Dennis Conner gave Nippon skipper Peter Gilmour a tongue-lashing last week after Gilmour fraternized with defender Team New Zealand in America's Cup practice. Today, Conner sent his Stars & Stripes out to drive home the point by pounding Nippon on the water.

In the only upset of the first day of Cup challenger semifinals, Stars & Stripes defeated Nippon by 55 seconds in steady, 12- to 15-knot breezes. The other two U.S. entries in the 10-race round sailed to form as Paul Cayard's favored AmericaOne beat Le Defi Francais and America True fell to fleet leader Prada.

Conner has bolstered his reputation for stirring up Cup controversy. He issued a stinging broadside after Nippon broke ranks with other challengers and spent four hours practice-racing against Team New Zealand last week.

"Maybe he thinks he's not going to get into the America's Cup and he wanted to get a photo sailing against Team New Zealand," Conner said of Gilmour.

Conner no longer sails on Stars & Stripes, but designated helmsman Ken Read whipped the dark blue racer to an early lead over Gilmour and his team of Japanese sailors. The boats sped evenly off the starting line, but Stars & Stripes had better speed, got a nose in front and forced Nippon to tack away. Read took advantage of a favorable wind shift and built a 49-second lead by the end of the three-mile first leg.

Moderate breezes held steady today and all three contests were decided on the first leg. Italian entry Prada lined up alongside the male-female crew on America True in the first start. As the boats powered upwind side by side, Prada gained slightly in each puff of breeze until America True was forced to tack away.

At each subsequent crossing, Prada's lead increased slightly. The yellow boat from San Francisco wound up crossing the finish one minute behind after rounding the first turning mark 17 seconds back.

Cayard's AmericaOne, the newest boat in the fleet and freshly introduced for this round, lived up to its billing as an upwind speedster. Cayard forged off the line alongside the French boat Le Defi Francais and simply sailed out from under his rival, forcing French skipper Bertrand Pace to tack away. The final margin was 22 seconds.

AMERICA'S CUP CHALLENGER SERIES

The Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals pit the six surviving challenger teams against each other over 10 consecutive days of racing, starting today. In this round, each boat will race each of its rivals twice. Wins are worth one point. The two teams with the most points will advance to the best-of-nine challenger finals, which are scheduled to begin Jan. 25. The winner of the finals will face Team New Zealand in a best-of-nine Cup match, scheduled to begin Feb. 19.

Semifinals Schedule

Day 1

Prada def. America True

Nippon def. Stars & Stripes

AmericaOne def. Le Defi Francais

Day 2

Prada vs. Stars & Stripes

America True vs. AmericaOne

Nippon vs. Le Defi Francais

Day 3

Stars & Stripes vs. Le Defi Francais

America True vs. Nippon

Prada vs. AmericaOne

Day 4

AmericaOne vs. Nippon

Prada vs. Le Defi Francais

Stars & Stripes vs. America True

Day 5

Prada vs. Nippon

AmericaOne vs. Stars & Stripes

Le Defi Francais vs. America True

The schedule then repeats over the following five days.