It can’t be underestimated how much of an impact the world of tennis has had on the history of LGBT sports.
Some of the first openly gay athletes were tennis stars who went on to become pioneers of the game. WTA founder Billie Jean King was unfairly outed by a newspaper in 1981 before going on to become a leader in the world of equality. During that same year, Martina Navratilova spoke out about her sexuality for the first time by telling The New York Daily News she was bisexual. The two came out during a time where they risked losing sponsorship deals and that was before the devastating AIDS crisis began, which triggered widespread discrimination against the LGBT community.
In the coming years, there have been many top-level LGBT players on the WTA Tour. Including Amelie Maureasmo, Casey Dellacqua, Conchita Martinez and Alison Van Uytvanck. However, on the men’s side, it is a somewhat different picture. Bill Tilden, who won 10 Grand Slam titles throughout the 1920s, struggled with his sexuaility during a time where gay sex was illegal and not accepted by society. More recently, America’s Brian Vahaly was a former top 100 player during the early 2000s, but chose to come out after retiring from the sport. Clearly there is still much more that could be done.
Fortunately, tennis has its very own driving force helping bring the subject of LGBT issues into the limelight. Nick McCarvel is a renowned journalist who has worked at every Grand Slam in various positions ranging from writing reports to fronting online coverage for their official media channels.
“Would I like there to have been someone like a Brian Vahaly, who came out after his playing career, to have had come out while he was still pro, or a current, active player who felt empowered enough to do so? Yes, sure. But I don’t feel any impact one way or another.” McCarvel told UbiTennis about growing up with there being no openly gay role model in tennis.
“I think as I got more comfortable with who I am and in my standing as a tennis journalist, I felt driven to get the conversation going perhaps because of a lack of such an out male player.”
McCarvel has more than got the ball rolling. A couple years ago, he launched the LBGTennis events where individuals can discuss topics related to the gay community. The first coincided with the US Open and was held at the Housing Works Bookstore in New York’s SoHo area. Named ‘Open Playbook: Being Queer and Out in Pro Tennis’ he was joined by Vahaly and Dellacqua on the panel,
“In the spring of 2018 I had been thinking about doing something that brought the tennis and queer spaces together, and I finally felt like the time was right to act. I didn’t have any outstanding goal other than to prompt a discussion within the sport that I, a gay journalist, didn’t really see as lively,” he commented about what triggered him create the events.
Since the birth of its inaugural night, the concept of McCarvel’s idea has gone on to take place during Wimbledon and the Australian Open, too, with more top names joining his panels. However, there is, in a sense, a fine balance to organising these evenings.
“I’ve had a rather warm response from the players, but it’s been pretty quiet. We haven’t necessarily encouraged or pushed them to take part. Instead engaging a variety of facets within pro tennis and the recreational game,” McCarvel explains about promoting his concept.
“Two-time major finalist Kevin Anderson attended one of our events ( Australian Open 2019) and was a huge support, and players like Nicole Gibbs have voiced their support online. Former players Billie Jean King, Brian Vahaly, Casey Dellacqua, James Blake and Rennae Stubbs have been speakers at one point or another and current players Alison Van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen were a part of #LGBTennis at the US Open last year.”
To save the prospect of repetition, each of the five events held so far have had a different dynamic whilst raising money for charity. Some of the organisations that have benefited include: Housing Works and New York Junior Tennis & Learning in USA, Stand Up Events in Australia and Pride Sports in the UK.
McCarvel, undoubtedly, has a lot to be proud about when it comes to the events he has helped organise and run. But what has his standout achievement been so far?
“Having the AELTC invite us onto the grounds of Wimbledon for our event there last summer was amazing; and Billie Jean King was our speaker that day,” he said.
“And having 400+ people attend our event at the USTA National Tennis Center last year on the eve of the US Open was pretty cool, too!”
Everybody has a part
Critics could argue why events like these are needed in 2020. A 2015 worldwide study called ‘Out In The Fields’ found that 8 out of 10 gay men and women have experienced verbal homophobia in sport. To put this into context, a total of 9494 people were surveyed. The report also found that almost half (49%) of gay men and one in four (24%) lesbians under the age of 22 feared that they would be bullied if they came out in team sports.
These findings can only be partly applied to tennis as it is an individual sport but it does highlight the fear some have about coming out, especially on the men’s Tour, which has more than 1000 players with an ATP ranking and none of them are openly gay or bisexual. Ironically, back in 2010, tennis was voted the most gay-friendly sport in a poll ran by British organisation, Stonewall.
“There are so many layers. I think the individuality of the sport and — at times — the loneliness can be impactful in a negative way. The sport can only help to break down these barriers by meeting itself where it’s at and being willing to do the work in making things change,” McCarvel said.
“It’s similar to what we’re seeing — though on a much bigger scale — happen with the Black Lives Matter movement around the world. We need to be open with dialogue, ideas, differences, different people… and tennis has that need to do so with the LGBTQ+ community so it can continue to grow and evolve.”
McCarvel’s commitment to the cause is to be praised but change can’t be created by just one person. It could be argued why the campaign hasn’t attracted more investment or interest from any of tennis’ seven governing bodies over the years. Although that is slowly changing with the US Open hosting its first ever ‘Open Pride’ night last year.
“I think they are getting there. I’ve brought to their attention these issues and I think it’s on their radar. For the #LGBTennis events/evenings, I’ve worked with Tennis Australia (TA), the USTA, the All England Club, the WTA and — to a lesser degree, the ATP, ITA, Tennis Canada and LTA,” he said.
“Where is their player education series? How are they making tennis as inclusive for every recreational player out there no matter where they come from or who they are? TA has done a great job with the latter, but am I frustrated? No. I just want to see progress.”
— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) September 5, 2019
Then there is also the power of support from straight-allies in the sport, especially among active players. It isn’t very often that gay-related questions are asked to the likes of Roger Federer and Co, but when they have, there has always been a positive response. 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer told The Body Serve in 2018 ‘It doesn’t matter where you came from, who you are, I’m all for it that you’re open about it (being gay).’ Later that same year Novak Djokovic says during the ATP Tour Finals: “It’s everybody’s right to have sexual orientation as they desire, any kind of direction in life they desire. I respect it.”
“When Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were asked about the issue in the press in the summer of 2018 it made international headlines when they spoke out on the issue. I know not a lot of LGBTQ+ activists feel as though we need to rely on or promote allies, but in sports, I think they’re big because of how heternormative the culture is.”
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is that tennis, in some ways, has been a leader when it comes to representation of LGBT people in sport but at the same time still has a lot of work to do in many other ways. It is for this reason why McCarvel’s LGBTennis events have been inspirational.
I have no idea if there are any gay professional tennis players currently on the ATP Tour or if they will come out soon. The only hope is they can seek some sort of comfort from what McCarvel is doing as he issues his own coming out advice.
“There is some conservative thinking in the sport – and that’s fine – but the more you can be your authentic self on the court, in the locker room, in the press room, in the hallways of the Grand Slam arenas around the world – that is all very, abundantly important. And support one another! Tennis is wonderfully gay. This sport touches the queer community like no other! Let’s highlight that. Let’s embrace it and do our (small little) part,” he concluded.
EXCLUSIVE: Alexander Zverev Will Be Stronger Than Ever After US Open Heartbreak
UbiTennis speaks with the vice president of the German Tennis Federation, Dirk Hordorff, about Zverev’s New York breakthrough and what is next for him.
Alexander Zverev struggled to hold back the tears moments after missing out on his maiden US Open title but one person thinks the experience has a silver lining.
Dirk Hordorff has hailed his compatriot’s run during an interview with UbiTennis. At Flushing Meadows a determined Zverev was at times far from his best after coming back from a set down in three of his matches en route to the final. Standing in his way of the trophy was Austria’s Dominic Thiem who he has known since his teenage years. After racing to a two-set lead, Zverev was unable to maintain his stronghold as Thiem rallied back to win. To add to the frustration Zverev served for the title whilst leading 5-3 in the decider.
“It’s impressive how good Sascha handled his first final. The result, as Dominic said, was that both of them deserved to be Champions and for me they showed a fantastic fight with the closest possible result,” Hordorff told UbiTennis.
“I believe both will profit from this success and Sascha will be a stronger player after the US Open than before the US Open.”
Hordorff is a veteran in the world of tennis who has worked alongside the likes of Rainer Schuettler, Vasek Pospisil and Janko Tipsarevic. Besides his work in his home country of Germany, he was also a Davis Cup and Olympic coach for Taiwan. At present his role within the German Tennis Federation (DTB) focuses on High Performance Sport. In his view, Zverev couldn’t have done any more in the US Open final.
“I don’t think it would be fair to think about mistakes and what he did wrong when he started with a two-set lead, stayed competitive over the next two and had a lot of chances in the final set,” he argues.
“Sascha played against one of the best players in the world who played three finals before. Dominic was the favourite, the higher ranked player. Sascha gave all he had on the court and for me deserves a lot of respect for his performance.”
The 23-year-old has long been tipped as one of the players likely to take over from the reign of the Big Three in the future. A trio consisting of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who are all at least 10 years older than the German. He has been ranked as high as third in the world and is only one out of five active players to win three or more Masters 1000 titles. The others are the Big Three contingent, as well as Andy Murray.
Along with the success comes a greater burden of expectation. Something the world No.7 has grown accustomed to during his time as a player. He is mentored on the Tour by his father Alexander. A former player himself who represented the Soviet Union and won two gold medals at the 1985 Summer Universiade. Furthermore, Zverev has also enlisted the help of Spain’s David Ferrer.
“He has achieved a lot very early in his career and fulfilled the expectations which is not easy,” Hordorff reflects. “Winning the ATP Finals in London two years ago was a great performance. This year to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open in January, now the Final in New York at the US Open shows his talent and his possibilities for the future.
“For sure this success will raise the expectations and the pressure for him.”
The US Open provided tennis fans with a reminder of what a major final is like without a member of the Big Three present. Something that hadn’t happened on the Tour since 2014 at the same tournament. Although it is hard to judge how much of a breakthrough this was given Djokovic got disqualified, Federer was injured and Nadal opted not to play due to health-related concerns.
“The Top Three have dominated the last two decades and they are being challenged by the upcoming generation,” said the DTB vice-president. “Thiem, Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are all making big progress. But when will the next generation take over nobody can say. Nevertheless, it’s interesting having more players fighting for the top spot. Tennis will profit from this rivalry.”
A boom in Germany?
It was a year before Zverev was born when a German man last lifted a Grand Slam trophy with Boris Becker triumphing at the 1996 Australian Open. Despite the country’s well established tennis system Becker and Michael Stich are the only men to have won a major title in the Open Era. The hope for the DTB is that Zverev will be the country’s third and trigger a surge in popularity.
Although credit must also be given to the women too, especially Angelique Kerber’s achievements in recent years where she has won a trio of major titles and spent 34 weeks as world No.1. The 14th longest period held by a female player in history. The first belongs to another German in the form of Steffi Graf (377 weeks).
“Germany is very happy to have Angelique Kerber as a Grand Slam Champion and former No.1 in the world, as well as Zverev who is a top male player in the world,” said Hordorff. “For sure it will help the DTB to raise the promotion of Tennis. And we are very positive on the great Impact Sascha will have in the upcoming years for tennis in Germany.”
According to one report published on Tennisnet, an average of 800,000 viewers watched Zverev’s US Open clash in Germany which continued into the early hours of Monday morning. In comparison Thiem’s broadcast on ServusTV attracted 400,000 viewers in what was a 30% market share among viewers aged 12 and over. Germany’s population is roughly eight times bigger than that of Austria.
The question is will Zverev’s breakthrough have a bigger impact on his home country than that of Kerber? It is tough to measure and one Hordorff himself is refusing to go into.
“I don’t think we should try to compare,” he states. “Kerber’s success was great, and she still has a very positive Impact for Tennis in Germany. Zverev reaching the final at the US Open also will help German Tennis and I hope he will reach in the future similar success Angie reached in the past years.’
“It’s great to have such successful players and I am sure that both will help a lot for tennis in Germany.”
Zverev will return to action next week at the French Open where he will be bidding to go beyond the quarter-final stage for the first time in his career.
Zverev’s career in numbers
3 – his highest ranking which was first achieved back in 2017
11 – number of ATP titles he has won
14 – number of times he has won a match in five sets
24 – wins over top 10 players
235 – number of ATP Tour wins
$22,561,920 – prize money he has won so far in his career which is the 16th highest in the ATP Tour history
Boris Becker and Justine Henin: “Off-court pressure might have made Djokovic lose his cool”
Eurosport invited UbiTennis’s CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta to join a Q&A with the former Slam champions and world numbers ones, who dicussed the 2020 US Open (but refused to pick a winner for either draw).
Justine Henin and Boris Becker need no introduction: seven Slam titles and three years finished as the world N.1 for the 38-year-old Belgian, six and one for the German, now 52 (he was never actually ranked at the top at the end of a season, but won the ATP Player of the Year award in 1989, when he won two Majors). They are definitely cognizant of what it takes and means to get to the end of a US Open fortnight (Henin won it twice, Becker once), although the 2020 milieu is a bona fide unknown for pretty much everybody in tennis.
This is why they have accepted to join a Q&A session of about half an hour, organised by Eurosport (the channel that they both work for, and that we thank once again for the invite), during which they tackled many subjects, mostly revolving around Novak Djokovic, his default loss at the hands of Pablo Carreno Busta, and the future of the PTPA, his new players’ union – Becker coached the Serbian for three seasons (winning six Slams).
Here’s the full transcript:
D: We are almost at the end of the tournament, and we have seen many controversial decisions. What will be the most important lesson to be taken for the rest of the season?
HENIN: I don’t know, it’s an interesting question. We are all wondering how we feel about this tournament. I’m glad that it took place despite the absence of the fans, who can still watch on TV, while the players can still do their jobs and are fully aware of the situation. What we can learn is that this is a unique situation fo everyone. We need to remember that nobody is perfect and that these are exceptional circumstances, but we all need to adapt – players, officials, tournaments, everybody. Our job is about adapting, so I think it’s normal to have witnessed all these ups-and-downs. Anyway, we also need to keep in mind that we are only talking about tennis, which gives us great emotions but is not the most important thing right now. The tournament hasn’t been perfect, but it’s a good start, everyone is okay, and we all need to learn our own lessons.
Q: I was at the O2 when Djokovic was booed for double faulting, and we are talking about someone who has won 17 Slams. Does he get the respect he deserves?
BECKER: I don’t think so, it’s a very good point. In men’s tennis, fans are divided between Federer and Nadal. And then here comes Djokovic who crashes the party – this is why he gets so much criticism. Right now, he is in a s**tstorm because of what he did against Carreno, but he took responsibility for his actions and apologised, firstly to the woman, then to the USTA and to the players. Nobody is perfect. Roger double faults, Rafa double faults, they don’t get booed.
Q: How does he take it?
BECKER: He doesn’t like it, nobody would. He’s a people person, he does a lot of charity work in Serbia through his foundation. And yet people only talk about him when he breaks the rules. He is a champion, he always wants to win, but sometimes he makes mistakes too.
Q: Justine, do you think that there is a lack of respect for Djokovic and for what he has achieved?
HENIN: It’s very strange. Personally, I respect the champion he is. You can like or not his on-court personality. We are witnessing a golden age in men’s tennis because of the Big Three, but also because of all the players who are coming up behind them. Novak is different from Rafa and Roger, and he also broke onto the scene a little later, ma we have to have the utmost respect for what he’s doing in tennis.
D: Will this premature elimination in New York help him at the French Open?
BECKER: I like your positive attitude, very forward-looking! Novak is still digesting what happened, but he has to view this episode as an opportunity to make some noise on the court and to win more. The question is whether he will play in Rome before Paris – he is very popular in Italy. I think he is a contender at the French Open, he and Thiem can challenge Nadal.
Q: Will the players be more careful because of what happened to him?
HENIN: We are all human beings. It reminds us that we need some humility and that players can make mistakes. In the end, even if Novak is a champion, he can still make mistakes. It’s not easy to control the pressure and one’s emotions during a match. It’s a lesson for all of us, not just for the players. The rule is good because we have to protect the officials and the fans. Maybe some people think that it should be changed, but I don’t agree, because it pushes the players to control their emotions and frustrations. However, it was bad luck in Novak’s case.
D (UbiTennis): I’d like to ask Justine what she thinks about the PTPA, and whether it will be successful.
HENIN: I think Boris has more details about it, I’m not too informed on the subject. We want the players to be united and to be represented in the right way in tournaments. It’s hard for me to judge which is the best way to achieve this. There are many different opinions on the matter. Boris, what do you think?
BECKER: The ATP was founded in 1972 by the players. Over time, it became the ATP Tour, which has two sides: the players and the tournaments. Apparently, many players don’t feel that they are being well-represented by the ATP, and this is the reason why the new association was created. I would like to see them involve female players. I would like for the ATP and the WTA to do something together. This is the only mistake I see. But in principle I think it’s right that the players should have a voice within the ATP, whose structure is different than it was in 1972.
Q (UbiTennis): Why do you think Nadal and Federer didn’t concur with Novak’s message? I don’t think he wants to fight with the Players Council, and I think he wants to involve some women as well, from what I understand.
BECKER: I think that Federer and Nadal have different agendas. They are making history, and they also don’t have a personal history of political involvement, which is a smart thing to do, according to some. But they are also the most famous faces in men’s tennis. There should have been a unanimous decision over the new association, but there are many different opinions. Therefore, Nadal and Federer’s interests are not the same as Djokovic’s. I’d like to see the ATP and the WTA unite, but I don’t think we have that right now.
Q: Could the ball abuse violation be softened in some cases, in order to avoid episodes like the one involving Djokovic, who hit the lineswoman in a clearly unintentional way?
HENIN: I think that the rule is fair, but this is just my opinion. Where would we draw the line, were we to soften it? Many people think that the decision with Djokovic was too harsh because Bedene wasn’t disqualified the previous week, but I think that the two episodes are completely different. I have never seen anyone on a tennis court who tried to hurt somebody intentionally, but you can hurt people even unintentionally, and we need to control these cases by creating limits that shouldn’t be broken. It also serves as a message to everybody else. We are not perfect, but we need to be examples and to inspire people. I also think that this is an experience that can be used to grow. I have never been involved in something like this, but I’m sure it will be tough for Novak’s ego. It also means that he isn’t a machine, and I like that. Back to the point, I wouldn’t change the rule.
BECKER: I mostly agree with Justine. It was tough for Novak, and you know I’m a fan of his, but in a certain way he has been lucky, because that woman could have been hurt a lot worse. The rule is clear. Novak had already hit a ball against the wall, and he was clearly frustrated, he was dominated by his own emotions. We shouldn’t think that he is a bad person, we both know that emotions come out during a match, and that it is part of human nature to misbehave when things are not going our way. I wouldn’t change the rule, because players are role models. This was an unfortunate instance, but the decision was right
On page 2, the interview will shift to the mental toll that tennis players have to shoulder, as well as to Becker’s vacation with Bjorn Borg and to Kim Clijsters’ comeback
EXCLUSIVE: Coach Of Daria Kasatkina Eyeing Top 10 Return
After almost 20 weeks of practicing during lockdown in Spain the coach of Daria Kasatkina, Carlos Martinez, tells UbiTennis what’s next in their campaign to return back to the top of women’s tennis.
It was only two years ago when Daria Kasatkina was being described as the new face of Russian tennis and a star in the making.
A former French Open junior champion, Kasatkina achieved various accomplishments prior to her 22nd birthday that others could only dream of. Her rise in the sport started in April 2017, when at the age of 19 she defeated Jelena Ostapenko to claim her maiden WTA title at the Charleston Open. Her breakout took place the following year where she lost to Naomi Osaka in the final of Indian Wells and won another Premier title in Moscow. Furthermore, she also reached back-to-back quarter-finals at the French Open and Wimbledon as she eventually peaked at a ranking best of 10th in October 2018.
It looked as if the sport had a potential future No.1 in the making who was on similar trajectories as Osaka and Bianca Andreescu. Then a lacklustre 2019 took place, serving as a stern reminder of how hard it is to rise to the top and yet how easy it is to fall. Last year she lost her opening match at 11 tournaments on the Tour as she struggled to reproduce the results from the previous couple of years.
“It’s obvious that we need to adjust a few things to play at this level. In practice we are fixing these things to get these good feelings back for her,” coach Carlos Martinez told UbiTennis.
Challenged with getting Kasatkina back on the road to top-level tennis is Spanish coach Martinez, a former world No.180 doubles player who is also known for his work with Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The 2020 roller-coaster for Martinez started in February when Kasatkina looked to be once again regaining form with a run to the semi-finals of the Lyon Open in France. It was the Russian’s seventh tournament of the season but the first where she won back-to-back main draw matches. However, a week later the WTA Tour was halted for what ended up being a five-month period due to COVID-19.
“It was very sad for us because she was starting to get some very good rhythm after Lyon,” Martinez reflects. “In my opinion, she lost her (semi-final) match in the right way because she is a player who needs to win matches and get confidence in her game.’
“She had good chances to do well in Indian Wells because of the conditions. It (the Tour break) wasn’t good for us and now we have to regain that rhythm but for sure she will be again at that top level.’
“Our expectation for us is to be good every day,” he added.
Sidelined from competition, there was one godsave with the fact the two could continue training during lockdown at the Club de Tenis Mollet on the outskirts of Barcelona, an academy owned by Martinez himself. During the unscheduled break, he continued to work with Kasatkina with one particular focus in mind – to make her more aggressive.
The return to competition
Opting not to play in any exhibition matches during the break, it was a case of wait and see if the hard work had paid off. Few can cast doubt on Kasatkina’s commitment to the sport, but – as with many of her peers – the question was how she would fare on the Tour after five months away.
The first stop was in the Italian city of Palermo, where the entire WTA Tour resumed. Unfortunately, there would be another blow for Kasatkina as she suffered a leg injury during practice heading into the tournament. She was still able to play, but ended up losing a marathon first round encounter against Jasmine Paolini. There were also mixed fortunes for Kasatkina in her next tournament at the Western and Southern Open in New York where she lost two out of three matches played. She managed to enter the main draw only with the help of a lucky loser spot.
“She couldn’t play her best in Palermo because she injured her leg the day before during practice. She couldn’t be 100 per cent ready to compete. It’s true she played three hours and 10 minutes against Paolini but honestly she couldn’t do more. Her leg wouldn’t let her run,” Martinez reflected.
“In Cincinnati (relocated to New York this year) she played three matches. The second was a good chance for her to qualify for the main draw but she lost a few chances during the second set.’
Kasatkina lost in the first round of Cincinnati to Anette Kontaveit.
So what is the reason for all of these early losses? Is it simply because the now-world No.68 has lost some of her form from two years ago or is there a more complex explanation?
Martinez believes it is the mental side of the game which is letting Kasatkina down at present. When asked how close she is to the type of form which took her into the world’s top 10, he firmly believes she is not too far away. Although the ongoing problem continues to be her mindset.
“She has the game because when she practices she is showing a really good level. When we compete against top players she is winning many times,” he said.
“The problem isn’t with her game, the problem is she needs to believe in herself a little bit more. To go on court and think she is very good. Her game is really consequential of these thoughts.”
“She’s not far away from achieving this. When we talk about the game, we just need to keep adjusting a few things and for sure she will be back (inside the top 10). I don’t know when but she will be back to the top level.”
Patience is a virtue
Over the coming weeks Kasatkina will not have to worry much about her current ranking position thanks to a change in the rules due to COVID-19. The WTA recently revised their system to the “Better of 2019 and 2020” system where a player’s position is based on their 16 best tournament performances between March 2019 and December 2020.
“Fortunately, this year we have no pressure and this is the thing she needs to understand. This year is about fixing a few things, starting again and being back into competition following lockdown,” outlined Martinez.
“There are no goals regarding her result. But I have goals to establish again this pattern of the play that she has to do on the court. This for us is the most important. I know if she starts doing this pattern and believing in herself again, she can do good.”
The next test for Martinez and Kasatkina will be next week’s US Open in what will be the Russian’s 19th consecutive Grand Slam main draw appearance. Although recently the majors have been a thing of misery, with Kasatkina only managing to win two matches since the 2018 US Open.
“The important thing is to understand the philosophy of this game because with this knowledge she will get the goals we are expecting in the future. Of course, for us it is to be back in the top 10 because she has the game to do so. So we just have to be patient and work on this mentality.” Martinez concluded.
Kasatkina will play Marta Kostyuk in the first round at Flushing Meadows.
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