Posts Tagged ‘Grand Slam’

Serena Williams has finally done it, she has equalled Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Major titles. It has taken her longer than most people expected, given that she had 21 after last year’s Wimbledon, but after three successive defeats in the intervening majors (one at the semi-final stage and two in the final), she is now equal to the great Steffi Graf.

Surely she will go on and win more; although she is now 34 she shows little sign of losing her appetite for tennis and for winning. Also, she is yet to win a Grand Slam, and I am under little doubt that she will try in 2017 (and 2018?) to do this, before retiring. Even if she goes on to win 24 or 25 or 26 Major titles, I think she would not feel satisfied of her legacy unless she can also hold all four titles in the same year.

There has been mention of Margaret Court’s haul of 24 Major titles. But, to my mind, this record does not count. Margaret Court did not turn professional until tennis had become ‘open’, and so from 1963 to 1968 she was not competing against some of the best players of her day, who had decided to turn professional. If Graf or Williams had many of the best players removed from the Majors in which they were playing, who knows how many titles they could have won. So yes, technically, Court won 24 Majors, but many of them were hollow ones, as she surely would now admit.

Serena Williams is a truly remarkable athlete. I love her passion, her energy, her commitment and her drive. I really do hope that in 2017 (or 2018) she can get her Grand Slam, which would not only cap a remarkable career, but ensure her at least 26 Major titles and seal her place as the greatest female tennis player in history.

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Yesterday (Saturday 2 July) saw reigning Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic crash out of Wimbledon in the third round to American Sam Querrey. Not only was Djokovic defending his title,  but he is currently the holder of all four Major titles, a feat not done since Rod Laver in 1969, as I mentioned in this blog here.


Novak Djokovic suffered a shock defeat in the 3rd round of Wimbledon, brining to a halt his dream of doing the Grand Slam (holding all four Major titles in the same calendar year).

Djokovic’s defeat of course opens up the draw to other contenders. As Djokovic was seeded number 1, and Andy Murray number 2, it will make no difference to Andy Murray unless he reaches the final as they are in opposite parts of the draw. However, it may make a difference to my own favourite, Roger Federer, as he is seeded number 3. Federer would have met Djokovic in the semi-finals if they had both progressed.

I will keep my fingers crossed that this time next week I will be looking forward to a men’s singles final featuring Federer. I so want to see him surpass the record he currently jointly holds with Pete Sampras and win his 8th Wimbledon title. We shall see.

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Yesterday (Sunday 5 June) Novak Djokovic won the French Open and became the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four majors at the same time. He also joined a small group of players who have won all four majors, but to hold all four at the same time is much rarer. As anyone who has read my blogposts about tennis knows, I am massive fan of Rod Laver, and I don’t want to take anything away from his remarkable achievement of doing the Grand Slam (winning all four majors in the same calendar year) twice, in 1962 and 1969.

But, for anyone today to win all four majors is far more difficult, and I don’t mean because there are more tennis players competing, although there are. It is because now all four majors are played on different surfaces, which was not the case in Laver’s day. When Laver won his two Grand Slams three of the four majors were on grass. The only one which wasn’t was the French Open. So, if you were an expert grass-court player, as Laver was, it was much easier to win three of the majors than it is today. This only adds to Djokovic’s remarkable achievement of being the first player since Laver to hold all four majors at the same time. Federer has never achieved it, nor Nadal, nor McEnroe, nor Sampras, nor Agassi. None of them.

Novak Djokovic won his first French Open. He now holds all four major titles at the same time, the first player to achieve this since Rod Laver in 1969

Andy Murray won the first set 6-3, but after that Djokovic started to cut the errors out of his game and the next three sets went to Djokovic pretty quickly, 6-1, 6-2 and 6-4. Murray just had no answer for Djokovic once the latter got his game into gear.

Djokovic has now won 12 major titles, and if he carries on like this who would bet against him surpassing Federer’s record of 17 major titles? Also, as the French Open is his second major of 2016, he is on track to do the Grand Slam, winning all four majors in the same calendar year. Again, the last person to do this was Rod Laver, in 1969.

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As anyone who follows my blog postings on tennis knows, I am a huge Federer fan. Yesterday (Friday the 10th), he dispatched Andy Murray with apparent ease to make his way to his tenth Wimbledon final. He has not dropped a set during his passage through the tournament, and has only dropped his service once. Tomorrow he will try to win Wimbledon for the 8th time, and if he succeeds he will make history. The final is a repeat of last year’s final against Djokovic, a final that Federer could have won, and looking back probably feels that he should have won. Federer currently shares the record of the most number of Wimbledon titles with Pete Sampras (see my blog here), with both on 7; but tomorrow he could own this record all to himself. And, he will extend his record of the most Major titles from 17 to 18. If he wins.

As anyone who follows my blogs on tennis knows, I am a huge Federer fan.

Federer looked imperious against Murray, beating him comfortably in three straight sets.

Later today, at 2pm British Summer Time, Serena Williams will also be trying to make some history. If she wins in today’s final she will have won 21 Major titles, and be only one away from equalling Steffi Graf’s record of 22. In addition, she will hold all four Majors at the same time, having won last year’s US Open in September and this year’s Australian and French in January and June respectively. She will also be on course to do the Grand Slam, win all four Majors in the same year, something which has not been done since Steffi Graf did it in 1988, nearly 30 years ago. I would not put it past her, the determination she has shown in this Wimbledon has been a lesson to anyone who wants to see how hard you have to apply yourself to succeed. When she was nearly dead and buried against Heather Watson (see my blog here) she dug deep and found a way to win.

I need to update my July 2013 blog on tennis statistics (Tennis Roll of Honours” see here), as Serena has moved on from the 17 Major titles she had then to 20. Unfortunately Roger’s 17 has not changed, but hopefully by Monday morning they will be on 21 and 18 respectively!

By the way, in this blog I posted a video of the greatest display of tennis I have ever seen, John McEnroe’s demolition of Jimmy Connors in the 1984 Wimbledon final. However, the video no longer works. McEnroe won 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 in the most one-sided thrashing of another high-ranked player that I have ever seen, and some of the tennis McEnroe played on that day surpasses anything I have witnessed, even from Federer. I have found a new link to the video of that match, so if you fancy seeing it you can watch it below. The quality is very poor in places, which is a pity.

So, I’m hoping for a Serena Roger double this weekend! Who are you rooting for?

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Yesterday (Friday the 3rd of July) nearly saw the early exit from Wimbledon of Serena Williams, the overwhelming favourite to win this year’s Wimbledon women’s title. Serena is trying to win her fourth major in a row, having won the US Open in 2014, and the Australian Open and French Open already this year. Since I drew up my table of Tennis Roll of Honours back in July 2013, Serena has added four more Grand Slam titles. In September 2013 she won the US Open, and in 2014 she again won the US Open after a “dry spell” (for her). She now stands at twenty Major titles, just two behind Steffi Graf’s record (in the Open era) of 22.

Serena nearly lost yesterday to an inspired Heather Watson, who is currently the British number 1 (and, on this display, is likely to stay there, despite previous number 1 Laura Robson coming back from an 18-month injury lay-off). Most people assumed Serena would blow Watson off the court, and the first set went pretty much as expected with Serena winning it 6-2.

However, in the 2nd set, Serena started making a series of errors. Some were unforced, but many were due to Watson upping her standard of play and out-rallying Serena with powerful ground strokes which kept Serena pinned back and running around all over the court. Watson won the 2nd set 6-4, but I assumed she would be overpowered by Serena in the 3rd set.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Watson went into a 3-0 lead, breaking Serena’s serve twice. She was serving to go up 4-0, and had she done so I think Serena would not have been able to come back. In a very long game which went to several deuces, Serena finally managed to break back to make it 3-1. She then brought in back to 3-3, and again I thought Watson would now crumble under Serena’s pressure.

Nothing of the kind. After losing three games in a row, Watson got back to playing the tennis that had troubled Serena so much and broke Serena’s serve again. At 5-4, she found herself serving for the match. Serena managed to up her game again, and broke back to make it 5-5. She then held her own serve, and broke Watson again, to finally win the match 7-5 in the last set.

At 5-4 in the 3rd set, Heather Watson served for the match, but Serena held on to win 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

At 5-4 in the 3rd set, Heather Watson served for the match, but Serena held on to win 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

I have rarely seen Serena look so worried and relieved to win a match as she did in this one. It is not so much that Watson lost her nerve, she lost because Serena has an inner belief and fight that marks a true champion apart from the also-rans. You don’t win 20 Major titles without having to dig yourself out of holes and win the important points, and Serena did this yesterday to pull off a remarkable victory after staring down the barrel of defeat.

So, Serena is still on course to win her fourth Major in a row, and if she does she will hold all four Majors at the same time. She would also, of course, still be on course to win all four Majors in the same year (with the US Open in September), and if she does this she will finally achieve a Grand Slam, one of the few accolades she has so far not achieved in her illustrious career. After fighting back from imminent defeat, I wouldn’t now put it past her.

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What a finale it was to the 2014 RBS 6 Nations. With less than 10 minutes on the clock it was 22-20 to Ireland, but a win by France would snatch the Championship away from Ireland and give it to England. France were awarded an easy penalty, but somehow missed it. They then scored a try in the dying seconds, but the final pass was clearly forward so it was disallowed. Ireland hung on to win their second 6 Nation championships, a fitting send-off to Brian O’Driscoll in his final international match.

Italy v England

If England had managed to run up a massive score, they could have made the Title theirs irrespective of what happened in Paris. They had a good go at it, and winning by 52-11 shows how dominant they were, but it was not a large enough margin. They would need France to beat Ireland in Paris to secure the Title. England looked totally dominant and comfortable, and are playing the sort of rugby which I think will make them very difficult for Wales to beat in next year’s 6 Nations or in the World Cup (where they are in the same group). They are definitely a team on an upward curve, and but for a try out of the blue by France in their opening match in Paris, England would have won the Grand Slam.


Wales v Scotland

After our loss to England in Twickenham last Sunday, this match was all about going out on a positive note for Wales. Just after 20 minutes, Scotland’s full back and probably their best player Stuart Hogg made the most ridiculous challenge on Wales outside half Dan Biggar. Initially the referee gave him a yellow card, but the video replay showed that Hogg had hit Biggar in the face with his shoulder, and so the referee changed the decision to a red card. From then on there was only going to be one winner, and Wales eventually romped home 51-3.


It is difficult to know what the score would have been had Scotland not been reduced to 14 men. I think Wales would still have won comfortably, as Scotland were poor, but maybe by not such a huge margin. It was a record win for Wales over Scotland, and so dominant were Wales that they ran in tries from everywhere. It was a nice confidence booster after the defeat at Twickenham.

France v Ireland

With England having beaten Italy as expected, it all came down to the final match. If France won, the title would go to England on points difference, but if Ireland were to win, they would win the title on points difference. For the first time this 6 Nations, France actually turned up to play some rugby. Being a Welsh rugby fan is frustrating enough, but being a French rugby fan must be ten times worse. When they choose to play rugby France, are probably the most talented team in the World, but for some bizarre reason they come out in most games looking like they’d rather be anywhere else but on a rugby field.

France could have won this match. They had a simple penalty to go 23-22 ahead, but somehow they missed it. Then, in almost the last move of the game, they scored a stunning try in the corner. For a moment it looked like they had indeed stolen the victory, but video replays showed that the final pass was well forward. Ireland breathed a huge sigh of relief, and won their second 6 Nations title after their Grand Slam of 2009.


I am delighted for Ireland, not just because they are fellow Celts, but there could not have been a better finale to the glittering rugby career of Brian O’Driscoll than for him to win his 2nd 6 Nations title. And very fitting that he should do it in the same stadium where he burst on to the international scene in 2000 with a stunning hat-rick against Les Bleus. Ireland are going to miss his mercurial skills, and the World of rugby will be poorer for his retirement.

My summary of the 6 Nations

The team that impressed me most in this 6 Nations were England. They have improved a lot since Wales thrashed them a year ago in Cardiff. They are developing an impressive style of rugby, with a good balance between forward power and creative back play. They are going on a tour of New Zealand in June where they will play three Tests, and it will be very interesting to see how they get on. I would conjecture that one win in this 3 match series would be considered a positive result.

France continue to be an enigma. I really don’t understand what their coach is trying to do, and as I’ve said above and before, half the time (or more) they look like they don’t even want to be playing. But, France can beat any team including New Zealand on their day, and one should never write them off in any competition.

Ireland are going to miss Brian O’Driscoll enormously, and I would be surprised if they do as well in his absence. Although their new coach Joe Schmidt is clearly a canny cookie, I personally think they are going to suffer a slump over the next 12-18 months, but we shall see. Scotland and Italy remain far adrift of the other four countries in the 6 Nations, the gulf between them seems to be growing.

And so finally on to Wales. Wales had a “famine and flood” 6 Nations. Two very convincing home wins against France and Scotland, one mediocre home win against Italy, a loss to England in Twickenham and an absolute thumping by Ireland in Dublin. The general consensus from the rugby pundits is that Wales have not moved forward since a year ago, whereas England and Ireland have improved.

In June, Wales go on a two Test tour of South Africa, one of the toughest places to play rugby. Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny won’t be going as they both have dislocated shoulders. Gatland may choose to rest other key players after the Lions’ tour of last summer and a long season. I cannot see Wales winning either Test to be honest, but what we need to ensure is that we don’t come back from there with our confidence shattered by two heavy defeats. We need to be competitive and push South Africa, even if realistically we are not going to beat them.

Then, in November, we have matches against New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Fiji. Again, realistically I cannot see us winning against the Southern Hemisphere big three in the Autumn, but we need to gain confidence from such games rather than come off feeling second best and inadequate. The 2015 6 Nations will be crucial in how Wales go into the 2015 World Cup, where we have to beat either England or Australia to qualify from our group.

Given that good teams have managed to nullify Warren Gatland’s game plan, I feel now is the time to try some different approaches. South Africa is not a place we are expecting to win, so why not use the tour to try a different, modified approach to the horribly predictable style Wales seem to be stuck in. Yes, as Saturday showed, when “Warrenball” works it works very well, but it can only work when Wales are able to overwhelm the opposition. We need a game plan for when we cannot gain that dominance, and it seems to me that at the moment we don’t have it.

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Two countries went into the 3rd weekend of the 2014 6 Nations on course for a Grand Slam, France and Ireland. But, in a thrilling weekend of rugby, both were defeated. This leaves four countries with 2 wins from 3 games, – France, Ireland, Wales and England.

Wales v France

After their humiliation in Dublin, Wales not only needed a win against France, but ideally a convincing win. They could not have answered their critics more emphatically, thrashing France 27-6. Everything that went wrong in Dublin went right against France, the front five were immense and France were unable to cope with the power and execution shown by the Welsh forwards.


Wales scored two tries, including a try by George North within the first few minutes. By half time Wales were 20-6 ahead, and the game was essentially over. Remarkably, France had the lion’s share of the possession and territory in the game, but failed to take their chances. Not only will the Welsh camp be pleased with the margin of victory, but the way the Welsh defence completely shut out the dangerous French players will give defence coach Sean Edwards immense satisfaction. We can go into the match at Twickenham in two weeks’ time with our confidence restored.

Italy v Scotland

There has been some talk in the last two weeks that Scotland have been so dire in the 6 Nations of late that they should be replaced by another country! I am definitely not in favour of such a thing. People may forget that back in the late 1990s and early 2000s there were suggestions that France and England were so dominant in the 6 Nations that they should break away and join the southern Hemisphere teams in an annual tournament, and leave the Celtic countries and Italy to form their own competition. But, who has dominated the 6 Nations in the last 8 years? Wales! England have not won the 6 Nations since 2003! The strength of most countries (maybe with New Zealand as an exception) tends to come in cycles, and Scotland are just going through a bad phase at the moment.

I only saw the last 15 minutes of the game between Italy and Scotland, but what a thrilling final 15 minutes it was! In the short time I was watching, I saw Scotland score a try to take the lead, lose their lead with Italy scoring a try, then with less than a minute to go and the score at 20-18 to Italy, Scotland dropped a goal to make it 20-21 and steal a win. I am pleased for Scotland that they finally scored some tries, and pleased for rugby in general because a poor Scotland is not a good thing for the world of rugby.


England v Ireland

What a titanic game this was. At half time, England were ahead 3-0, with both teams knocking ten bells out of each other all over the park. Then, in the first two minutes of the 2nd half, Ireland scored a try and then a penalty to go 10-3 ahead. They looked dominant, and most people including myself probably thought that they would strangle England and go on to win. But, fair play to England, they kept their cool and came back with a try and penalty of their own, and then kept their narrow 13-10 lead despite immense pressure from Ireland in the last 10 minutes.


It really was a thrilling game, low scoring maybe, but pure attritional rugby and the level of commitment from all 30 players on the pitch was immense. It was also a landmark win for England. One amazing statistic I heard was that Brian O’Driscoll had 30-something more caps than the entire England backs, all seven of them together! Whatever England lack in experience, winning this game over Ireland will go a long way to making them believe in themselves.

The 4th round

This weekend’s results set up a mouth-watering 4th round in two weeks’ time. Ireland should have a relatively easy game at home to Italy. France take on Scotland in Edinburgh, which on paper should be a French win, but after their hapless display against Wales who knows? But, the big game of the 4th weekend is the Sunday match between England and Wales at Twickenham.

Wales went a long time in the 1990s and early 2000s of not winning at Twickenham, but have beaten England 2 of the last 3 meetings there in the 6 Nations. England have looked very good this 6 Nations, and as I said after the first weekend, they really should have beaten France in Paris in their opening game. Wales, on the other hand, had a lacklustre win over Italy followed by a pummelling by Ireland and then an emphatic victory over France. Both teams should go into the game with confidence, but will England be haunted by their thrashing in Cardiff last March? I hope so! It should be a real thriller.

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This coming Saturday, the 9th of November, Wales will play the first of their four Autumn internationals. This has become an annual event in the rugby calendar, stretching back to at least 2002 or 2003, if not earlier. This year, Wales have three tough matches, plus hopefully an easier one, but for the first time since these Autumn internationals began we are not playing New Zealand (if I am wrong in saying this is the first time that we don’t play New Zealand then please someone correct me!).

The schedule of games we have are as follows

  • Saturday 9th of November – South Africa
  • Saturday 16th of November – Argentina
  • Friday the 22nd of November – Tonga
  • Saturday the 30th of November – Australia


Last year, Wales had a disasterous Autumn campaign, losing all four matches. But, then we went on to win the 6 Nations for the second year in a row, only missing out on a second successive Grand Slam by a poor first half performance against Ireland in our opening 6 Nations match. Since March, Wales formed the bulk of a victorious Lions team on the Lions’ tour of Australia, with ten of the starting fifteen in the third and deciding Test being from Wales. So, the big question is, can Wales build on the successes in 2013 and beat some Southern Hemisphere opposition this month?

It seems that every year, about this time, Welsh rugby fans hope for a good Autumn campaign. And yet, apart from the 2005 one, we are almost always disappointed. In 2005 we came close to beating both South Africa and New Zealand, but every other year we not only fail to beat the Southern Hemisphere’s “big three”, but we nearly always fail by quite a margin. Of course, in the last few years, Argentina have joined the Southern Hemisphere’s “big three” in “The Rugby Championship”, and so have themselves become an increasingly difficult opposition, a team to whom we lost last year.

Some people have been saying in the last few days on radio and TV that Warren Gatland’s focus is the 6 Nations, and then the 2015 World Cup, and that he does not really mind how well or not Wales play in the Autumn Internationals. I doubt this is true, Warren Gatland knows more than anyone that, for Wales to move on from being the best rugby side in Europe for most years of the last ten (3 Grand Slams, in 2005, 2008 and 2012 and one additional 6 Nations title in 2013) to being a side that can realistically challenge for the 2015 World Cup, Wales need to start beating the Southern Hemisphere sides. There is no better time to do that than this coming month. The Welsh boys should be full of confidence, having shown that they can beat Australia in Australia. Wales needs to now move up that one extra level and start beating South Africa, Australia and yes, even New Zealand (whom we haven’t beaten since 1953!), when we have them at home in front of our passionate supporters.

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As I blogged about here, Wales beat England in the title decider of the 2013 6 Nations. Not only did this deny England the Grand Slam, but it also won Wales the Championships because Wales won by more than 7 points. In fact, we won by 27 points! It was the biggest winning margin with which Wales have beaten England in the history of games between the two countries.

Wales beat England in Cardiff by a record margin of 30-3.

Wales beat England in Cardiff by a record margin of 30-3.

I was in Liverpool for the weekend, having given a talk to Liverpool Astronomical Society on the previous evening. I decided to watch the match in my hotel rather than risk trying to find a pub showing it, in case the pub-goers of Liverpool were tuned into some other sporting event.

Here is a video I took at various points in the match, including the singing of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau by the Welsh fans before the match. The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff had the roof closed, which added to the level of noise in the Stadium. Many commentators have said that they have never experienced an atmosphere like it at a rugby game.

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Italy v Ireland

This was a match where Ireland were trying to salvage a poor season, and Italy were trying to build on their promising start of beating France. Ireland had 3 players sent to the sin-bin, including their talisman Brian O’Driscoll. Ultimately Italy won, giving them their best 6 Nations ever, and giving Ireland one of their worst. If this is Brian O’Driscoll’s last 6 Nations then seeing him leave the Stadio Olimpico in defeat on Saturday is a sad way for him to end his glittering career. He has been the best player in the Northern Hemisphere over the last 12 or so years, and the best centre in World rugby.


Wales v England

England came to Cardiff hoping to win the Grand Slam, having won all their previous games in the 2013 6 Nations. They left Cardiff completely annihilated by a rampant Welsh team. Wales were absolutely immense in this match. I have been watching Wales play since the mid 1970s, during what was maybe our best “golden era”. I have rarely seen Wales dominate another top 6 rugby nation in such a fashion as Wales dominated England on Saturday.


Wales outplayed England in every facet of play. Our front 5 completely crushed the English front 5. We destroyed their scrum. Our back row forwards were all over the pitch and our backs created breaks and snuffed out any attempts the English backs made to break the line. It was a stunningly commanding performance by Wales.

Rob Howley, the interim Welsh coach, said after the game that winning Saturday’s match in that fashion, and retaining the 6 Nations crown, was bigger than winning the Grand Slam last year. I can see where he is coming from. Given the way we played against Ireland in the opening 45 of first game, the way Wales have turned their fortunes around after 8 defeats in a row is remarkable. Equally impressive is that Wales have not let in a single try since that opening 45 minutes against Ireland, so we have gone 4 matches plus all but the first 5 minutes of the second half against Ireland without conceding a try.

After suffering a real dip in form following on from last year’s Grand Slam, I really hope Wales can kick on from this stunning performance and finally start beating Southern Hemisphere teams. We will have to wait until the Autumn to find out, as in June the Welsh players should form the bulk of the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.

France v Scotland

France left it until the last 20 minutes of this match to actually play some rugby. They have been dire this 6 Nations, and finish bottom of the table. After a good Autumn series, it is difficult to understand what is going on in French rugby.


The final standings

Wales retain the 6 Nations Championships which they won in 2012. But for a terrible display against Ireland in the first half in Cardiff on the opening weekend, they could have won back-to-back Grand Slams, something not even the great side of the 1970s achieved. What one can say is that Welsh rugby is in another “golden era”, we are dominating Northern Hemisphere rugby like we did in the 1970s. We now need to go up that extra level and start beating the Southern Hemisphere giants.

The final table  of the 2013 6 Nations. Wales retain their crown, the first time they have done this since the 1970s.

The final table of the 2013 6 Nations. Wales retain their crown, the first time they have done this since the 1970s.


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