no effect on the boat's performance. He also said the loss of wing sail trimmer Dirk de Ridder, who was expelled from the America's Cup for his role in the cheating scandal, was not a factor.

All in all, Day 1 of the America's Cup was the most competitive racing day of this regatta, even though Oracle tactician John Kostecki made it sound as if the passes were overrated.

"Hopefully, we can take some races and not have passing, and we can just win," he said.

If that's Oracle's master plan, Races 3 and 4 on Sunday would be a good time to start.

Contact Darryl Matsuda at 408-920-5215. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/DarrylMatsuda.

34TH AMERICA'S CUP

Emirates Team New Zealand 2,
Oracle Team USA 0


Best-of-17 series
Sunday: Races 3 and 4, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 1 p.m. on KNTV
Tuesday: Races 5 and 6, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 1 p.m. on KNTV
Thursday: Races 7 and 8, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 1 p.m. on KNTV
Sept. 14: Races 9 and 10*, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
Sept. 15: Races 11* and 12*, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
Sept. 17: Races 13* and 14*, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 1 p.m. on KNTV
Sept. 19: Races 15* and 16*, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 1 p.m. on KNTV
Sept. 21: Race 17*, 1:15 p.m. 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
* -- if necessary
NOTE: Because of penalties imposed on Oracle Team USA, it must win 11 races to retain the America's Cup.