Martina Hingis: A Teenage Sensation Marred By A Doping Ban That Turned Into A Doubles Icon - UBITENNIS
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Martina Hingis: A Teenage Sensation Marred By A Doping Ban That Turned Into A Doubles Icon

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Martina Hingis (zimbio.com)

If there was a film about Martina Hingis’ life, perhaps the most fitting title would be ‘the never-ending roller-coaster.’ Her career is one filled with records and achievements, but has also been overshadowed by some unwelcome factors.

 

It was evident that Hingis was going to be a star of the sport from a young age. In 1993 she defeated Laurence Courtois in the final of the junior French Open Championships to lift the title at the age of 12. Just over a year later she made her professional debut and amazed many be ending the season as the 87th best player in the world despite her age.

Hingis’ Grand slam titles began three months before her 16th birthday. At the 1996 Wimbledon championships, she claimed the women’s doubles title to become the youngest grand slam winner of all-time. It was the start of the Hingis era. From then on she became one of the most feared players on the tour due to the style of her play. Between 1997-1999 she achieved a win-loss record of 67-7 in major tournaments. 1997 was her most successful year as she reached the final of every grand slam and won three of them (except the French Open).

By the time she was 21 Hingis had already spent an astonishing 209 weeks as world No.1. She was at the pinnacle of the sport, but it didn’t come without its consequences as she underwent surgery on both of her ankles. Playing at such a high intensity so young took its toll as she explained in one infamous interview with L’equipe.

“A return to competition is unforeseeable, and I have no plans to ever return,” Hingis said in 2003 when she announced her first retirement.
“It’s over for me but life goes on. I am not capable anymore of doing what’s needed to be done to stay at the top.”

The return and fall

The dramatic retirement of the Swiss player was short lived. Hingis wanted to exit tennis on her own terms and not because of injury. A failed attempted comeback at the 2005 Pattaya Open didn’t derail her determination. At the 2006 Rome Open she won her first title in four years as an unseeded player. The ‘Swiss Miss’ was finally back and finished that season inside the world’s top-10. Once again, she was a danger to everybody on the tour before disaster struck and this time threatened to destroy her entire reputation.

In November 2007 the tennis world was notified that Hingis had failed a drugs test at Wimbledon. She tested positive for Benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine. She protested her innocence and argued that she unintentionally ingested it. The ITF declined to accept her appeal and slammed Hingis with a two-year suspension. It was shortly before that she retired from the sport for the second time.

“Since Martina has retired from competitive sports, it makes no sense for her to challenge the judgment.” Her manager said in 2007 following the ruling.
“She just isn’t going to play any more.”

Not over yet

Few have the ability to return from a doping ban and win the affection of the sports fans, but Hingis managed to do so. Her singles career was finished, but it paved way for her to dominate the doubles circuit.

After a brief coaching stint with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, she once again came out of retirement in 2013. A year later she was winning titles again and reaching the finals of major tournaments, but this time only in the doubles.

Hingis’ partnership with Sania Mirza ensured that she would rise back to the top. Together the pair was seemingly unstoppable on the tour between 2015-2016, winning 14 titles over a 14-month period.

Since 2014, Hingis has won 27 WTA titles in the women’s doubles. She is currently ranked world No.1 is the discipline, 19 years after she first held that position. Singapore will be the end of her journey after she announced her retirement on Thursday. This time stating that it was her final decision after ending things on her own terms.

The legacy

Hingis finishes her 23-year career with a total of 43 singles titles, the 10th highest tally by a woman player in the Open era, and 64 in doubles. Her 209-week stint as world No.1 in singles remains the fifth longest period of all time. Hingis and Martina Navratilova are the only players in history to top both the doubles and singles rankings for over 70 weeks.

“I’ll be always part of the game of tennis. Somehow we will be connected.”

 

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Coronavirus And The Adria Tour: Should Djokovic Be Held Accountable?

Formally not, despite many people, including him and his wife, testing positive to the virus causing COVID-19. More than a few, if we consider that Novak Djokovic is the president of the ATP Player Council.

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By Alessandro Stella

The debate surrounding the cases of the coronavirus at the Adria Tour, which soon turned into a Djokovic berating platoon, is clearly the theme of the week in tennis. After the announcement of the positive test of Grigor Dimitrov, who was on the court in Zadar against Borna Coric on Saturday, the Croatian player also announced the ensuing morning that he had contracted the coronavirus. Next came Marco Panichi, Djokovic’s physio, and Kristijan Groh, Dimitrov’s coach, while according to some early rumours (confirmed by the Telegraph) Djokovic would have refused to submit to the swab in Croatia as asymptomatic to test himself directly on his return to Belgrade, together with his family members – he later tested positive, along with his wife Jelena, fellow countryman Viktor Troicki (his wife was also infected) and NBA star Nikola Jokic.

 

Why Djokovic is getting all the slander is easily explained: as the president of the ATP Player Council, he promoted the organising of the Adria Tour, an event slated to take place in four countries (the final two stops have now been cancelled) with his brother Djordje as the director, and whose opening fixtures, those of Belgrade and Zara, took place at full capacity and without any regard for social distancing, both on and off the court. In addition to post-match hugging, the players were also in close contact during the collateral activities of the event: a football game in Belgrade, a basketball game in Zadar, and even a night out at a local club. Even before he came under attack for promoting an exhibition without strict health protocols, the world No.1 had already been accused of having deserted at ATP Zoom meeting of June 10, in which the guidelines for the restarting of the season were discussed.

THE ADRIA TOUR DIDN’T BREAK ANY RULES

Let’s try to make order. The first question should pertain the legitimacy of the event, while the second should interrogate its propriety. Let’s start with the former: the Adria Tour was held in compliance with the Coronavirus protocols enforced in the countries that hosted the first two gigs, namely Serbia and Croatia. “It can be criticized,” Nole said during a press conference at the Belgrade event. “We can say, for example, that maybe it’s dangerous. But it is not for me to evaluate what is right from a public health standpoint: we are simply following the rules of the Serbian government.”

What Djokovic claims is true. On the website of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the policies adopted by the various countries to combat the COVID-19 pandemic can be consulted, and from the Serbian one we can learn that as of May 7 the containment measures – which for approximately a month had entailed a 12-hour curfew a month from 5pm to 5am – were relaxed. For the last month, it has no longer been necessary to provide evidence of negative testing upon entering the country, and starting from June 5 the restrictions on public participation in outdoor events have been removed, albeit with a metre of interpersonal distance still being “strongly recommended.”

To recap, there are no formal bans in Serbia, although the government still suggests – without obligation – to take some precautions. A choice, that of President Aleksandar Vučić – who has just been re-elected with a landslide majority, 62.4% of the votes – which according to some European media had the specific purpose of restoring a patina of serenity in the wake of the elections, initially scheduled for April 26 and then postponed by two months because of the virus.

As for Croatia, at the end of May the ban on organizing public events with more than 40 participants was lifted, and the feasibility of each event has since been referred to the evaluations of the Croatian Institute of Public Health, which evidently gave the go-ahead to the Adria Tour. Following the positive tests of Dimitrov and Coric, the head of the infectious diseases department Bernard Kaić spoke on television to calm the citizens of Zadar, explaining that “it is necessary to spend a lot of time with the infected person in order to become infected,” and that therefore those who were simply sitting in the stands are not at a high infection risk.

IS DJOKOVIC IN THE CLEAR THEN?

Theoretically, yes, even in the event that the legal responsibility of organizing the Adria Tour could be traced back to him. The question that cannot be overlooked, however, concerns the public role of Djokovic, and therefore the appropriateness of promoting an event that has completely disregarded social distancing (remember, strongly advised by the Serbian government) while the pandemic is still reaping victims in several parts of the planet.

In addition to being the strongest tennis player on the planet, which in itself would be enough to expect additional attention for actions and statements that may have direct consequences on the community, Djokovic is the first reference of tennis players by virtue of his role as the president of the Player Council. It is a political position in all respects, which implies political responsibilities (limited to the world of tennis, of course). Nobody forced him to take on this responsibility, which once assumed should be honoured in full.

Are we therefore assuming that Djokovic did not fully honour it in this case? Yes, to a certain extent. The Adria Tour could certainly be organized, but if the positivity of so many of the participants – there is no guarantee that they got infected by participating in the performance – had emerged on the side-lines of an event held with the suggested precautions, Djokovic would not have become the target he has become in the last few days.

One more aspect should be factored in. Djokovic rightly pointed out that it is not up to him to evaluate what is right vis-à-vis public health, but, precisely by virtue of the same principle, he doesn’t seem to have the prerogative to send such a free-for-all message like he did by planning the Adria Tour in this fashion. This does not imply that there were any bad intentions on the part of the Serbian player, just as there was no bad intentions in the words of the Italian politicians who, a few days before the outbreak of the epidemic in Lombardy, invited to everyone to go on with their lives as usual, and the same goes for British politics. Whether it is out of personal conviction, because he believes – rightly or wrongly – that the virus is no longer dangerous, or for a more Machiavellian purpose (perhaps to convince the US Open to relax its strict measures?), Djokovic has endorsed an initiative that could have had negative consequences on other people.

He was reckless, like the other players who were present, and it would be ethically incorrect not to point it out. It is one thing to be convinced that the virus never existed or is no longer dangerous, another thing is to translate this thought into actions of public interest.

To say that he was reckless doesn’t mean that he deliberately favoured the transmission of the virus, because there may also be no causal link between the Adria Tour and the early positive testing of Dimitrov and Coric, but rather that he chose to ignore the precautions who at this moment have the crucial task of guiding us at a time of collective uncertainty, of hypotheses and conflicting scientific opinions.

Djokovic does not know if the virus is still dangerous or not, as we do not know it or even those who have studied the subject for years (this should already be enough to induce in us a certain evaluative moderation, sadly forgotten). Djokovic may also be right, but it an unaware manner; he cannot be sure of the message he is sending. This is what precautions are for, however useless they may seem, and indeed the hope is exactly that one day they may be proved to have become useless – it will mean that everything has gone according to plan.

What is mistakenly interpreted as a devaluation of the scientific method and adduced as an argument in favour of the free-for-all thesis, namely that virologist A is convinced that asymptomatic cases are not dangerous for the transmission of the virus while virologist B argues otherwise, is actually the normal scientific debate that occasionally ends up in the public eye due to the planetary scope of the subject matter.

Science is actually stumbling in the dark, because that’s how it goes before the evidence makes everyone coalesce around a thesis, and we have a civic duty not to make things worse in this period of reckoning and stabilisation for researchers. If some virologists mess up in the haste of expressing themselves, if politicians and decision-makers overwhelmed by the crisis make shaky and incomprehensible choices, that doesn’t legitimise more than usual to do what we want to fight a supposed design that would enslave us to the drug companies (by the way, they are certainly not be the only corporate entities in the world that are trying to make up for missing revenues; many others have lost and will lose money because of the crisis, and are certainly not raising glasses of Dom Perignon, so the ice for this conspiracy theory feels paper-thin at best).

What the scientific community perhaps has not been able to communicate with sufficient clarity is the following concept: we do not  know what we should know about the virus yet, nor do we have a valid strategy to cure and eradicate it, so in the meantime we ask you to sacrifice a few of your liberties so that enough time can be had to find a definitive countermeasure. Planning and hosting a tennis exhibition with some kind of social distancing in the stands and fewer on-court hugs, all in all, would have been a bearable sacrifice.

 

Translated by Andrea Ferrero; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Is It Acceptable For Novak Djokovic To Remain As ATP Player Council President After Adria Tour Fiasco?

Regarded as one of the greatest of all time, Djokovic’s recent antics raises the question as to if he is the right person leading the ATP Tour on a political front.

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Novak Djokovic is a household name and role model for thousands around the world. The world No.1 has won more prize money than any other player in the history of the sport and is known for his charitable donations. However, his recent role in the Adria Tour could have big repercussions for him in the coming weeks.

 

Djokovic founded the Adria Tour that took place in Belgrade, Serbia and Zadar, Croatia before it was cancelled. Over the weekend the worst possible scenario occurred when Grigor Dimitrov tested positive for COVID-19, which forced the final to be scrapped. The following day, three others at the event also tested positive, including Borna Coric. Meanwhile, Viktor Troicki also turned out to be positive, but only played in Belgrade.

More than 40 hours after Dimitrov’s confirmation on Twitter, Djokovic then announced he and his wife also have the virus. The Serbian opted not to have a test in Croatia and instead chose to travel to Belgrade and do so. A controversial decision given the situation, but one he was allowed to do according to regional COVID-19 rules.

“Everything we did in the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions. Our tournament was meant to unite and share a message of solidarity and compassion throughout the region,” he said in a statement.
“The Tour has been designed to help both established and up and coming tennis players from south-eastern Europe to gain access to some competitive tennis while the various tours are on hold due to Covid-19.”

The 17-time grand slam champion said that his event was organised at a time when ‘the virus was weakened.’ Yet it was visible to many that the Adria Tour was a ticking time bomb in the midst of a pandemic. A lack of social distancing occurred throughout, players attended parties or functions, and played basketball.

It was stunning watching a video of their press conference that took place last Friday. All players sat shoulder-to-shoulder in a room whilst speaking to reporters. In a way it is a shock (but a big relief) that Alexander Zverev didn’t catch COVID-19. He sat next to Dimitrov throughout as the two shared a microphone. At one stage he took the microphone from the Bulgarian, answered a question, passed it back and then immediately rubbed his eye. Maybe the saving grace in that incident was that he held the microphone in his right hand and rubbed his eye with his left.

“In hindsight, it’s not something that should have gone ahead,” former world No.1 Andy Murray commented about the event. “It’s not surprising how many people have tested positive after seeing some of the images of the players’ party and the kids’ day. There was no social distancing in place.
“I don’t think it has been a great look for tennis. The only positive is that, until it is safe to do so, we have no fans at the event to reduce the risk as much as possible.”

Djokovic always had good intentions for his event and for years he has been trying to bring something like this to the region. I remember speaking to him two years ago during a press conference in Madrid where he said he planned to do such a thing. Although this is not what is under scrutiny.

As the president of the ATP Players Council, Djokovic is held to a higher accountability than most of his rivals. He is the leader of a panel who represents hundreds in the sports and reports their views of the ATP Board when it comes to critical decisions being made. During an era of COVID-19 many players have voiced their concerns over the Tour resuming during a global pandemic. In an unfortunate case of irony for Djokovic, the Adria Tour perfectly illustrated why they are worried.

“Prayers up to all the players that have contracted Covid- 19,” critic Nick Kyrgios said, retweeting a video of the players dancing shirtless in Belgrade.
“Don’t @ me for anything I’ve done that has been ‘irresponsible’ or classified as ‘stupidity’ – this takes the cake.”

The lack of accountability

Djokovic and his team have fully apologised for the incident that has happened, but they have stopped short of taking full responsibility. Incredibly Djokovic’s father Srdjan has accused Dimitrov of causing ‘great damage’ to Serbia, Croatia and his family. It was alleged that the former top 10 player didn’t undergo testing when given the option after feeling unwell.

“Why did it happen? Because the man probably came sick, who knows where. He didn’t get tested there, he was tested somewhere else… I don’t think that’s right. Well, what can we do now… He inflicted great damage to Croatia and to us as a family and to Serbia,” Srdjan told RTL.

Those comments directly inflicting responsibility for the fiasco onto one person is poor to say the least. First, it is unknown as to who at the event contracted the virus first or where. Dimitrov could have even caught it from Coric, who is experiencing no symptoms and is therefore asymptomatic. In Serbia there have been outbreaks of COVID-19 among football teams and recently a national basketball training camp was cancelled. Srdjan like any other parent is defending his son, but his argument to divert the blame solely on Dimitrov is a very weak one.

Goran Ivanisevic, who is Djokovic’s coach and tournament director of the Zadar event, said yesterday that critics were trying to score ‘political points against them.’ At the same time one the most prestigious Serbian sports websites even suggested that Dimitrov deliberately announced his positive test at a time to force the final to be cancelled. The blame game is very much an ongoing theme.

As for Djokovic, in his statement there was no admission that the protocols in force in his events could have been improved or the lack of social distancing was problematic. Without a doubt he regrets what happened, but it is enough of a move from somebody who is a world No.1 heading the Players Council during a worldwide pandemic? To an extent, no it isn’t.

Some will argue that the backlash is typical given Djokovic’s at times unfair treatment in the media by some publications in the past. A valid point, but focusing solely on this incident the criticism was always inevitable. Furthermore, Djokovic isn’t the only person being singled out. The Croatian Tennis Federation is also under heavy fire. The director of the WTA Bol Open, Feliks Lukas, has publicly called for the head of the federation to reign due to his involvement.

It has been suggested that the Adria Tour could have a negative impact on Djokovic’s legacy. I would say that this is very unlikely given his extraordinary achievements on the court. One that thousands of players could only dream of achieving. However, in terms of his ATP Player Presidency, it looks doubtful that he will continue in this role for much longer. Whenever he will inevitably speak out over his colleagues’ concerns about COVID-19 in the future, he will be accused of hypocrisy and rightfully so.

Of course, this opinion of mine is irrelevant, it is the players who are the kingmakers. One journalist has already reported that an unnamed player has already called for Djokovic to resign from his ATP Council president position (UbiTennis can’t confirm this).

Djokovic has done a lot of good during his time as ATP President, but during the time of COVID-19 may be the best option for him is to step aside. Unfortunately, one of the sports greatest athletes of all time has unintentionally cast a very dark cloud on tennis.

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The New 2020 Calendar Works, But Only For 120 players…….And Serena Williams

Low-ranked players are on a warpath – once again, the TV money prevailed. The Cincinnati Master “poached” the qualies from Flushing Meadows. However, the US Open is trying to be flexible to lure the stars.

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The ATP-ITF-WTA mountain has brought forth something far bulkier than a mouse. Starting August 23, a pair of Slams and a trifecta of Master 1000 tournaments will take place over a seven-week span, hoping that Covid-19 will not strike again – an unprecedented bonanza for tennis-starved fans, even if the two Slams were to be played with a personnel shortage.  

 

Looking at historical precedents, 79 of the men’s Top 100 boycotted Wimbledon in 1973 in solidarity with Nikki Pilic (despite Stan Smith admitting that he wasn’t the most popular athlete on tour), but the Championships didn’t really suffer from the blow, and Jan Kodes, that year’s winner, never saw his status as a Slam champion diminished in the slightest – it should be remembered that the Czech won a pair of French Open titles and reached two more finals at Forest Hills, so his accomplishments can’t really be disputed.

Roland Garros is currently looking poised for a more competitive field, since it will take place a month later and since 75% of the ATP Top 100 and 70% of the WTA Top 30 spawns from Europe. The US Open, on the other hand, could benefit from Cincinnati being moved to Flushing Meadows, creating a three-week barrage of points and money not to be easily relinquished.

The question is: how many players will be able to scratch their way through seven weeks at such a high level, four of which laden with five-setters, all the while crossing the Atlantic halfway through and living in unfamiliar conditions? The risk of injuries to multiple players is real. The necessity to start earning again will push many to go all the way, but it will also force others to skip a few gigs to maximise their winning chances.

Each of the involved tournaments were desperate to host their respective events, lest a financial disaster might happen. Rome is the ultimate example: Angelo Binaghi, the president of the Italian federation, claimed multiple times that he was willing to move the tournament to other cities and on different surfaces just to make it happen – he deserves understanding, as do all the other promoters and owners.

Wimbledon was insured, while everybody else was not. However, the AELTC is just short of being a charity, since most of its revenue goes to the LTA, and thus it’s far easier to invest for a company whose first objective isn’t necessarily to make money, while other owners, like Madrid’s Ion Tiriac, can’t afford to be so magnanimous with their investments, and the same goes for the Italian and French federations.

The US Open (and the New York Times) immediately highlighted that Serena Williams is on board, and enthusiastically so. After losing four Slam finals, mostly as the favourite and without winning a single set – Patrick Mouratoglou explained some of the issues she’s faced – Serena’s chase for her 24th title, which would put her on par with Margaret Court, will be the leitmotif of the tournament, provided she goes far.

However, new tournament director Stacey Allaster is having to rely on the support of the entire USTA to quell the doubts of European top draws like Nadal, Djokovic, and Halep. Their misgivings are probably the reason behind the update in the rule concerning the number of staff members that the players will be allowed to take with them to the Big Apple – despite rumours of just a person being allowed, the final amount was set at three. Other concessions involve the possibility for the wealthiest to rent a flat near Corona Park instead of being confined to the JFK bubble. I can only marvel at who will be tasked to check that the players don’t go clubbing, given the precedent set in Belgrade last weekend.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the US ultimately heeded to the call of money. The best players presented heavy demands to enter the draw, and they got all they asked for.

The whole testing machine is still to be finalised, especially in terms of frequency – I asked a question on the matter during the USTA press conference on Wednesday, but it’s all still up in the air. Every official is calling on the players’ sense of responsibility but, judging from the latest exhibition tournaments, I’m not sure many actually do have one.

Moving on to the lower-ranked players, the US Open has decided to devolve $6.6 million to both tours (3.3 each), which will then spend them however they want, either to compensate the players who were damaged by the cancellation of the qualifiers, or to organise and/or support a few ATP Challengers and WTA Internationals.

The US Open will guarantee a spot in the draw to the top-ranked 120 players. Federer aside, everybody else should be game: it’s rather unlikely that dozens of clay specialists might decide to skip the hardcourt season to focus on the Madrid-Rome-Paris trio, or that a similar amount is too scared to play. Those who’ll make it to the later stages in New York might elect to skip Madrid, sure, but those who are all but certain to bow out early will definitely participate in both.

Life is going to be hard for those who won’t make the main draws of the Slams. After four months of inactivity, these players will be forced to stay put even longer, since the Challengers’ schedule is still scrambled. Not just that: while the early rumours pointed to the tours being active in December, that now no longer seems to be the case. On paper, something could be done after August 14, perhaps a $150k could be organised in Orlando during the Washington week…

Even if it were possible to plan a few Challengers, though, these would be so few that no players with a lower rank than 180 would be able to break in before the cut-off. In addition, we need to remember that only the winners of such events make relevant money, while entering the main draw of a Slam automatically means $50k, they could make twice as much, should they win their first-round match – that’s without speaking of the different standings of these achievements. Anyway, the bottom-line is that the omens aren’t great for those who are ranked outside the Top 200.

Illya Marchenko, world No.200

As largely expected, business won, even though the ATP top brass somewhat “pretended” to have chosen one of two options during last week’s conference call in order to appease the players ranked between the 200th and the 400th spot, when, in realty, the other has never been viable, e.g. the possibility to cancel Cincinnati and play the usual three qualifying rounds in New York. The first option meant that the same players would feature in both events, while the second meant throwing a bone to some players ranked outside the upper echelon of the sport.

The ATP picked the former exclusively for financial reasons, as a Master 1000 event means TV rights, sponsorships, and money, while the qualies’ revenues are usually non-existent. Moreover, a few of the top dogs (Shapovalov among them) began to complain about having to debut in a five-set format, and the ATP didn’t miss the chance to placate them, while de facto throwing everyone else under the bus. Sure, the US Open offered a lump sum as compensation, but who knows how it will be spent and according to what criteria.

The point system is being scorched as well, because of all its contradictions and idiosyncrasies. It would be just right for a player to have a full year to defend or improve on its previous results (therefore defending and improving on his/her own revenue), but now someone like Gianluca Mager, who scored big in February, will only have the months spanning from August to January to benefit from his wins, while the Fognini’s of this world, who built their ranking in 2019, will keep their spot until the end of 2020 and all the way to April 2021 – quite a difference between 5 and 16 months. To be clear, however, there still is no clarity on how the rankings will be assessed and when the points will be “thawed”.

I will finish by pointing out the Paris Master 1000 tournament is currently slated to go ahead between November 1 and 8, about three weeks after the end of the French Open. In the same city. With the same players. Money goes to money, an old truth that I still have to see refuted.

Article translated by Tommaso Villa

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