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Photos: Novak Djokovic v Roger Federer: The history of their epic rivalry

Live Tennis Staff in ATP Tour 19 Aug 2018
  • Federer vs Djokovic is live from Cincinnati on Sunday at 4.00pm local time (9.00pm BST)
  • Djokovic leads their head-to-head 23-22
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will meet for the 46th time in 2018 Cincinnati Master final on Sunday with the head-to-head between these great rivals poised at 23-22 in the Serbian’s favour. Ahead of the blockbuster showdown, we look back at a decade of epic battles between Djokovic and Federer.

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THE BEGINNING OF A GREAT RIVALRY

Federer and Djokovic played for the first time in the first round of the Monte Carlo Masters in 2006. At that time, Federer had been world no. 1 for over two years and a seven-time Grand Slam champion, including at the Australian Open at the beginning of that year. Djokovic was an 18-year-old qualifier ranked 67 in the world and was yet to win an ATP World Tour singles title or even reach a final, but he pushed Federer to three sets, the Swiss player eventually winning 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.


Djokovic plays Federer in Davis Cup in 2006 (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

'I THINK HE'S A JOKE'

They played again in 2006 at a Davis Cup tie between Serbia and Switzerland hosted in Geneva, their first meeting on hard courts, which Federer won 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. This was also the beginning of the contentious relationship between the two as Federer believed that Djokovic was abusing the rules by repeatedly calling the trainer during a long five-set match with Federer's friend and team-mate Stanislas Wawrinka. Federer said: 'I don’t trust his injuries. I’m serious. I think he’s a joke, you know, when it comes down to his injuries.'

Federer later claimed the spat had been healed, saying at Wimbledon in 2012, 'I was just upset at him calling the trainer out for no obvious reason against my buddy, Stan, in a five-setter. That was it. We had a quick chat about it in Madrid after that and things have been cool for a long time between me and him.'

DJOKOVIC'S FIRST WIN

The first Grand Slam meeting took place at the 2007 Australian Open in the fourth round. Again, Federer won in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5, 6-3, but Djokovic pushed Federer to three sets in Dubai before getting his first victory over the world no. 1 7-6(2), 2-6, 7-6(2).  'I can't describe the feeling I have right now,' Djokovic said. 'It's like a dream come true, especially against Federer in the finals, to win those tiebreakers was just incredible.

'I managed to win these tiebreaks against a player who probably has the best score in tiebreakers, who is the strongest player mentally in the world right now.' 

Federer, meanwhile, called the loss 'insignificant': 'I can't start being disappointed about just one match. He played well. I couldn't get the job done.' He also described Djokovic as 'an up-and-coming youngster who is improving almost by the day'. 'If he keeps this up, he's going to create some chances also at the grand slams,' Federer added. 


Djokovic and Federer with their trophies after Federer won the US Open final in 2007 (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

FIRST GRAND SLAM FINAL

Djokovic went on that year to reach his first Grand Slam final at the US Open, but Federer defeated him in straight sets, 7-6(4), 7-6(2), 6-4. Djokovic was up a break in each set but couldn't close any of them out despite having a total of seven straight points. 'My next book is going to be called "Seven Set Points",' said Djokovic. 

Federer admitted, 'New guys challenging me - this is my biggest motivation out there. Seeing them challenging me, and then beating them in the finals.'

'I'VE CREATED A MONSTER'

But Djokovic would get his revenge in 2008 at their next meeting, when he beat Federer in straight sets in the semifinals of the Australian Open, a tournament Djokovic would go on to win, announcing his arrival as a Grand Slam champion. The Serb displayed some dazzling tennis in his 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(5) victory. 'It's unbelievable to beat the No1 player in the world, probably the best this court has seen,' said Djokovic. 'I am very proud. It's very difficult to play against a player who is so dominant on any surface. He has been so successful in the last couple of years in Australia and he had the crowd behind him. I am amazed at the way I coped with the pressure and I played my best tennis.'

The victory for Djokovic stopped Federer's ten-final streak in Grand Slams. It was the first time Federer had not appeared in a Grand Slam final since the French Open in 2005. 

'I think he made the more important points today, it was a bit unfortunate for me,' Federer admitted. 'It depends a lot on form, you can't always play your best. There is no doubt I have played better before. I've created a monster that I need to win every tournament. Still, the semi-finals isn't bad.'

'THE KING IS DEAD'

Their next meeting, in Monte Carlo in 2008, ended with Djokovic retiring due to illness but it was mainly memorable for Federer telling Djokovic's family and supporters to 'Be quiet, OK?' during the early stages of the match. 

Djokovic's mother Dijana had previously summarised Djokovic's defeat of Federer at the Australian Open: 'As we said, "The king is dead, long live the king".'

'THE GREATEST SHOT I EVER HIT'

Djokovic and Federer were 3-2 in non-Grand Slam meetings in 2008-9, but Federer won both their Grand Slam encounters, which took place in the semifinals of the US Open in 2008 and 2009. Federer hit a 'tweener' winner to set up match point in the latter encounter which he called 'the greatest shot I ever hit in my life'. 

'I had the feeling I was close in all three sets,' Djokovic said. 'It's just that when I get close, when I am able to get break points or I'm up a break, I just start making unforced errors.

'And I don't want to mention the word "luck" but I didn't have it today. That's why I'm a little bit disappointed.'


Djokovic and Federer shake hands after Djokovic won the 2010 US Open semifinal (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

'JUST CLOSING MY EYES'

Djokovic would reverse his US Open losing streak against Federer in 2010 when he won a five-set battle in the semifinals, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5. 'It was just a big pleasure playing in this kind of match,' said Djokovic after the three-hour 44-minute battle. 'It's one of those matches you'll always remember in your career. I'm just so thrilled to be in the final.'

He added: 'To be honest I was just closing my eyes and hitting forehands as fast as I can on the match points. If it goes in, it goes in. If it goes out, you know, another loss to Federer in the US Open. I managed to come back. I was very lucky.'


Federer reacts during his straight-sets defeat to Djokovic in the semifinals of the 2011 Australian Open (PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)

RISE TO WORLD NO. 1 

The pattern of the rivalry in its earlier years - Djokovic dominating the non-Grand Slam meetings but Federer winning the biggest - was reversed as Federer won the next three matches between them, in Shanghai, Basel and the ATP World Tour Finals in the autumn of 2010, but lost to Djokovic in the semifinals of the 2011 Australian Open.

Djokovic would win the tournament, his second Grand Slam and the first of 10 titles in an amazing, historic season that saw him rise to no. 1 in the world for the first time.


Djokovic and Federer with their trophies after Djokovic beat Federer in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in 2011 (KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)

DUBAI 2011

Djokovic beat Federer 6-3, 6-3 in the final of Dubai to capture his third title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships as well as in Indian Wells.

'Any time I win against Roger it's a great success because he's such a great player,' Djokovic said. 'We all know how mentally strong of a player he is. To be able to win against Roger in straight sets as I did tonight is incredible, but I want to keep on going. I know that I have qualities to do even more, and that's what I want.'

US OPEN 2011

Federer won a five-set battle at Roland Garros, ending Djokovic's 41-match winning streak, but Djokovic struck back at the US Open, coming back from two sets down and saving two match points to win 6-7(7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.

'HOW CAN YOU PLAY A SHOT LIKE THAT ON MATCH POINT?'

Of the match points that Djokovic saved in that epic encounter, the one that is best remembered is the forehand return winner he hit as Federer served at 5-3, 40-15 in the fifth set. 'To lose against someone like that, it's very disappointing, because you feel like he was mentally out of it already. Just gets the lucky shot at the end, and off you go,' Federer said.

'I mean, please. Some players grow up and play like that – being down 5-2 in the third, and they all just start slapping shots. I never played that way. I believe hard work's going to pay off, because early on maybe I didn't always work at my hardest. For me, this is very hard to understand. How can you play a shot like that on match point? Maybe he's been doing it for 20 years, so for him it was very normal. You've got to ask him.'

Djokovic said: 'If you're playing somebody like Roger, you have to take your chances when they're presented. I don't want to say I've been in control of the fifth set, because that's not true. But this is what happens at this stage of a tournament when two top players meet. Just a couple of points decide the winner.'


Federer and Djokovic leave the court after Federer's victory in the Wimbledon semifinals in 2012 (GLYN KIRK/AFP/GettyImages)

FEDERER'S LAST VICTORY OVER DJOKOVIC IN A SLAM

Djokovic won their first two meetings in 2012, on clay in Rome and at Roland Garros in straight sets, but Federer struck back at Wimbledon in 2012, winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. It was the last meeting between the two at a Grand Slam and the first time they had played on grass. 

'He played well. No question about it. He was the better player. In the important moments he was aggressive, hitting from both sides,' Djokovic said.

'It's not the first, it's not the last time I lost a match. I lost to a great champion, somebody that has the most Grand Slams in the history of the sport. I do regret that I didn't play as well as I thought I would, and as well as I played maybe last couple matches. Life goes on. I have to move on.'

Federer went on to capture the title, defeating Andy Murray in the final.

Federer would win at Cincinnati in 2012, too, but Djokovic won their next three encounters: 7-6(6), 7-5 in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals in 2012; 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the final of the 2013 Paris Masters and 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-2 at the round-robin stage in the 2013 ATP World Tour Finals in London.

DJOKOVIC VS FEDERER XXXII: DUBAI 2014

Their 32nd meeting took place in the semifinal of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, a tournament Djokovic had won four times and Federer five. 

Federer came into Dubai ranked world no. 8 after his poor 2013 season, but came back after the loss of the first set to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. The Swiss player's change in tactics, attacking the net consistently, foreshadowed his new and more aggressive brand of tennis - particularly against Djokovic - that he would deploy with varying degrees of success over the following years.

'I think I was able to play a bit more aggressively as the match went on,' said Federer. 'I knew I was in a bit of trouble (after the first set) and not looking good at all, because he has a tendency to really run with it and play more freely on your serve. He plays very dangerous.

'It was just a matter of trying to play consistent but remain aggressive. Sometimes being also overly aggressive to see if it works. If it doesn't, then you can always pull back a little bit. Clearly it was close, but I think I got the right balance, just the right balance. Then I started to serve very well, something I haven't been able to do really this week yet. I knew to have a chance today I needed to serve well. So I'm just very happy I was able to deliver that.'

'The [close moments] sometimes that decide matches, that's where you just need that extra confidence or that extra mental belief that you're going to win instead of lose. I think that's what I've got back right now. That's why I think I have been playing consistently well for some months again,' Federer added.

'This is big. This is a big step in the right direction for me.' 


Djokovic celebrates (JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

INDIAN WELLS 2014: DJOKOVIC WINS 1-6, 6-3, 7-6(3)

Djokovic struck back, revitalized his 2014 season and captured his first title of the year when he avenged his defeat to Roger Federer in the semifinals of Dubai, coming back from the loss of the first set to claim the victory and his third Indian Wells title, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6(3).

‘It was a proud achievement,’ Djokovic said, describing the win as ‘necessary to [his] confidence’. ‘It was not just winning the trophy but the way I came back from a set down in a couple of matches. That gives me a lot of confidence.

‘I said after my semi-final that very few points will decide the final and I was right.’


Djokovic grimaces in pain during the Monte Carlo semifinal (JEAN CHRISTOPHE MAGNENET/AFP/Getty Images)

MONTE CARLO 2014: FEDERER WINS 7-5, 6-2

In the third meeting between Djokovic and Federer in 2014, Federer triumphed 7-5, 6-2 in the semifinals of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

Djokovic was hampered, however, by a wrist injury which caused him to pull out of Madrid and is still causing him some pain, as evidenced by his withdrawal from a scheduled exhibition event the week before Wimbledon.

'It's unfortunate that when you're playing at this level against Roger, big tournament, that you are not able to play your game because something else is taking away all your energy and effort,' Djokovic said in Monte Carlo.


Federer waves to the fans after being defeated in the 2014 Wimbledon final  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

WIMBLEDON 2014: 'A DIFFERENT LIGHT'

The 34th meeting between Djokovic and Federer came in the final of Wimbledon in 2014 as Federer tried to return to the Grand Slam winners' circle - and Djokovic tried to bounce back from losing his Australian Open title to Stan Wawrinka and once again being unable to wrest the French Open title from Rafael Nadal's hands. 

Federer reminisced about the rivalry beforehand, saying: '[W]e saw each other in a different light than we see each other today when we're both ranked high, we both achieved a lot. Things have clearly changed over time. But ever since he's won Grand Slams and became world No. 1, it's been a cool rivalry, in my opinion.'

Never had an eighteenth Grand Slam title looked closer for Federer - but it was not to be. Djokovic won in five sets despite a thrilling late comeback from Federer, who dug himself out of a 2-5 hole to take the match to a fifth set and actually had a point to go up a break in that decisive set.

'It's really only until the fourth set when I was down a break that I started to understand more how to return him, which was a surprise for me because I've played him that many times,' Federer said afterwards.

Djokovic felt that the final was the best quality Grand Slam final he had ever been part of. The victory also vindicated Djokovic's decision - often-criticized - to bring Boris Becker on board to help him get over the mental hump in Grand Slam finals. 'I could have easily lost my concentration in the fifth and handed him the win, but I didn't and that's why the win has special importance to me,' Djokovic said.


Djokovic in action in Shanghai (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)

SHANGHAI 2014: FEDERER'S PERFECT MATCH

Djokovic and Federer met for the 36th time in the semifinals of the Shanghai Rolex Masters, which Djokovic was trying to win for the third consecutive year. Federer had never won the title in Shanghai.

Federer played what Djokovic described as a 'perfect match' to defeat the Serb 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Shanghai Rolex Masters, ending a 28-match winning streak for Djokovic in China.

'He played a perfect match,' Djokovic said. 'Tonight is definitely one of the best matches he has played against me, that’s for sure.'

Federer's victory - he would go on to win the Shanghai Masters - gave him a chance to overtake Djokovic for the year-end world no. 1 ranking.


Djokovic captured on camera at the O2 Arena (LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

THE FINAL THAT WASN'T: ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS 2014

Federer and Djokovic were due to meet once more in 2014 in the final of the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, with Djokovic on a 31-match winning streak on indoor hard courts after going unbeaten in the round-robin stages to clinch the year-end world no. 1 ranking. 

However, just 30 minutes before the final, Roger Federer came out onto the court to announce he would be unable to play in the final after suffering back spasms at the end of a hard fought semi-final against Stan Wawrinka, and with the prospect of the Davis Cup final the following weekend, Federer opted for caution. 


Djokovic stands nonplussed during the 2015 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final against Federer (KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)

DUBAI 2015: FEDERER WINS 6-3, 7-5

Federer reigned supreme in the 37th meeting between the two in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, showcasing his aggressive tennis as he defeated Djokovic 6-3, 7-5 - his second straight-sets win over Djokovic in a row.

'I don't think I could have played much better,' Federer said afterwards.

A late break in each set proved crucial, with a critical double-fault from Djokovic at 5-5 in the second set ultimately giving away the match.

'Today he was just the better player on the court,' Djokovic said after the match. 'There was not much I could do. ... [He] didn't miss much. I think he missed one or two volleys the entire match.'



INDIAN WELLS 2015: THE 'ULTIMATE FINAL'

Djokovic and Federer met for the 38th time in the final of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, with Federer leading the head-to-head 20-17. It was the first time in tournament history that the same two players will contest the final in consecutive years. Twelve months previously, Djokovic edged Federer in a third-set tie break. Djokovic called it the 'ultimate final'.

Djokovic was very much in control in the first set, and after an early break in the second, it looked every bit a formality. Federer capitalised on a dip in the defending champion's form, finally getting on level terms and taking the lead in the match, as he pushed for a second set tie-break.

More errors stacked up for the Serbian, much to his frustration, as Federer was handed the initiative and needed no second bidding, forcing a decider. But it was to be to no avail, as Djokovic struck early, only to be pegged back once more. By the time Djokovic surged ahead once more, there was nothing that Federer could do to stem the flow, as the defending champion equalled his record of four titles with a 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2 victory. 


Djokovic and Federer shake hands after Djokovic's victory in the Rome Masters final  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

ROME 2015: 'NOVAK IS NOT RAFA ON CLAY'

Federer and Djokovic went head-to-head for the 39th time in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final. After choosing to miss the Madrid Masters, a rested Djokovic overcame a tough draw to reach the final where he was hoping to claim his fourth Rome Masters title.

Federer had never won Rome having lost to Felix Mantilla in 2003 and Rafael Nadal in 2006 and 2013 respectively; nor had he defeated Djokovic in Rome, losing to him in three sets 6-4 3-6, 3-6 in the 2009 semi-finals and in straight sets 2-6, 6-7 (4) in the 2012 semis. Regardless, Federer was optimistic: ‘[But] I feel like I have a chance to play well for sure,’ Federer said. ‘Novak is not Rafa on clay, so it’s a different situation. I’ve done fairly well in the past against him. We played here twice before and I lost both times so it's up to me to put in a good performance.’

In the end, Federer might have preferred to face Rafa on clay - at least the 2015 edition - as Djokovic recorded an emphatic 6-4, 6-3 victory in just 75 minutes to complete his haul of the biggest titles of the season so far: The Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami and now Rome.

WIMBLEDON 2015: DJOKOVIC CONTINUES TO REIGN

For the fortieth time, Djokovic and Federer met - this time in the final of Wimbledon 2015. Djokovic once more prevailed, winning 7-6(1), 6-7(10), 6-4, 6-3. 

Federer had been bidding to make history and move beyond Pete Sampras (who won seven Wimbledon titles) to become the first player to win eight titles at the All England Club. He took the early break to lead 4-2 in the opening set before Djokovic struck straight back. Federer had two set-point opportunities off the Djokovic serve, which he was ultimately unable to capitalise on as Djokovic eventually stole the first set in a tiebreaker.

Federer briefly threatened to revive when he took the second set in a 12-10 tie breaker, but the third and fourth sets were all Djokovic as the world no. 1 took his second Grand Slam of the season and his third Wimbledon title overall. 

'I think Novak played not only great today but the whole two weeks, plus the whole year, plus last year, plus the year before that,' Federer said.

'Maybe [I had my chances but] that's sport, that's why we come to watch it because we don't know the outcome. I got lucky to win the second set, had my chances early in the third but that's how it goes. '


Roger Federer (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

CINCINNATI 2015: DJOKOVIC DENIED THE CAREER MASTERS SLAM

Federer then defeated Djokovic in the Cincinnati Masters final, preventing the world no. 1 from completing the 'Career Masters Slam' (winning all nine Masters 1000 titles). 

Federer won 7-6 (1), 6-3 to claim his seventh Cincinnati title as well as reclaiming his world no. 2 ranking from Andy Murray in time to be seeded second for the US Open. 

It was the fifth time Djokovic had lost in the Cincinnati Masters final. 'The fifth time I've been in the title [match] and never won this title, so I guess I have to wait for Roger to retire,' Djokovic said. 'I've been coming back each year wanting it more.'

US OPEN 2015: DJOKOVIC'S THIRD SLAM OF THE SEASON

Once more, Djokovic came between Federer and his elusive 18th Grand Slam title as the pair played for the sixth time in 2015 in the final of the 2015 US Open. 

Djokovic extended his winning streak in Grand Slams against Federer to three as he prevailed in four sets 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

'I had the keys in my hand and did some good things, but I just didn’t win the important points to turn the match or get ahead. He was always in front, more or less, and at one moment or another, that pays off. He’s more relaxed than when playing from behind,' Federer said.


Djokovic with the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

WORLD TOUR FINALS 2015: DJOKOVIC WINS WHEN IT COUNTS

The collisions between Djokovic and Federer at the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals function neatly as a distillation of their respective seasons. 

Federer proved that he is the biggest threat to Djokovic, scoring his third victory of the season over the Serb 7-5, 6-2 during the round-robin stages: He was the only player to defeat Djokovic more than once through the world no. 1's extraordinary 82-6 2015 season, accounting for half of the total defeats Djokovic suffered throughout 2015.

But when they met again in the final with the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals trophy on the line, there was only one winner and it indicated once more than when Djokovic and Federer face off for the biggest prizes, it's the younger man who has the keys to victory as Djokovic won 6-3, 6-4 to end a season which will go down as one of the greatest in history.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN FINAL 2016: DJOKOVIC DENIES FEDERER AGAIN

Federer had never beaten Djokovic in a best-of-five sets match after dropping the opener, and that pattern continued in the 2016 Australian Open semi-finals as the Serbian produced some thunderous tennis to register a four-set triumph and return to the final in Melbourne.

Djokovic was simply unplayable in the opening two sets, and although Federer staged a spirited fightback in the third, he was ultimately just delaying the inevitable as the five-time Australian Open champion regained control of the match in the fourth to emerge triumphant by a 6-1 6-2 3-6 6-3 scoreline.

"I played unbelievably in the first two sets but I needed to because Roger has been playing unbelievably and I knew he would be aggressive," Djokovic said.

Try as he might, Federer couldn’t force a fifth set for the first time in their rivalry since the 2014 Wimbledon final, with Djokovic edging ahead 23-22 in their head-to-head.

"My rhythm, my timing, all that, was a bit off in the beginning," said Federer. "He took advantage of that and did an unbelievable job for a long, long time tonight."

2018 CINCINNATI MASTERS FINAL: DJOKOVIC LOOKS TO MAKE HISTORY

As we know, Djokovic hasn’t been able to win any of his five Cincinnati finals. He’s lost twice to Andy Murray and three times to Federer over the course of his career and is one of just three players in the Open Era to have lost five finals at a single tournament without winning, joining Murray at the Australian Open and Rafael Nadal in Miami. Ever since securing the 2013 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title, Djokovic has had the opportunity to become the first man in history to win all nine Masters 1000 crowns, but he’s come up agonisingly short multiple times in Cincinnati, with Federer stopping him on three occasions - is this finally the moment for the Serbian to complete his Golden Masters set?

It’s been over two years since we’ve seen Federer vs Djokovic, but the wait is over as the two tennis titans clash in a heavyweight 2018 Cincinnati Masters final on Sunday. Indeed, after playing eight times over the course of the 2015 season, Federer and Djokovic have only played once since - and that came at the very start of 2016 in the Australian Open semi-finals. Of course injuries have played their part - Federer missed most of 2016 with a knee injury and Djokovic was out for half of 2017 with a wrist issue, however the pair are back, fit and firing as they write another chapter in their glorious rivalry on Sunday in Cincinnati.

Federer vs Djokovic is live from Cincinnati at 4.00pm local time on Sunday (9.00pm BST).


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Photos: Novak Djokovic v Roger Federer: The history of their epic rivalry

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will meet for the 46th time in 2018 Cincinnati Master final on Sunday with the head-to-head between these great rivals poised at 23-22 in the Serbian’s favour. Ahead of the blockbuster showdown, we look back at a decade of epic battles between Djokovic and Federer.

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