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Tenaciously Tennis


Indian Wells 2012: A Fearsome Flu and Fresh Faces

It’s been a weird few days at Indian Wells with a ferocious flu taking down scores of players, trainers, and even journalists, while new American talent has been breaking through to the final few days of action in the California heat. The stomach viruses’ victim count so far is estimated at approximately 30, including stars Vera Zvonareva and Gael Monfils.

The flu’s latest casualty? American wild card Jamie Hampton, 22, who couldn’t deal with the cramps and fatigue. She retired during the third set versus World No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska. It’s too bad; Hampton seemed to find her game despite trailing 3-0 in the final set. She enjoyed the momentum by taking the second set 6-4. Ultimately, illness proved too much. Hampton should leave feeling proud. Ranked No. 99, she’s making a serious breakthrough into the big leagues and the third-round is a quality advance. Hampton took out former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in round one and Jarmila Gajdosova in the second.

Said Hampton: “At the end of the second [against Radwanska] it hit me and I knew it was coming. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.” And this type of thing has happened in the past for the up-and-comer; she’s suffered from cramps five times already in her young career, forcing her to quit the match. Yet she says she “hydrates and eats the right way, according to a Ticker post on Tennis.com. A visit to a specialist  is in her future, which is a good call for a player who can definitely do major damage if she keeps the fuel going for further upward trajectory.

Bowing out in another close match was the No. 32 seed and New Jersey-native Christina McHale. The giant killer — think Cincinnati 2011 and my shameless self-promotion here — added Petra Kvitova to her list, taking out the World No. 3 in round two. The 18th-seeded Angelique Kerber, the surprise 2011 US Open semifinalist, however, proved to be a little too much to handle, edging past the 19-year old 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4). McHale, although not quite as new a face as Hampton, summons the fresh and hopeful feelings of where American women’s tennis is going in a time of crisis. The Williams sisters aren’t getting any younger, and their typical absence at Indian Wells this week always makes it even more pronounced. Regardless, expect a top 20 ranking for McHale by the year’s end (if not by the time Roland Garros rolls around).

In other WTA news, Ana Ivanovic has pushed past the stomach bug and her own insecurities, downing former World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets with her huge forehand. The No. 15-seeded Serb might finally be ready to go on a roll and reclaim her rightful place in the Top 10 after confidence issues sapped her game post-Roland Garros victory 2008.

On the men’s side, American Ryan Harrison, 19,  has advanced to the final 16. He’s had huge success at Indian Wells in the past, advancing to the fourth round last year after securing a solid win over Canadian Milos Raonic (before losing to Roger Federer in straights). This year, it’s been more of the same. He took out Guillermo Garcia-Lopez just like in 2011, while also claiming solid wins over Viktor Troicki and Flavio Cipolla. Up next: the No. 13 seed Gilles Simon, who’s entirely beatable if Harrison can keep calm and not let the Frenchman’s tricky counter-punching style unsettle his power.

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Serena, Venus Williams Ousted in Wimbledon Fourth Round

The comebacks of Serena and Venus Williams were cut short today with fourth round losses at their second tournament back since injury layoffs. For Serena, the Centre Court defeat came at the hands of Marion Bartoli, while Venus lost to her conqueror of last year, Tsvetana Pironkova.

These relatively early exits aren’t entirely surprising. Both sisters have shone signs of struggle and rust in their returns, dodging many a close three set drama en route to the sweet 16.

Should we be worried about the form of the top American prospects to hoist more Grand Slam titles? No. Remember, Serena suffered greatly to even make it to this stage, while Venus hasn’t played much more than her younger sister in the past year. If anything, it’s a surprise that the Williams’ could even make it this far. But, then again, is it? Especially with the current state of the women’s game. Caroline Wozniacki, he No. 1 seed, failed to advance from Day Seven action, too, losing to Dominika Cibulkova. The Dane has yet to win a Grand Slam title, and that disappointment will continue until who knows when.

But, back to the sisters. Of course, they’re champions in the sport for a reason (countless reasons, in fact). This marks just a tiny blip in the distinguished Wimbledon careers of both. They’ve won nine out of 11 Wimbledon crowns, and they’re likely to win more going forward.

Watch out US Open contenders because these losses will only fuel even greater competitive spirit, especially on the hard courts of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. They have a lot to prove, too. While Venus made it to the semifinals in her 2010 bid, the last time Serena stepped on court, she left in disgrace after the infamous foot fault inspired her “tirade.”

How the saga continues is anyone’s guess, but that’s one of the most compellings parts about these two champions.

For more of my coverage of the Williams sisters throughout this tournament and since their comebacks, check out here and here.

Roland Garros Wrap-Up with No Rhyme or Reason

The French Open finished Sunday with a sixth title for Rafael Nadal, beating none other Roger Federer (or as the commentators repeatedly called him during his semifinal match against Novak Djokovic: grandpa) in the process. Meanwhile, Na Li triumphed over Francesca Schiavone to become the first Chinese player to win a major title. How’s that for some pretty nifty results at a tournament that this year featured an interesting parallel: the four top-seeded men advanced to the semifinals, while their female counterparts couldn’t quite cut it to even deep in the second week.

The tournament also brought the farewell of personal favorite Patty Schnyder, whose style of game will be missed. Meanwhile, one game got back on track as Maria Sharapova, the self-proclaimed “cow on ice” didn’t get tipped until the wind seemingly knocked her knowledge of serving against Li in the semis. Too bad for Maria, but she’ll manage fine at Wimbledon, I’m sure.

Even with a draw unknown, look for Sharapova to get to the semifinals, provided the weather stays on course. I mean, really? Double-faulting on match point? That’s not the Sharapova of 2008. But glimpses of brilliance were there. Think the match against Andrea Petkovic, for example. A little revenge for that loss at the Australian Open, no doubt.

Djokovic’s streak got snapped, and he looked mighty dejected for most of the match. Wozniacki succumbed to pressure and poor play, as did 2010 finalist Sam Stosur. Will Wimbledon raise their games back to levels of success and dominance, or will they wilt under the weight of even more expectations? How about the Williams sisters? When will they be back?

Time will tell, and, thankfully for the fans, that time is rapidly approaching. Let’s leave behind the drama of Roland Garros and experience the tradition of Wimbledon.

2011 French Open Predictions: WTA Tour

With the first matches of the 2011 French Open underway, here are some last minute predictions on who will hoist the title with a number of key players, including Serena and Venus Williams, out with injury. Maria Sharapova looks confident as ever, breaking back into the top ten. Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki’s consistency might just prove enough to win her a title in the weakened field. Last year’s winner Francesca Schiavone also has a chance, although she faces a tough first round against the American sweetheart, Melanie Oudin.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Section: This tough first section features a lot of talented players, many of whom have seen a recent drop in the rankings. As typical of her game, Wozniacki has proven tremendously solid in her last few clay tournaments, winning in Brussels and Charleston. She’ll take that same consistency to Roland Garros, and hopefully make that next leap by getting to her second Grand Slam final. At least, it seems highly likely that she can break past last year’s finalist Sam Stosur this year, for a spot beyond the quarters. Quite notably, Stosur had a strong clay season, making it to the finals against Sharapova in Rome before falling to the Russian in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4.

Ones to Watch: Again, this top section is laden with a multitude of talent, including Daniela Hantuchova, Shahar Peer, Aravane Rezai, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Julia Goerges, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Marion Bartoli. I’ll go with Kuznetsova to make a strong showing from these players.

Bottom Line: This is Wozniacki’s tournament to win on the women’s side. She’s proven she has the capability, it’s just a matter of translation to the Grand Slams at this point, especially when the field is relatively wide open. The bottom section of the draw, however, is very heavy, trying to prevent her from hoisting that maiden title.

Vera Zvonareva’s Section: Here’s another heavy section of the draw, featuring last year’s surprise champion, Schiavone. After a strong stretch on clay, however, the no. 3 seed Zvonareva hasn’t been looking as sharp on the clay court circuit thus far. It looks like Schiavone might have the chance to put together some of last year’s confidence to produce the magical, fairytale story that won her a first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. In the end, however, I’m going against her from winning again.

Ones to Watch: Another heavy part of the draw, this section holds players, including Sabine Lisicki, Nadia Petrova, Alize Cornet, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Jelena Jankovic, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Flavia Pennetta, Peng Shuai, and Melanie Oudin (who gets Schiavone first). Of these names, Jankovic, who made the semifinals last year before falling to Stosur 6-1, 6-2, stands out most. Look for her to make the upset against Schiavone in the fourth round.

Bottom Line: Zvonareva battles through her section and the tough Pavlyuchenkova. There she’ll meet Jankovic in the quarterfinals (the winner over 2010 champion Schiavone).

Victoria Azarenka’s Section: The number four player in the world looks poised to go deep at this year’s French Open, having dropped her first round match against Gisela Dulko last year. Her biggest competition comes with Australian Open finalist Na Li and Serbia’s resurgent Ana Ivanovic.

Ones to Watch: Ivanovic, the champion in 2008, obviously has the talent to win on the biggest courts. As of late, however, she seems to have returned to a slump in play, falling early in Rome and Madrid. As the no. 20 seed, however, look for her to find some of her form to get a match against Azarenka in the fourth round. Petra Kvitova, the no. 9 seed, also looks ready to roll in this section, potentially defeating Li to do much better than last year’s disappointing first round loss. Additionally, Kvitova’s fresh off a win in Madrid against Azarenka, beating the Belarussian, 7-6(3), 6-4 and also making the final in Prague more recently. Also, props to American Sloane Stephens for battling her way through to the qualifying. A personal favorite, she meets up with Elena Baltacha first.

Bottom Line: Azarenka advances to the quarterfinals over Ivanovic, meeting Kvitova (the winner over Li).

Kim Clijsters’ Section: Since winning the Australian Open, Clijsters hasn’t played much tennis. Meanwhile, Sharapova has just the opposite experience, claiming her biggest career title since succumbing to a shoulder injury in 2008 with a title in Rome over Stosur. Look for Sharapova to defeat Clijsters, who may lose earlier due to her ankle injury, in the quarterfinals.

Ones to Watch: But before we go claiming a Sharapova victory, it’s important to note the wide range in talent that appears in this section of the draw. Players of particular note include: Yanina Wickmayer, Sania Mirza, Agnieszka Radwanska, Andrea Petkovic, Jarmila Gajdosova, Bojana Jovanovski, and Maria Kirilenko. Look for Wickmayer to give Sharapova trouble, while Petkovic has the potential to defeat the injured Clijsters.

Bottom Line: Sharapova keeps stringing the wins together on clay to defeat Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

In the Quarterfinals: Given the above predictions, we’ll see Wozniacki take on Stosur; Zvonareva against Jankovic; Kvitova versus Azarenka; and Sharapova versus Clijsters.

In the Semifinals: Look for Wozniacki to defeat Stosur; Jankovic to beat Zvonareva; Azarenka to win against Kvitova; and Sharapova to defeat Clijsters.

Safina’s Talk of Retirement: A Thing of the Past?

So, apparently, Russia’s Dinara Safina contemplated retiring after the embarrassing 6-0, 6-0 loss to Kim Clijsters at this year’s Australian Open. Big deal, right? I mean, these days, the ladies are either injured — think the Williams sisters — or they’re, well, finished — think Elena Dementieva and Justine Henin.

She recently told reporters that “After Australia there was a moment I came to Moscow for the Fed Cup. I said to my mom [Rausa], ‘I’m retiring. I said, ‘I don’t want any more of this.” Apparently, momma Safina helped talk her daughter out of the decision, although the two don’t usually talk tennis.

Safina continued, “That moment I felt like [mom] was the person who knows me. That I could really speak it out what I have deep inside, and that was the thing with her. I knew it would also hurt her, but I cannot keep it anymore inside.  So I went to her. She was the closest one for me.”

After that, the Cinderella story happens, and Safina finds herself in the third round of these year’s Indian Well tournament. She’s had modest success on the hard courts of Cali, making it to the quarters both in ’06 and ’09. Now, her play here is pretty impressive for a woman who hasn’t put together two consecutive wins since September.

With Sam Stosur up next, the 108th player in the world will face a tough test. After being on the brink of retirement and with nothing to lose, however, an upset might just be in store.

For more on Safina’s win over Daniela Hantuchova, click here.

US Fed Cup Results and Prospects: Not So Good for Mattek-Sands, Oudin

With Fed Cup well underway, the United States has faced a tough test from Belgium so far to earn a spot in the semifinals. Having made it to that round every year since 2004, the US team — finalists for the past two years — look all but defeated. They’re currently down 0-2 as recent Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters knocked out Melanie Oudin 6-0, 6-4, while Yanina Wickmayer defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 7-6 (6).

Prospects aren’t looking so hot for the American team, captained by former player and current commentator Mary Jo Fernandez, especially with the notable absence of Serena and Venus Williams.

For the next match, Clijsters takes on Mattek-Sands. In their only meeting, Clijsters won. Mattek-Sands, however, should take comfort in the loss as it was a tough three-setter with the Belgian winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 back in 2010.

Regardless of possible confidence in past play, the only time to look is now. And with Clijsters on a roll — she’s taken her last eight matches, dropping just one set –, it simply doesn’t seem like Mattek-Sands has the ability to claim the win over the world’s number two player and keep the US team alive.

Mattek-Sands sprayed a lot of balls in the loss to Wickmayer. She needs to get over any tension, play her game (with balls going inside the lines), and win the biggest match of her career if she wants to beat Clijsters.

Here’s to hoping she can pull it off.

Serena Williams to Play Exhibition: Why Tennis Needs Her Now

Serena Williams needs to get better, quickly. Skipping out of the last couple majors with a foot injury sustained after her win at Wimbledon in July, it’s been long enough.

And not only for the purposes of her own career — Serena recently dropped out of the top ten for the first time in about four years –, but also to resuscitate the current state of American tennis. Andy Roddick didn’t do too hot at the Aussie Open, neither did Sam Querrey or John Isner on the men’s side. For the women, there’s sister Venus, who retired in the third round and is currently sidelined with injury after hurting her hip during her second round match against Sandra Zahlavova. US Open sensation Melanie Oudin continues to disappoint, too, with a first round loss at the Australian Open.

It’d be nice to get the WTA-dominating force that is Serena back on the big stages. Kim Clijsters pretty much owns that role now in unchallenged fashion. Remember, she dropped just one set at the Sunny Slam and that came in the final against Li. Justine Henin’s retirement also leaves more room for the Belgian to keep conquering competition.

But, apparently, things are starting to look up for the younger Williams sister as she’ll be (potentially) playing in March at a Nike exhibition with other big names Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal. United States Fed Cup captain Mary Jo Fernandez also said Serena would be available to playing in a possible April tie. Given her track record, I wouldn’t count on it, although she’d needs to be around for two to play in the 2012 Olympics.

The real thing is: We need Serena at majors again. Sure, this year’s Australian Open was a feel-good story featuring the lovable mom Aussie Kim triumphing over Chinese sensation Li Na in a high-stakes, historic match. The whole tournament, however, wasn’t the same without Serena. Plus, who wants to keep a Grand Slam singles title count at an unlucky number 13?

Also, Serena’s absence is making mother Oracene antsy. She recently went Twitter-crazy, writing, “Will some one tweet me who is in the final on the women’s side?” and after getting the answer, “Thank you I hope Na is not to nervous to kick some butt,” among many other comments. Poor Oracene, she wouldn’t have to stoop to that level. If only she should could just enjoy her daughters’ success at majors.

Well, the drought continues, but let’s hope for not much longer. When March rolls around, let’s see an in-shape Serena on court, who’s back to stay.

Australian Open Predictions 2011: WTA Tour, Week Two

With the final four women set, it’s time to revise predictions for the 2011 Australian Open tournament’s future path on WTA tour. Here’s a look at the last women standing.

Previously predictingHenin to face Venus and Clijsters against Zvonareva in the final four,” it’s been injury making this reality far from possible. While Henin suffered what she recently announced as a career-ending elbow injury (more on that to come) in the third round against Svetlana Kuznetsova, Williams retired versus Andrea Petkovic, who defeated Maria Sharapova in straight sets, in the third round, too. Of course, the competitors to advance in lieu of this two champions couldn’t be more talented. The world number one Caroline Wozniacki and last year’s semifinalist Na Li have been dominant so far in their respective runs to the final four.

For the semifinals, here are my picks.

Wozniacki versus Li:

Both players have hit their way to the semifinals in fine form. Wozniack dropped just one set — against Francesca Schiavone in the quarterfinals — and Li hasn’t lost one yet. Their overall career head-to-head (counting exhibitions matches) leaves them at 2-2 with Wozniacki winning the last meeting in a Hong Kong exhibition earlier this year. In a major, however, Li won their only meeting in straight sets at last year’s Australian Open in the fourth round. That should give her some confidence going in this match. Plus,  she hasn’t lost a match this year, and I see her powering through the world number one to make her first major singles final.

Bottom Line: Li defeats Wozniacki in straight sets to advance.

Zvonareva versus Clijsters:

In the bottom half, which I predicted correctly, the world number two and world number three will face in a rematch of the 2010 US Open final. There, Clijsters’ experience paid off. She won 6-2, 6-1. With a head-to-head also in Clijsters’ favor at 6-3, they have played a number of three set matches together. Although not at their highest level throughout this tournament, Clijsters hasn’t dropped a set and Zvonareva lost only one in her match versus an up-and-coming Bojana Jovanovski. They’ll both bring their big games to the semifinals where Clijsters will find the form that has won her three US Open titles.

Bottom Line: Clijsters beats Zvonareva in straight sets.

In the Finals:

Clijsters and Li have a competitive history in their past, which should show in the Australian Open final. Li beat the Belgian in their last meeting earlier this year in the Sydney final although it initially seemed that Clijsters was in control. It will, however, be her first Grand Slam final.

With Hisense Dead Spot Fixed, Sharapova Downs Goerges in Three

Posted in Andrea Petkovic,Julia Goerges,Maria Sharapova,Venus Williams by Ben on January 21, 2011

In a match delayed by a bizarre dead spot found on Hisense Arena’s court, Maria Sharapova beat Germany’s Julia Goerges in a tough test. The 2008 Australian Open champion won 4-6, 6-4. 6-4 in the three-set scare.

Locked in battle, both Sharapova and Gorges painted the lines with fierce play in the decisive set. After going up 4-0, Sharapova didn’t falter, but rather the German raised her game to another level to take the next three games. Sharapova, however, showed the fine form that has won her three major titles, ousting the 38th-ranked Goerges decisively in the final game.

Regardless of the loss, it’ll be fun to see where the German’s powerful shots and tough, fighting spirit take her in 2011. Evidenced by the skill displayed against Sharapova, she deserves a higher ranking than her current career-high.

With Venus Williams set to verse Andrea Petkovic in her match, and an injury potentially causing the American some grave distress, Sharapova might well have booked herself a spot in the quarterfinals. While Venus owns Sharapova in their head-to-head, the Russian soundly beat Petkovic in their one meeting last year in Cincinnati. She came out victorious 6-3. 6 -1.

Should Venus lose in the next round, look for Sharapova to soundly advance over Petkovic in straight sets.

Australian Open 2011 Predictions: WTA Tour

Note: Please see my most recent predictions for the WTA tour’s 2011 Australian Open here.

Serena Williams is out of her second consecutive major, and that means only one thing: the draw opens up substantially. Who can rise to the occasion with the favorite out of the mix? Will it be Kim Clijsters, who comes fresh off wins at the US Open and the year-ending championships, and has done well so far in 2011? There’s also Caroline Wozniaki trying to prove her number one ranking by her maiden Grand Slam title. Last year’s finalist Justine Henin must be mentioned, while Venus Williams plays after a knee injury kept her off tour. The Australian Open this year is bound for some surprises. Here’s a breakdown of the brackets.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Section:

The top seed should make it to the fourth round with Wozniacki’s toughest competition being Dominika Cibulkova. The 29th-seed recently scored a straight sets win over the Dane in Sydney. In the bottom of that portion of the draw, Yanina Wickmayer could very well defeat Marion Bartoli with confidence inspired by her finals showing in Auckland. Bartoli, however, does enjoy a 2-0 head-to-head record over Wickmayer.

In the bottom half, last year’s finalist Henin looms as the 15th-seed with Svetlana Kuznetsova as a potential third round match. The reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone also looks promising to advance. Henin, however, has won seven of eight matches against the Italian.

Ones-to-Watch: Australian Jarmila Groth recently won the Hobart tournament and may pose trouble for Wickmayer in the first round. The two met only once in 2009 with Wickmayer pulling through in three sets. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Wimbledon semifinalist, who has been struggling since the result, also appear in Wozniacki’s bracket.

Bottom Line: Wozniacki has some tough tests, but I believe she’ll advance to the quarterfinals over Wickmayer. Henin shouldn’t have a problem against Schiavone.

Venus Williams’ Section:

Here’s home to the fourth-seed, Venus, who faces a couple tests before the fourth round. In the third round, Andrea Petkovic could push her. The two have never met, and Petkovic looks confident with a recent string of wins in Brisbane. In the fourth round, however, Venus potentially meets Maria Sharapova. The head-to-head makes the Russian’s  possible success slim as Venus leads 5-3 in their head-to-head. She’s also won the last three matches in straight sets.

It’ll be a toss-up between 2010 semifinalist Na Li and the ever spirited Victoria Azarenka in their probable fourth round match.

Ones-to-Watch: The other seeded players, Kaia Kanepi (no. 20), Aravane Rezai (no. 17) and Daniela Hantuchova (no. 28) also appear here.

Bottom Line: Venus will likely defeat Sharapova, while Li can take out Azarenka in a battle.

Kim Clijsters’ Section:

Possibly the most open part of the draw belongs to Clijsters, where she’ll no doubt benefit. Competition comes in the form of Nadia Petrova and Ana Ivanovic. Clijsters, however, should get through to the quarterfinals unless Ivanovic can out-perform her in the fourth round. It’ll be an interesting match between Clijsters and Dinara Safina in the first round.

With a struggling Jelena Jankovic as the seventh-seed (she’s lost eight of her last matches, including six straight) at the top, the section looks perfect for an up-and-comer to make a move. Agnieszka Radwanska (no. 12), although she’s battling some injury, might do well. Jankovic can also squeak through the bracket as she has before. One never knows with the former world number one.

Ones-to-Watch: Personal favorite Patty Schnyder could meet Ivanovic in the second round. Greta Arn, the surprise winner of Auckland, also appears in this section, facing the 26th-seed, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, in the first round.

Bottom Line: Jankovic looks like a big question mark, while Clijsters should sail through to the second week.

Vera Zvonareva’s Section:

One of the strongest sections of the 2011 Australian Open on the WTA tour, this bracket is home to the second-seeded Zvonareva and home-favorite Sam Stosur (no. 5). These two names stand above the rest, although there are some, such as Petra Kvitova (no. 25), Shahar Peer (no. 10), and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (no. 16), who serve as fierce competition.

In a potential fourth round match, Kvitova, who won Brisbane — but lost in a walkover at Sydney — would face Stosur. The Australian hasn’t been quite up to form as she lost to Kuznetsova in Sydney’s second round.  Israel’s Peer would probably face the victor. Zvonareva lost to Flavia Pennetta — also of this bracket — early in Sydney. Zvonareva should, however, shake off the loss to make a run to the quarterfinals.

Ones-to-Watch: American Melanie Oudin might make a move in her section of the draw, where she’d face Zvonareva in a potential third round match. There’s also Maria Kirilenko (no. 22) and Anna Chakvetadze.

Bottom Line: It looks like Zvonareva and Stosur get through to the quarterfinals, but not without some strong tests from a number of good competition.

In the Quarterfinals: With the above predictions, the quarterfinals will showcase Wozniacki against Henin; Venus against Li; (potentially) Jankovic against Clijsters; and Stosur versus Zvonareva.

In the Semifinals: Watch for Henin to face Venus and Clijsters against Zvonareva in the final four.

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