The Top 10 Best Female Tennis Players Of The Open Era

10. Evonne Goolagong

Evonne Goolagong reached her first Grand Slam final at the 1971 Australian Open, she would go on to reach a total of 17 finals in the 70′s, which was more than any other player male or female. After losing her first final to Margaret Court, Goolagong took revenge in the final of that year’s Wimbledon, and in between she also won the French Open. 

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Between 1971 and 1980 Goolagong played in 25 Grand Slams, and reached at least the Semi-Finals in 22 of them. She made the Australian Open Final in 7 consecutive appearances, losing her first 4 before winning the next 3 in which she appeared. Goolagong only played the French Open 3 times, but in those 3 appearances, she won 1, was runner-up in another, and was knocked out in the semi-final of her third. Goolagong reached 5 finals at Wimbledon, winning 2 including the 1980 title in which she became the first mother to win Wimbledon for 66 years. The US Open was the one singles slam Goolagong didn’t win, but she did reach 4 finals there. In total Goolagong won 7 slams and reached 18 finals. She won a total of 68 titles in the Open Era including the Tour Finals in 1974 & 1976. 

Goolagong was born into an Australian Aboriginal family, a group of people who were disadvantaged and suffered prejudice in Australia. She now leads the Goolagong National Development Camp for Indigenous boys and girls, which encourages Indigenous youth to stay in school by playing competitive tennis. 

9. Billie Jean King

This list ranks players based on their career in the Open Era only and doesn’t take into account what was won when Grand Slams were amateurs only. If they were taken into account, BJK would be higher on the list, as she won a lot of titles (including 4 Grand Slams) before the Open Era. However, BJK still achieved enough in the Open Era to earn a spot on this list.

BJK won the 2nd ever Open-era Grand Slam tournament when she won the 1968 Wimbledon title. She was then a runner-up on 4 occasions before getting her hands on a singles major again by winning the 1971 US Open. This was the start of a run in which the American won 5 consecutive slams in the majors she appeared in. As the number 1 women’s player in the world at that time, she felt it her responsibility to accept the challenge to face former men’s player Bobby Riggs, who had won 3 grand slams in the late 1930′s and early 40s. Early in 1973, Riggs defeated the other dominant force on the Women’s tour at the time, Margaret Court for the loss of only 3 games in a Best of 3 match. For the “Battle of the Sexes” between BJK and Riggs, the format changed to Best of 5. 

King was under enormous pressure to win the match, feeling it was an important moment for the Women’s Liberation Movement and in her personal fight for equal pay and respect for women at tennis tournaments. King rose to the occasion and won in straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. She said later, “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.” Returning to the usual business of the tour, BJK won a further 2 Grand Slams, as well as making a whole host of Quarter-Final and Semi-Final appearances before making her last Grand Slam singles appearance at Wimbledon in 1983. It had been her most successful tournament as she won 4 singles titles there in the Open Era and reached another 2 finals. 

BJK was an exceptionally successful tennis player, but her impact on tennis is best known for what she was able to achieve off the court for the women playing on it. When she received $15,000 less than the Male Champion after winning the US Open, BJK threatened to boycott the following years’ tournament unless the women’s winner received the same amount. The US Open became the first slam to award equal pay in 1973. The fight for equal pay at Grand Slams was not won until 2007 when Wimbledon finally became the last major to agree to equal pay for both men’s and women’s players. In 1970, BJK and 8 other players formed their own circuit, separate from the rest of the women players who were more reluctant to break from the norms to go in pursuit of more money and backing. They were known as the “Original 9″ and just 3 years later the originally named Virginia Slims Circuit became the WTA, changing the face of how Women’s professional tennis would be perceived from then onwards.

8. Justine Henin

After losing her first Grand Slam final at the 2001 Wimbledon, Henin became the first Belgian to win a major by beating fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters in the final of the 2003 French Open. Henin backed it up by winning the US Open later that year, again beating Clijsters in the final after a semi-final win over Jennifer Capriati, where she had trailed 3–5 in the second set after losing the first and was 2–5 down in the deciding set. Henin was 2 points away from defeat 11 times in the match but somehow came through. In 2004 Henin won her first Australian Open and a singles Gold Medal at the Athens Olympics. The following year Henin won her 2nd French Open title which began a run of 3 straight Roland Garros wins, including one in 2006, a year in which she reached all 4 major finals, but was runner-up in 3 of them. Henin won her 7th major at the 2007 US Open and it was to be her last. The Belgian finished 2007 in scintillating form winning 25 straight matches to finish the year with a semi-final defeat at Wimbledon being the last time Henin suffered a loss that year. In those 25 straight wins, Henin dropped only 3 sets. 

The following year Henin announced her retirement from tennis at aged 25, the announcement came as a shock as she was then ranked #1 in the world and the favourite to win Roland Garros for a fourth successive year. After 16 months of retirement Henin changed her mind and made the final of the Australian Open at her first Grand Slam in exactly 2 years. Entering the draw as a wildcard and playing just her second tournament since returning to the tour, she was beaten by Serena Williams in 3 sets. Henin’s return did not last long, however, and she left the tour again after the following year’s Australian Open due to an elbow injury. Henin won 7 slams including 3 of the 4 majors, only failing to win Wimbledon where she was a beaten finalist twice. 

Henin’s dominance was short-lived but extremely impressive while it lasted, in the 7 majors she appeared in 2006 and 2007, she won 3, and made the final in another 3, with a semi-final at Wimbledon in 2007 being her worst result of the period. Henin won 43 titles, including 2 Tour Finals in 2006 and 2007. Henin had an excellent all-around game: her footwork, balance, and court coverage allowed her to switch from defence to aggressive offence very quickly, and she was extremely proficient on both her backhand and forehand side. Her single-handed backhand was the most powerful and accurate in the women’s game, but her forehand was an even bigger weapon due to it’s power and versatility and it allowed her to dictate matches. 

7. Venus Williams

Venus Williams reached the final at just her 3rd major and in her very first appearance at the US Open. She had to wait nearly 3 years until she reached another major final, but this time she was the winner defeating Lindsay Davenport in the 2000 Wimbledon final. Later that year Venus also won Olympic Gold in singles and her first US Open. The following year she retained both Wimbledon and the US Open beating Henin and Serena in their first-ever Grand Slam final meeting. Between the 2002 Roland Garros and the 2003 Wimbledon, Venus played in 5 of a possible 6 finals, but lost all of them against sister Serena. 

Venus finally returned to winning ways at the 2005 Wimbledon, in one of the all-time great finals she survived match-point to defeat top seed Lindsay Davenport 4-6, 7-6, 9-7. Two years later, Venus won her 4th Wimbledon singles title, and the year after she retained it to win her 5th and 7th singles major overall. Venus made a 3rd successive Wimbledon final in 2009, meeting Serena for the second straight year, this time losing in straight sets. 

In 2011, Venus was diagnosed with Sjögren syndrome, an autoimmune disease which causes fatigue and muscle and joint pain. Venus continued to play but struggled for form in the majors, with her ranking plummeting she did not reach the 4th round of a slam between 2012 and 2014. Slowly but surely, Venus began to build herself back up, reaching two slam quarters in 2015 and the Wimbledon semi-final in 2016. At the 2017 Australian Open, Venus reached her first final there in 14 years and her first slam final in 8 years. Fittingly she met sister Serena in a final that she lost in straight sets. Later that year Venus reached her 9th Wimbledon final, this time losing to Garbine Muguruza. Venus finished the slam calendar with a 3rd slam semi of the year at the US Open, this time failing to reach the final. 

Venus continues to play aged 43 and has won on the tour this year, 29 years after picking up her first tour win way back in 1994. Venus won 7 majors and was runner-up in 9 more, her younger sister Serena denying her the trophy in 7 of their 9 final meetings. Venus has 49 career titles in singles, including winning the Tour Finals in 2008. Venus also won 14 doubles titles alongside Serena at Grand Slams, with the sisters winning all 14 of their finals played for the loss of just 4 sets. Alongside her sister Serena, she is the only player to win 4 Olympic Gold Medals, 1 in the singles and 3 in the doubles.

Venus is known for an aggressive, asserting playing style, her powerful groundstrokes on both sides allowing her to go for lots of winners from anywhere on the court, even when in a defensive position. More than just sheer power, however, Venus was also an exceptional on-court tactician, problem-solving and using her speed and court coverage to win points, including up at the net where her long arm span and repertoire of shots made her difficult to pass.

6. Monica Seles

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Monica Seles was the greatest teenage player of all time, winning 8 majors before her 20th birthday, a record that is unlikely to ever be equalled. In her first year on the tour as a 16-year-old, Seles embarked on a 36-match win streak which took in a winning run at the 1990 French Open, where Seles beat Steffi Graf in the final to become the youngest-ever French Open singles Champion, aged just 16 years and 6 months. The following year Seles won all 3 majors she competed in and then in 1992, she retained them all, as well as reaching her one and only Wimbledon final, where she lost to Graf. 

From January 1991 through February 1993, Seles won 22 titles and reached 33 finals out of the 34 tournaments she played. She compiled a 159–12 win–loss record, including a 55–1 win–loss record in Grand Slam tournaments. In her first four years on the circuit, Seles had a win–loss record of 231–25 (90.2%) and collected 30 titles. Seles began 1993 by winning the Australian Open for a third successive year, and she was the favourite to win a 4th successive Roland Garros that year.

However, Seles never made it to the 1993 French Open, as she was stabbed on the court in Hamburg by an obsessed fan of Seles’ main rival Steffi Graf. The kitchen knife was stabbed between her shoulder blades, and though the physical injuries took weeks to heal, the mental and psychological scars lasted much longer. Seles did not compete again for 2 years as she suffered from depression and an eating disorder as a result of the attack. She vowed not to return to Germany to compete due to her disappointment in the legal system, which ruled her attacker psychologically abnormal and sentenced him only to 2 years of probation and psychological treatment.

Upon Seles’ return, she was re-instated as joint number 1 alongside Graf, and in Seles’ first slam back playing she met Graf in the final of the 1995 US Open, where she lost in 3 sets. Just a few months later Seles was back in the next Grand Slam final at the 1996 Australian Open. This time she was victorious, winning her 9th Grand Slam and her 4th Australian Open. Later that year she reached the US Open final for the second successive year, again meeting Graff, this time losing in straights. Seles made her 13th and last Grand Slam final appearance at the 1998 French Open, losing to Arantxa Sánchez Vicario. Seles continued playing for another 5 years, regularly reaching the Quarter-Final stage, but never again making a final. At the 2003 French Open, Seles lost in the 1st round for the first time in her career at a major and never played a tour-level match again.

Seles won 9 Grand Slams, 8 coming before her 20th Birthday and before she was stabbed. She won 8 of the 9 slam finals she appeared in before the stabbing, her game at that time full of confidence and unwavering self-belief, with her mental toughness being one of the strongest on the tour. Upon her return, she never was able to re-find that same level of confidence, becoming tentative in the big matches and winning just 1 of 4 slam finals. Seles still goes down as one of the greatest female players ever, but without the stabbing she may have ended even higher on this list. Martina Navratilova argued that if Seles had not been stabbed, “We’d be talking about Monica with the most Grand Slam titles ahead of Margaret Court or Steffi Graf.” Mary Joe Fernandez also declared that Seles would have at least doubled her Grand Slam championship tally, had she not been attacked and some argue that she would have gone on to become the greatest woman to pick up a racket. 

5. Margaret Court

Margaret Court won 13 slams before the Open Era began, but she still demands a spot high on this list for what she achieved in the Open Era. Between the Australian Open of 1969 and 1971, Court won 8 of the 9 majors including winning all 4 in 1970. Court retained the Australian Open in 1971 but took a break from the tour later that year due to her pregnancy. Court’s first full year back on the tour in 1973 saw her win 3 of the 4 majors. After leaving the tour again for the birth of her second child in 1974, Court retired from singles tennis in 1975.

Court achieved the “Boxed Set” of winning every Grand Slam title in singles, mixed and doubles before the Open Era and then she achieved it again during the Open Era. Court played 12 slam singles finals in the Open Era and lost just one of them. She faced BJK in 2 finals winning them both, and Evonne Goolagong in 4 of them, winning 3. Court also won her only slam final meeting with Chris Evert. 

4. Chris Evert

Chris Evert made at least the semi-finals in the first 34 majors she played, a record that will certainly never be matched. Evert made her first Grand Slam finals in 1973, coming runner-up at both the French and at Wimbledon. The following year she won both events during a 55-match winning streak, eventually ending the year with a 100-7 record. Evert then won 2 majors in both 1975 and 1976 on route to winning the US Open 4 years in a row.  

In her career Evert played the Australian Open just 5 times, she won it twice and was runner-up on another 3 occasions. She won the French Open 7 times and reached another 2 finals there. She is a 10-time Wimbledon finalist, winning 3 times and a 6-time US Open winner, losing in 3 finals there. In the 56 majors she played, Evert failed to reach the Quarters just twice, reaching at least the semis on 52 occasions. 52 semi-finals from 56 majors played, a statistic so staggering it seems scarcely believable. Evert played 34 major finals, more than any other woman in history and lifted 18 majors.

Evert dominated every player on tour bar one, Martina Navratilova, with the two facing off against each other a remarkable 80 times. They met 22 times in Grand Slams alone, with Navratilova leading 14-8 and 10-4 in slam finals. On the tour they played a total of 60 finals, Navratilova winning 34 of them. Together the two of them absolutely dominated the women’s game with one of them being the number 1 ranked player in the world for all but 23 weeks between November 1975 and August 1987. From the 1981 Wimbledon to the 1988 Australian Open, they won 22 of 27 major singles titles, and at least one of them appeared in each of those 27 finals. 

Evert was known for her calm, steady demeanour on the court, keeping her emotions impossible to read for an opponent. In an era where everybody served and volleyed, Evert preferred to stay at the baseline, hitting with consistent depth to keep her opponent pinned back behind their baseline where they did not feel as comfortable as she did. Evert kept her unforced errors at a minimum, concentrating on retrieving every ball, and when her opponents were able to venture forward to the net, Evert was adept at passing shots to dissuade them from coming forward again. Evert’s mental strength on court led her to be nicknamed the “Ice Maiden”. She won a total of 157 titles, including many on her favourite surface of clay, where she amassed a career record of 382-22, a 94.55% win percentage. 

3. Martina Navratilova

After losing her first 2 slam finals in 1975 at the Australian and French Open, it took Martina just over 3 years to return to one, but this time she was victorious winning Wimbledon in 1978. She retained the title the following year, then had a major-less year in 1980, it would be the last such year until 1988. Between 1982 and 1987, Martina played 23 slams (the Australian Open was not held in 1986) and reached the final in 20 of them, winning 14. In 1983, Martina showcased her dominance by losing only 1 match out of 87. Between 1982 and 1984, she lost only 6 singles matches. In 1984, Martina held all 4 majors at once when she won the French Open and later that year became the first player to win majors on clay, grass and hard court in the same year.

From the 1984 French Open to the 1987 US Open, Martina reached 14 successive slam finals, winning 9 including a record 6 in a row. In her career, Martina won 3 Australian Opens, finishing as runner-up on another 3 occasions. She won Roland Garros twice and was the beaten finalist there 4 times. At the US Open, she was 4 times the champion, making a total of 8 finals there. But Martina’s favourite place to play was on the grass of Wimbledon where she made the final for 9 years straight between 1982 and 1990. Martina won her 18th and final major at that 1990 edition of Wimbledon, her record 9th singles title there. 4 years later she was back in her 12th Wimbledon final aged 37, though she was beaten in 3 sets by Conchita Martinez.

As well as her 18 majors in singles, Martina was also an outstanding doubles player, winning 31 doubles majors and 10 in mixed doubles including one shortly before her 50th birthday, for a total of 59 major titles, an open-era record. Martina won 1,442 singles matches including a record 73 consecutively to win a record 167 titles including 8 Tour Finals. She also holds the record for most Doubles titles in the open era with 177. Martina holds the record for most titles at Wimbledon with 20 (9 singles, 7 doubles, 4 mixed doubles) and is the only player in the open era to have won the triple crown (the singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles) at all 4 majors. At the 1987 US Open Martina became the only player of the Open Era to win the singles, doubles and mixed titles at the same event. Martina partnered with Chris Evert and Billie Jean King for some of her doubles titles, but the majority came with Pam Shriver with the pair establishing a partnership that went unbeaten for 109 straight matches between 1983 and 1985. 

Martina revolutionised the game by bringing the athleticism of the game to a new level, being the first player to use cross-training and gym work with specific training methods catered towards improving her strength and fitness for tennis. 

2. Steffi Graf

After a couple of years on the tour, In 1985 Steffi Graf began to emerge as the new challenger to the dominance of Evert and Martina. Graf lost her first 6 meetings with Evert and 5 of her first 6 meetings with Martina, but 1987 was to be her breakout year. Graf reached the final of all 3 Grand Slams she played, meeting Martina in all of them, winning the first at the French Open, before losing the next 2. 1987 was a good year for Graf, but 1988 was to be the best year recorded in the Open Era for any player. 

Graf won the Australian Open without dropping a set, then won Roland Garros in the shortest-ever Grand Slam Final. Officially Graf beat Natasha Zvereva in 34 minutes, though there were just 32 minutes spent on the court. Graf won 6-0, 6-0 and lost just 13 points in the only double bagel final of the Open Era. At Wimbledon, Graf prevented Martina from lifting her 7th consecutive title on Centre Court, coming back from a set and a breakdown to win in 3. Graf won the Calendar Grand Slam at the US Open, becoming the only player in history to win 4 majors in the same year across 3 different surfaces. Graf then became the only player in history to win the ‘Golden Slam’ by taking the Gold medal at the Seoul Olympics. 

After winning a 5th consecutive major at the Australian Open, Graf’s winning run at the Grand Slams finally ended in the final of the French, as she lost in 3 sets to Arantxa Sánchez Vicario. Graf responded by retaining both Wimbledon and the US Open, coming back from a set and a breakdown against Martina in the final of the latter. Between the French Open of 1987 and the French Open of 1990, Graf made the final of 13 consecutive majors. After winning 7 majors in 2 years, Graf won just 1 a year for the next 3 years, losing in 3 finals. But in 1993 with the absence of Seles from the tour, she resumed her dominance, making all 4 major finals and winning 3 of them. 

Graf began 1994 by winning the first 54 sets she played, helping her on the way to winning her 4th Australian Open. After failing to retain the French Open, Graf suffered a shock defeat in the 1st round of Wimbledon, ending her pursuit of a 4th consecutive title there. Graf then struggled with back problems in the US Open final, losing in 3 to Sánchez Vicario. The next 2 years saw Graf return to her best, she missed both Australian Open’s due to injury and then surgery, but she won every major she took part in, winning the French, Wimbledon and the US Open and then retaining them the following year of 1996. This meant that Graf had won at least 3 majors a year in 5 different years, which is more than any other player in the Open Era. 

Graf then suffered injuries, playing only 50% of the slams in 1997 and 1998, making just 1 Quarter-Final. In 1999 she was able to win her 22nd and final major with her 6th French Open title. The 1999 Wimbledon was the 54th and final Grand Slam Graf played and she reached her 31st final, losing to Lindsay Davenport. Shortly afterwards, Graf announced her retirement from tennis aged 30 years old after a career in which she won 7 Wimbledon’s, 6 French Open’s, 5 US Open’s and 4 Australian Open’s. Graf won 107 singles titles, including 5 Tour Finals. 

Graf was known for the exceptional pace and accuracy she put on her forehand, earning her the moniker “fräulein forehand” and her versatility which meant she was well suited to all surfaces. Her endurance and footwork made her successful on clay courts, whilst her naturally aggressive style of play,  backhand slice and speed made her equally dominant on the hard courts and grass. Chris Evert considered Graf the best ever all-surface player saying: “ Martina won more on fast courts and I won more on slow courts, but Steffi came along and won more titles on both surfaces.

1. Serena Williams

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Serena Williams became the first African American woman to win a Grand Slam at the 1999 US Open, and she did it the hard way beating future Grand Slam Champion Kim Clijsters in the 3rd round, Wimbledon winner Conchita Martinez in the 4th round before beating #4 seed Monica Seles, #2 seed Lindsay Davenport in the Quarters and Semis respectively and then overcoming top seed Martina Hingis in the final. Serena then had to wait 3 years for another major, but they arrived in a flurry as she won all 3 she played after missing the Australian Open. She won the Australian Open to start off 2003 however and in doing so, held all 4 slams at the same time in what became known as the “Serena Slam”. She had beaten big sister Venus in all 4 finals and then beat her again in the final of Wimbledon for a 5th major from a possible 6. In the following 3 years, Serena made just 2 major finals, winning 1, the 2005 Australian Open after losing the 2004 Wimbledon final to 17-year-old Maria Sharapova. 

In these years, Serena suffered from injuries, burnout and a loss of motivation. She later shared that she was depressed at this time, taking 6 months away from the sport and seeing a therapist daily. She ended 2006 ranked #95 in the world. When she returned in 2007 critics questioned her fitness, noting she appeared out of shape and wondering about how much dedication she had left for the sport. Nike threatened to drop her if she did not perform at her previous high levels at that year’s Australian Open. Serena was a couple of points from defeat in the 3rd round but survived the scare, and then survived another scare in the Quarters when she was once more 2 points from defeat. After knocking out 4 seeded players to reach the final, Serena described them as: “Strong players who certainly didn’t expect an overweight, out-of-shape, has been champion like me to give them a game.” In the final, she went up against World Number 1 Maria Sharapova, who was most people’s pick to be too strong for Serena. Fuelled by this added motivation, Serena won the final after a loss of just 3 games. 

Serena then made 2 slam finals a year between 2008 and 2010, winning 5 of the 6 to win and then retaining the Australian Open and Wimbledon. 2011 was to be an injury-hit year for Serena but 2012 saw her win Wimbledon and the US Open, as well as an Olympic Gold Medal in singles, thrashing Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in the final as she showcased her superiority to every other player. Serena won 2 majors again in 2013, but in 2014 failed to make a Quarter-Final in the first 3 slams she played. However, she was then able to restore some normality by winning her 6th US Open, beating Wozniacki in the final. A 6th Australian Open and a 6th Wimbledon then came the following year, and in between that was a 3rd French Open title. By winning the 2015 Wimbledon, Serena for a second time held all 4 majors at once, thus completing her 2nd “Serena Slam”. It was her 8th successive major final victory, an outright record amongst the women. 

Serena again made 3 major finals in 2016, but this time was on the losing side for 2 of them, before capturing her 7th Wimbledon title to tie Graf’s Open Era record of 22 Grand Slams. Later that year Serena also equalled Graf’s record of 186 consecutive weeks ranked at number 1. In the 2017 Australian Open final, Serena faced off against sister Venus, in the first Open Era final between players both 35 or older. Serena later announced she was pregnant, and it was worked out that she had been roughly 7 to 8 weeks pregnant when lifting her Open Era record 23rd major. 

Serena returned to tennis the following year and reached 2 significant finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. The next year she reached both finals once more, but just like the previous year, she lost both in straight sets. Serena who before her pregnancy won 23 of 29 major finals, could no longer conquer her nerves in finals, and whilst in the past she rose to the occasion and played her best tennis, she was now playing her worst tennis in finals as she felt the pressure of trying to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24, taking in slams won before the Open Era. 

Serena reached a couple more slam semis but had to settle for holding the Open Era record for most slams as she officially retired at the 2022 US Open. Serena is the only woman to have won at least 50 matches at all 4 slams, having won 69 matches at Roland Garros and over 90 at the other 3. Serena won 73 career titles including 5 Tour Finals. She also won 23 titles in the doubles including 14 slams. 

Serena is known for her serve which is considered the greatest in the history of the women’s game. Not solely for its power, but also for its extremely accurate placement and the difficulty opponents have read it. The excellence of her serve then allows Serena to dominate the rally from the very first stroke, using her powerful groundstrokes to dictate the point. Her forehand in particular is known for the many winners it generates, but her backhand is equally respected as one of the best backhands of all time. Serena is also considered one of the greatest returners ever, due to her aggressive return game which allows her to neutralise first serves and crush typically weaker second serves. 

Serena will be remembered as perhaps the fiercest competitor the women’s game has ever seen, her mental strength and resiliency allowing her to fight back in many matches when seeming on the brink of defeat. 

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