All Posts by Mehrban

A Lesson from the 16th seed

5 Takeaways from the #16 Seed UMBC Retrievers

If any of you are college basketball fans, you might have heard the record breaking upset.

UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), the #16 seed in the NCAA tournament, defeated the #1 overall seed, University of Virginia, by a whopping 20 points.

I played college tennis at UMBC and am very proud of their record-breaking victory.

There’s a lot we as competitive tennis players can learn from UMBC’s stunning upset:

1. Throw seedings out the window

At the end of the day, a seed is just a number next to your name. It reflects the past, but not the present. Maybe your opponent did really well earlier in the year, but he/she hasn’t been training as often, or playing as well recently. Perhaps you have been training really hard and are actually a better player. Don’t let seeds psyche you out. Remember, its just a number. Otherwise, why even play the match?

2. Confidence through your training

Have you been working diligently on your game, improving your weaknesses and sharpening your strengths? Are you prepared for the match? Did you figure out a game plan, prepare your equipment, eat properly, and train your fitness? Then draw confidence from your training and preparation. You are ready to win! UMBC said after the game that they had the confidence they could topple UVA, and they did it.

3. Seize the victory

Many teams would try to run out the clock and hold on to the lead in UMBC’s situation. The Retrievers built up a sizeable 14-point lead early in the second half, but did they let up? No, they kept the pressure on, took their shots at the right times, and put away UVA. This is even more important in tennis, where there is no shot clock. Remember Isner-Mahut, 70-68 fifth set at Wimbledon? Keep focused on executing your strategy until you win match point.

4. Heart over Size

K.J. Maura is 5’8, but he didn’t let his size disadvantage stop him from wreaking havoc on UVA’s defense. Instead, he used his strengths, including his speed and competitive drive, to overcome that obstacle. Similarly, if you are facing an opponent with a huge serve or overpowering stature, your thought should not be “oh crap I’m doomed,” but “awesome, now let’s figure out how to defeat my opponent by using my strengths and exploiting his/her weaknesses.”

5. Playing in the Zone

The Retrievers were able to get into the optimal frame of mind, the perfect mix of intensity, relaxation, and fun on the court that let them play incredible basketball. This will be different for everyone, in terms of how serious, intense, and relaxed you need to be to play your best. Pay attention to your demeanor before and after matches, visualize success, and you’ll be on your way to performing better on the court and, every once in a while, playing in the zone.

There’s a lot to learn and be inspired about from UMBC’s victory, and I hope they keep this run going.

Now all they have to do is bring back the tennis team.

TFP 058: How to Hit Kick Serves with Ramon Osa

TFP 058: How to Hit Kick Serves with Ramon Osa

On today’s episode, I spoke with Ramon Osa from Osa Tennis 360 about how to hit kick serves.  Ramon is an expert at helping tennis players discover the fun in tennis, while showing them what they need to do to improve their technique and tactics.  Ramon is the founder of Osa Tennis 360, where he produces value-filled and fun tennis videos.  He also has an awesome Youtube channel with fantastic tips and advice.  Ramon believes that fun, along with the right system to develop world-class strokes and sound fundamentals, is the key to improving your tennis game.

We discussed technical aspects of the kick serve, how to toss the ball properly when hitting a kick serve, kick serve strategy, Ramon’s approach on how to learn this severely underused and often feared serve, and much more on Episode 58 of the The Tennis Files Podcast!

I hope you enjoy my interview with Ramon, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Time-Stamped Show Notes

  • [5:56] What is the kick serve, and how can it help us win tennis matches?
  • [9:07] Why are players uncomfortable hitting or trying to hit kick serves?
  • [11:05] At what level (NTRP rating) do players consistently use the kick serve?
  • [12:34] The number one thing that players do incorrectly when trying to hit a kick serve.
  • [13:41] How to be more relaxed when serving
  • [15:15] The technical differences between the kick serve and a flat or slice serve
  • [17:38] How we should toss the ball when we hit a kick serve.
  • [18:45] How should we approach developing our kick serve — piece by piece or as a whole?
  • [20:17] Ramon’s two favorite drills that teaches us how to hit a kick serve.
  • [22:28] How far forward should we lean into the court for kick serves?
  • [25:21] How often should we use the kick serve in tennis matches?
  • [27:26] Why we should use the kick serve more often in doubles matches
  • [23:18] One key tip to help us hit better kick serves
  • [30:52] How Ramon’s serve course helps tennis players develop their kick serves
  • [34:56] What is in the course, and how is it organized?
  • [38:44] Results Ramon’s players have achieved through his instruction and courses
  • [41:55] Advice to players who don’t believe they can develop a solid kick serve

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Links Mentioned in the Show

Osa Tennis 360 – Ramon’s website

Ramon’s Serve Course

Ramon’s Youtube Channel – Osa Tennis 360

Ramon’s Facebook Page

Tennis Technique Summit

Tennis Files Youtube Channel – Subscribe!  You know you want to 😉

If you enjoyed my interview with Ramon, subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app!

For more tips on how to improve your game, download a free copy of my eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success below! Thanks for listening!

11 Fitness Principles That Improved My Tennis Game

11 Fitness Principles for Competitive Tennis Players

In 2011, I learned an unforgettable lesson about the importance of fitness training.  The day after I took the bar exam, I played tennis and worked out as much as possible.   I had slaved away for the past 4 months studying 10+ hours a day, and come hell or highwater, I was going to make up for the lost time!  It proved to be a foolish move.  I wasn't fit enough to workout in the morning, play tennis for 2 hours, and workout again in the evening, but I tried to anyway. 

I still remember the moment I pushed up from the 9th rep of a high-bar squat during my evening workout, when I heard a crack.  My knee was in pain, and when I visited the doctor, he diagnosed me with a knee condition called chondromalacia.  Gulp. 🙁

I underwent several months of rehab exercises and weird knee creaking noises whenever I stood up from a seated position. It was during this time that I first understood how important it is to have an organized, goal-oriented, and sensible approach to fitness training.  Without it, I wouldn't be able to play the game that I love for much longer.

Tennis players routinely ignore and underestimate fitness training with well-thought out comments, such as "fitness doesn't matter bro, work on technique."  Fitness does matter, way more than the average tennis player comprehends.

This realization motivated me to become a certified Tennis Performance Trainer by the International Tennis Performance Association (iTPA).  I've also interviewed some of the greatest tennis fitness experts on the planet on my podcast, like Dr. Mark Kovacs, Todd EllenbeckerAllistair McCawDean Hollingworth, and Dominic King.  And I had the pleasure of attending the iTPA World Tennis Fitness Conference in July, where I met Andre Agassi's fitness coach Gil Reyes

There are several key fitness principles I've learned which, based on speaking to many of you in my audience and reading tennis forums, are either unknown or not practiced by much of the tennis community. Your talent will never be realized if you don't put in the work to level up your fitness.  Below are the 11 most important fitness principles that improved my tennis game.

1. You Need Fitness Training to Improve and Avoid Injuries

When you witness the incredible play of the top professionals, like Federer and Nadal, their amazing offensive and defensive plays would not be possible without fitness training.  In particular, the top players have all developed a world-class level of tennis-specific power.  Power is a combination of strength and speed.  When you see a player rip a forehand or explode up and into the serve, those are power movements.  All tennis players can improve their game by increasing their power output.  Great technique is extremely important, but when you are satisfied with your technique on a particular stroke, the next step to improving it is by developing more power. 

Another reason for fitness training is protecting yourself from injury.  Why do we get injured? There are many reasons, including overuse, muscle imbalances, and a lack of strength and/or flexibility.  When you increase your strength, you protect your body against injuries.  The same muscle that keeps getting pounded on the tennis court or when hitting the ball will be able to withstand many more reps without breaking down when you are stronger.  Think about it this way: the extra 30-45 minutes you put into fitness training a couple times a week can dramatically increase your chances of playing tennis injury-free, at a higher level, and for a lifetime. Does fitness training sound more appealing now?  

Think about all the injuries  that happened on the tour recently (Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, Novak Djokovic, Bethany Mattek-Sands, Milos Raonic, and the list goes on). The best in the world devote a significant amount of time to their fitness to prevent injuries and improve their performance.  It makes sense for us to do the same.

2. You Need a Long-Term, Goal-Oriented Workout Plan Before You Start Training

When I first started training to improve my tennis fitness, I went to the gym and did a bunch of random exercises with weights. It's a great first step, except I didn't have a long-term plan for how I wanted to improve physically.  Nor did I have a clue how the way I was training would impact my game. Was my 3 sets of 10 of bench press, squats, dumbbell flys and bicep curls going to result in increased muscle gains, strength, endurance, or power? Which muscles and tennis strokes would be most affected by my workout? What was the ultimate purpose of me training in the gym, and would I reach that goal with my routine?

Answer the following questions below to help you and your coach or fitness trainer create an optimal long-term training plan:

  1. Self-Assessment: What are your strengths, weaknesses, and physical limitations? 
  2. Timing: What part of the year do you need to reach your peak physical fitness levels?
  3. Sequence: When and in what order will you train for general fitness, strength, endurance, hypertrophy (muscle mass), and power (the ultimate goal)?
  4. Routine:  What exercises and how many repetitions/sets will you use during your workouts, and how many days per week will you train?
  5. Rest: When will you designate rest periods in between your workout days and training cycles?
  6. Debrief: How did your game improve as a result of your training, and what will you change differently for the next training cycle?

The fittest players have specific, long-term plans organized in phases (i.e. they periodize their training) so they peak for the biggest tournaments.   All too often the amateur tennis player sees a couple of exercises on Youtube and adds them to his or her routine without thinking about their effects.   You can't just randomly schlep together a few exercises and expect to be the next David Ferrer on the court in a few weeks. It can take several months or longer to reach peak performance levels, but it will be worth it when you are the fittest tennis player you've ever been in your life.

Use the criteria above to help you construct an effective long-term workout plan, or you can get my free tennis fitness workout guide to help you get started.  

3. Different Rep/Set/Weight Ranges Train Different Performance Goals

Another principle of fitness training that you may not realize is the effect of the number of sets, repetitions, and weight you use during training.  For example, lifting 3 sets of 10 repetitions with light weights will have a different effect on your body than 4 sets of 5 repetitions with heavy weights.  The amount of weight that fitness professionals suggest you lift is often based on your "one-rep max," which is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one repetition.  

I put together a simple graphic below to illustrate how many sets, reps, and the amount of weight you should use to train different areas of your fitness:  


Rep range: 4-8 repetitions

Sets: 3-5 

Weight: 70-90% of 1-rep max  


Reps: 6-12 repetitions

Sets: 3-4  

Weight: 60-80% of 1-rep max.


Rep range: 15-30 repetitions

Sets: 3-5 

Weight: 40-60% of 1-rep max


Rep range: 6 or less repetitions 

Sets: 3-5

Weight: 30-60% of 1-rep max

To figure out your one-rep maximum and receive free sample tennis workout routines, click here

A note of caution: you can also develop strength using less than four repetitions with heavier (over 90% 1RM) weights, but I especially recommend that you have a spotter and learn perfect technique on the exercises in this case, or you might injure yourself. Be careful!

4. The Type of Stretching Before and After You Play Are Totally Different

Dynamic stretching is far superior to static stretching before playing matches and training.   This type of stretching activates the muscles that will be used during play/training but does not involve holding the stretch at the end position like static stretching.  Examples of dynamic stretching are arm circles, knee to chest walk, and lateral lunges.  Before playing, I warm up my body with light jogging or the elliptical for 5 minutes or so, followed by dynamic stretching to activate my tennis muscles.  The proper time to perform static stretching (i.e. lying hamstring stretch, pec stretch) is after training and/or competition.  

There are numerous studies (thank you, science!) concluding that power output from athletes is substantially lower if static stretching is performed pre-competition rather than dynamic stretching.  The reduced performance from static stretching has been shown to last for 60 minutes.  Power is an extremely important component of tennis and the science shows that dynamic stretching will enhance athletic performance in place of static stretching.  

I have committed to my dynamic and static stretching more than ever this past year with fantastic results.  Here's my routine for pre and post-match preparation/recovery:

  1. General warm-up (i.e. jog, bike)
  2. Dynamic Stretching (i.e. knee to chest, lunges, arm circles)
  3. Play Tennis or Physical Training
  4. Static Stretching (i.e. shoulder stretch, quadricep stretch)
  5. Other Recovery Techniques (i.e. massage, foam roll, ice bath)

You can check out Episode 57 of The Tennis Files Podcast to hear me talk about my warm-up routines in more detail.  

5. Weight Training Does NOT Make You Slow and Inflexible if You Implement the Right Training Program

It's not the weights that can make you slow, it's the way you train.  One of the main goals of a resistance training program for tennis players is to develop maximal power output with a small amount of weight (i.e. swinging your tennis racquet).  However, if your workout routine is not properly designed for developing power, then you may end up becoming slower on the court.  For example, using a set/rep scheme of 4 sets of 15 reps with light weights or 5 sets of 5 reps with a very heavy weight without a power or agility/speed phase in your long-term training plan could set you back a step or two.

This is why you have to understand the different ways that training variables affect your physical abilities.  See #3 above for the effect of different set/rep/weight schemes on your physical training.  A properly structured long-term training plan will help you be more explosive and fitter on the court.  Either you or a qualified trainer must choose the right mix of exercises and parameters that will get you quicker, faster, stronger, and fitter by the time your big tournaments or USTA league matches take place. This handy tennis fitness workout guide I created for you will help you get started.

6. Your Fitness Affects Your Technique More Than You Think

Tennis technique and a fit body and mind are intertwined.  In tennis, you must perform the same technical movements over and over again with similar power outputs to play optimally on the court.  Has your technique ever gone down the tubes after fatigue set in?  I'm sure that just about every player on the planet has.  But if you implement the right exercises and a proper rep/set/weight and work-rest ratios in your training, you can maintain and improve your technique during long matches.  Good technique is about having the strength to perform a movement efficiently through the entire range of motion over and over again.  If you have a shoulder injury or a tight lower back, you won't be able to perform proper technique once, let alone hundreds of times during the course of a couple sets.  

Another example is the loading phase of the serve.  Have you wondered why you or other players aren't able to get into an optimal loading position like the pros do? There's a good chance this is due to inflexibility, lack of strength, and/or muscle imbalances as much as it could be a lack of proper technical knowledge.  Injury prevention, improved power output on the court, and the ability to perform at a high-level for a long period of time are all benefits of a proper tennis fitness regimen that can also make a huge difference in your technique.   And don't make your age an excuse, because you can always improve your physical qualities with consistent effort and dedication!  

7. Tennis Technique is All About Using Your Kinetic Chain Efficiently

From the moment I interviewed Dr. Kovacs on my podcast, I became a huge fan.  He is one of the most knowledgeable sports performance experts on the planet, and that's no exaggeration.  One of his most well-known research papers is about the 8-stage model of the tennis serve.  Mark's session on the Tennis Technique Summit that I hosted several months ago was the most watched of all 30 coaches.  The 8-stage model of the tennis serve explains how the optimal serve can only be achieved through a total body effort in specific phases, starting from the lower body upwards.  If a link in the chain is broken (under-rotation of the hips, for example), the player will lose power and acceleration.  

The kinetic chain applies to all tennis strokes.  And what you see on the court every day, especially from the 2.5-4.0 levels, is players arming their strokes.  Most people think about using the arms first, which makes sense.  It is reasonable to assume that you swing the racquet and hit the ball with your arm.  But then the rest of the body will not contribute to the stroke, as it must do to achieve full power.   Dr. Kovacs's research paper breaks down the serve into the following phases: (1) Preparation (2) Release (3) Loading (4) Cocking (5) Acceleration (6) Contact (7) Deceleration (8) Finish.  It is a very enlightening read, and I highly recommend you check it out.  You must use your kinetic chain if you want to have efficient and effective tennis strokes.

8. Train Based on Your Style of Play and Your Strengths/Weaknesses

What's your style of play?  If you grind at the baseline, but your footwork training is exclusively sprints, that's not smart training.  In fact, baseliners move laterally about 70% of the time.  Similarly, if you only train your chest and back in the gym, you are neglecting far more important power sources, like your core and lower body.  Here's an example of training for your style of play: if you serve and volley, you should perform lunges in different directions, since lunges are a very sport-specific move for volleying. If you lack flexibility, you need to concentrate on performing an adequate amount of stretches (dynamic pre-training, static post-training).  Lately, I've recognized that my left IT band tends to get tight, so I focus on stretching and foam rolling that area more frequently.

It is always important to ask yourself why you are performing an exercise or training.   Gil Reyes told a group of us in Atlanta that Andre Agassi always asked Gil the simple question "Why?" when Gil told Andre to perform an exercise.  Andre wanted to know the purpose of each exercise he was asked to perform and how they would help his game.  You have to ask yourself the same question.  Bicep curls help you look good on the beach, but how do they fit into your overall tennis fitness goals?  Make your fitness program specific to your playing style.

9. Intake Enough Fluids, Sodium, and Carbohydrates Before, During, and After Matches

So you're going to play a tournament match and all you're drinking is water? You cannot be serious!  It's fairly common knowledge that we all need to hydrate properly. But most people ignore the importance of sodium and carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates are your main source of fuel during points, and sodium is the primary electrolyte lost in sweat.  

Part of the iTPA certification course I took highlighted that we should intake 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during a match, and consume a drink with 70mg or more of sodium per 8 fluid ounces.  Since I have followed these two guidelines over the past several months, I have experienced a substantial boost in energy on the court during my matches.  I always pack a Cliff Bar and a Gatorade (or Pedialyte if it's really hot) along with water to help me through my matches.  I also like to bring bananas, dates, and pretzels if I have them.

10. Sleep is the Most Important Aspect of Recovery

Did you know that you don't build muscles while you train, you build them while you sleep?  I urge you not to fall into the trap of seeing a few celebrities or your friends boast about sleeping under 6 hours a night and think you can function optimally with the same amount of sleep deprivation. A 2011 study of the Stanford Men's Basketball team, where the players slept 10 hours a night, resulted in faster sprint times, a 9% increase in free-throw accuracy, and a 9.2% increase in three-point accuracy.  In a game of razor-thin margins, this makes a huge difference.  

Two of the greatest athletes of all-time don't play around with their sleep either: basketball superstar Lebron James averages 12 hours of sleep per night, and some relatively-unknown tennis legend-dude named Roger Federer gets around 10 hours of sleep per night.  I have experimented with sleeping under 7 hours versus 8 or more hours after my matches, and I feel way more recovered and less sore after getting more sleep.  Everyone is different, so figure out what works best for you.  If you want to fully recover from your matches, get enough sleep!

11. Consistency is Key: Start Small and Work Up

The most important aspect of a fitness program is sticking to it.  What's a better program: two thirty-minute lifting sessions per week that you can maintain, or four days of 1-hour lifting sessions that you only stick to for 2 weeks and then go back to eating cheetos on the couch?  The answer is pretty clear.  The easiest way to stick to a workout plan is to start small.  If you feel pressed for time, make it a goal to workout for 20-30 minutes twice a week.  This small goal is so manageable that the chances of you sticking to it is very high.  Then once you get used to a consistent workout schedule, you can add another day in, and/or increase the time of your workouts as needed.  

This principle reminds me of the story of the guy who hated to floss. A friend of his suggested that he try to floss just one tooth a day.  While this sounds ridiculous, it was so easy to do, so the guy started flossing one tooth a day consistently. This small victory encouraged the guy to floss more teeth, until he ended up flossing all his teeth every day.  Lesson learned: above all else, choose a workout you can consistently perform and scale up from there.

I hope that the 11 most important fitness principles that improved my tennis game will help you become a fitter, more improved tennis player.  Pick one of the principles above that resonated with you the most, implement that concept into your fitness habits, and let me know how it works out for you.  

If there is a tennis fitness principle that has helped your game that you didn't see on the list, let us know what it is by leaving a comment below.  And if you have any questions, email me at

To download a free sample tennis workout guide that I created to help you become fitter and avoid injuries, click here or fill out the short form below! Thanks for reading, and keep improving your tennis game!

TFP 057: Top 10 Things That Improved My Game in 2017

TFP 057: Top 10 Things That Improved My Game in 2017

On today’s show, I reveal the top 10 things that improved my tennis game in 2017.  It’s always critical to periodically examine your progress so that you can figure out what is working and what you may need to change to become a better tennis player.  I sat down and made a list of things that I did differently in 2017, and then marked the top 10 of those changes to discuss on the podcast.  I encourage you to pick one or two of the things I mention on the show, try them out, and see how it works for you.  Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy this episode!

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Links Mentioned in the Show

Tennis Fitness Workout Guide

SMART Goals Guide

Cliff Bars – White Chocolate Macadamia

Progress Planner

Tennis Technique Summit

International Tennis Performance Association

Why Dynamic Stretching is Superior to Static Stretching Before Competition

Tennis Files Youtube Channel – Subscribe!  You know you want to 😉

Note: Some of the links above are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase after clicking them, I make one-hundred-billion dollars a small commission that helps support the podcast. Thanks either way! 🙂

If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app!

To improve your tennis fitness, download a free sample workout plan here! Thanks for listening!

TFP 056: Speed, Power, and Plyometrics with Dean Hollingworth

TFP 056: Speed, Power, and Plyometrics with Dean Hollingworth

On today’s show, I spoke with sports performance coach Dean Hollingworth about how we can train to become stronger, fitter, and faster tennis players and athletes.  I first met Dean while eating breakfast before the World Tennis and Fitness Conference, hosted by the International Tennis Performance Association.  Dean gave a fantastic presentation about plyometrics, and I knew that he would be the perfect guest for the podcast.

Dean is the Director of Fitness and Sports Performance at Club Sportif Cote-de-Liesse (CDL) in Montreal, Canada. He has over 25 years of experience in the health and fitness industry, and is a highly regarded author, speaker, and fitness and performance consultant.  Dean is the only strength and conditioning coach in Canada to be certified as a Master Tennis Performance Specialist by the iTPA.  He is also a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Speed and Agility Coach, and worked as the S&C coach for Canada’s Fed Cup team win against Serbia in 2014.  Dean coaches a wide gamut of athletes, including professional tennis players such as Elena Vesnina and Francoise Abanda.

We spoke about why strength and power training is essential for your tennis career, exercises to increase your strength, power and movement, why plyometrics is a great way to improve your speed and power on the court, Dean’s experience as part of Elena Vesnina’s team, and much more.

I hope you enjoy my interview with Dean, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Time-Stamped Show Notes

  • [3:59] Why focusing on our fitness training is so important in helping us become better tennis players
  • [5:05] The specific benefits we get from fitness training for tennis
  • [6:34] How Dean became a world-class fitness and sports performance coach
  • [8:31] Associations and conferences that helped Dean expand his tennis fitness knowledge
  • [9:45] Dean’s first exposure to tennis.
  • [11:19] Why tennis is the hardest sport to train athletes for
  • [14:47] Should we use undulating periodization in our training?
  • [16:29] Why we must decide when we want to peak, or else we won’t improve
  • [17:54] The biggest mistakes that tennis players make in the gym
  • [19:45] Dean’s favorite thing about being a fitness coach
  • [20:53] Examples of tennis players Dean trained that focused seriously on their fitness and had a huge improvement on their game
  • [22:21] Dispelling the myth that weight training is bad for your tennis game
  • [24:53] Part of the body tennis players need to improve the most
  • [26:31] The importance of “heavy lifts” i.e. deadlifts, squats, and bench press, and why single leg training is so critical
  • [29:32] How many days per week to perform fitness training, and considerations when creating a program
  • [31:34] Tips for training on the road and in faraway places with little equipment
  • [33:30] Exercises for speed training
  • [34:57] How long does each set last for speed training?
  • [36:18] What is plyometrics and how can it help our speed on the court?
  • [39:15] How to integrate plyometrics with speed training
  • [41:03] Plyometrics technique tips
  • [42:00] Plyometrics exercises you can perform to improve your speed
  • [44:47] How many reps per set should we perform for plyometrics?
  • [46:07] Key principles to help us do plyometrics the right way?
  • [48:10] If an athlete is deficient in a certain area, and you focus on that more so in their training, once they are proficient in it, do you then reduce focus on that area and train everything equally again?
  • [49:36] Static stretching routine and optimal number of exercises
  • [51:05] Dean’s advice for improving our endurance on court
  • [53:02] Should we do heavier lifts in certain parts of the season, such as squats, deadlifts, and bench press, or all-year round?
  • [54:09] Dean’s experience as part of Elena Vesnina’s team at the US Open a few months ago and Elena’s professionalism 
  • [55:06] How Dean became a part of Elena’s team
  • [56:08] What type of fitness training Elena do before and during the US Open?
  • [57:17] How do we choose which exercise to use in our training when there are many different types and variations?
  • [58:16] Dean’s favorite memory of the US Open as part of Elena Vesnina’s team
  • [1:00:22] Dean’s experience at Tennis Congress in Arizona last month
  • [1:03:09] Dean’s plans to continue working with Elena
  • [1:03:46] Dean’s new tennis fitness video course he’s working on
  • [1:05:44] Where we can follow Dean live and online
  • [1:06:39] One key piece of advice to help you improve your tennis game

Subscribe to automatically download new episodes!

Subscribe on iTunes Button

Click this icon, click the blue “View in iTunes” button, then hit “Subscribe.”


Subscribe on Android

Or hit the subscribe button in your favorite podcast app!


Right Click Here to Download the MP3

Links Mentioned in the Show

Sample Workout Plan

Dean’s Website

Dean’s Facebook Page

Contact Dean

Dean’s Twitter Page

Dean’s Instagram Page

Tennis Technique Summit

Tennis Files Youtube Channel – Subscribe!  You know you want to 😉

If you enjoyed my interview with Dean, subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app!

To improve your tennis fitness, download a free sample workout plan here! Thanks for listening!

1 8 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Obsess Over USTA Ratings

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Obsess Over USTA Ratings


Many USTA league players drive themselves crazy over NTRP ratings. And I don’t blame them.  The NTRP rating is supposed to be a reflection of the year you had and determines what leagues you can play in.  It’s also fun to anticipate how your match results and  a computer algorithm assesses your game.

But in reality, you shouldn’t care about your USTA rating.  Here are 8 reasons why:

1. Ratings are an imperfect science

There’s no question in my mind that USTA tried to come up with the best formula it could to determine NTRP ratings.  After all, with more than 300,000 USTA league players, there’s no way USTA can go through each person’s record with a fine-tooth comb.  That being said, I wouldn’t take your NTRP rating as a truly accurate reflection of your year.  Because sometimes people’s year-end ratings don’t make sense.

Several of my friends have had the following seemingly illogical ratings determinations:

  1. Went 9-0 in sectionals and nationals and stayed a 4.5
  2. Went 1-1 on the year with 1 default, and got bumped down to a 4.0 (former D1 college player)
  3. Went to Nationals and defeated top 5.0 players multiple times but got bumped down to a 4.5
  4. Went 64-12 and didn’t get bumped up

I’m sure you or your USTA league friends have similar examples.  If you do, post them in the comments below! The point is that getting bumped up or down doesn’t necessarily reflect how you did over the course of the year.

2. It distracts you and your partner during matches

I have many wonderful tennis friends who are constantly thinking about how each match will potentially affect their USTA rating.  I’ve been in several doubles matches where my partner has said something to the effect of “If we win 6-0, this will screw up our rating for next year!” Arrrgh! The statement itself may be true, but it’s clear that the NTRP rating, for many, poses too much of a distraction during matches.

When you play tennis matches, your goal should be to play your best and give 100% each and every time on the court (a rant to come on that below).  Like my college coach Keith Puryear (Episode 2 of the podcast) always says, “focus on the process, not the result.”  Any time you start thinking about how your match will affect your rating, you are robbing yourself of optimal play and wasting energy and focus on something that a computer has most of the control over.

3. It causes tanking and enrages my soul

I love all my USTA friends.  But I truly hate how some of them will straight up throw matches to try and not get bumped up. If I play you and you tank, you have not only wasted your time and money, but more importantly to me, my time and money.  I think that we should constantly try to improve ourselves and our tennis game.  But if you tank matches, you train your body to perform at suboptimal levels by decreasing your intensity and competitive drive.

This is also why, per #1 above, ratings can be inaccurate.  Let’s say a league player, we’ll call her, Ivanna Tankalot, destroys everyone at 4.5, and then tanks a few matches at the end of the year against weak players and ends up staying at 4.5 (congratu-freakin-lations, Ivanna!).  Is 4.5 her truly deserved ranking? Or should she be bumped up to 5.0 because she is fully capable of playing at that level and will be competitive with the 5.0s?  I think you know the answer, and Ivanna you to post your thoughts by commenting below (do you see what I did there?).

4. You will lose out on playing better competition

Sure, winning is fun.  But to me, playing against higher-level competition that will push you to play your best is a lot more fun, regardless of the result.  I’ve been a 5.0 for several years, but looking back on my last 4.5 season where I never lost a 4.5 men’s match, I much prefer the higher level competition.  There were many matches in 4.5  where I was on autopilot, or knew I just had to hit 5 balls in and I’d get a short ball to pound on.  Coasting will do nothing for my game or yours.  I promise you that the better players you play, and more often, the better a player you will become (now I sound like Yoda).  I guarantee you that your focus and intensity will level up a notch.

I know many of you will say, even if we protect our rating and stay at the same level, we’ll face higher competition when we get to Nationals anyway!  But what’s going to improve your game more, playing a top 4.5 player 1-2 times a year, or playing 5.0s all year round?  And I don’t blame you for wanting to get to Nationals.  After all, it is a very memorable experience.  But I’d rather become a better tennis player, and feel the joy of an improved skill set, over destroying people at 4.5 for the next 15 years.

5. It can mess with your well-being

This isn’t talked about much, but I know there are players out there who are depressed because they cannot increase their rating by .5 to 1 point after several years of trying.  This is certainly not good for your health or tennis game.  And after a while, it can cause you to feel overwhelming pressure during matches.  During the crucial moments of a match, you do not want to think about how crucial it is to win, because most of us will get tight and play horrible if we do that.

The best thing you can do for your game is to focus on your long-term improvement.  Sure, maybe the computer rated you a 4.0 again.  But how does your game feel over the past few months?  Are you training optimally, and giving it 100% effort during practices and matches?  Are you implementing good strategy during your matches?  What parts of your game has improved?  Ask yourself these questions, ignore your NTRP rating (except when you sign up for leagues 🙂 ), and everything will take care of itself.

6. You will waste time and energy

People spend tons of hours, some almost every day, thinking about ratings.  Why should you care?  Instead, focus on improving your game.  I can tell you that most of the 5.0s and 5.5s I play with do not give a damn about their rating.  They go on the court to crush people.  This is how you should be, too.  Think of all the things you could do instead of thinking about this stuff.  You could:

  1. Think about tennis strategy
  2. Learn a new language
  3. Go to the gym
  4. Practice your lifelong dream of becoming a hula-hoop champion
  5. Work on your serve

The point is that we as human beings have a limited capacity to focus and make decisions, and you should use it on things that matter, instead of obsessing about USTA ratings.

7. More equal matchups and variety of teams advancing to sectionals/nationals

Without the obsession over ratings and match-tanking, more people would be moved to the proper level they should play at.  If you have multiple top-level players that destroy their opponents but throw matches, and are able to stay at that level, this is not fair for the rest of the player pool.  The top players should be bumped up, otherwise they will continue to dominate a level for which they are too good to be playing.  It’s a good thing the 3-person nationals team rule is in place, otherwise you would have the same teams dominate each year (instead of every other year like it is now).

And think about the longevity of USTA leagues before you argue that there isn’t anything wrong with the same groups of players winning so often.  If other players see the same teams win each year and think the system is flawed, they will drop out of USTA leagues.  Could this be a reason for the stagnation of the USTA league player base? I think so. Best of luck playing against ghosts in a few years.

8. The world will be a better place

If people didn’t obsess about USTA ratings, there would be:

  1. No tanking matches
  2. No staying up until 2am to see the year-end rankings
  3. No 80 comment-deep facebook posts about ratings
  4. Everyone would focus more on improving their tennis games
  5. More players would play at the level they really should play at

I hope that the above points make you think twice about putting so much importance into USTA ratings.  It’s fun and entertaining, but can really take away from your overall improvement and even cause harm to the USTA leagues and its players.  And whatever you do, do not tank matches.  Don’t. do. it.

For more tips to improve your tennis game, get a free copy of my eBook: The Building Blocks of Tennis Success by subscribing to my free newsletter below!


TFP 055: James Blake — How to Unite Through Activism

TFP 055: James Blake — How to Unite Through Activism

On today’s show, I had the honor of speaking with James Blake, former ATP world #4, about his new book Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity, and How Sports Can Bring Us Together.  James has amassed 10 singles titles, appeared in 24 singles finals, and beaten some of the greatest tennis players in the world, including Rafael Nadal, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, and Andy Roddick.  I was fortunate enough to connect with James and speak with him while he was in LA commentating on the ATP 1000 Shanghai Masters tournament.

One of the things that stood out the most about James to me was his class on the court.  When my dad and I used to watch James play in DC at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic (now the Citi Open), he would thank the ballkids every time they gave him tennis balls or fetched him a towel.  James also had one of the biggest forehands on tour, which he used to propel himself up the ranks into the top 5 of the ATP Tour.  James continues to impress off the court as well with his second book, Ways of Grace, which he wrote ten years after his first book, Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life.

James discusses the incredible athletes in Ways of Grace that have spoken out for a cause, the most difficult time in James’s career, James’s secret weapon for coming back from difficult times, when James experienced discrimination on tour, and more on Episode 55 of The Tennis Files Podcast.  Special thanks to GetCharly for helping set up my interview with James! You should definitely check out this fantastic app if you haven’t yet!

I hope you enjoy my interview with James, and let us know what you think by leaving a comment below this post!

Time-Stamped Show Notes

  • [2:30] How writing James’s second book, Ways of Grace, was a completely different experience from his first book Breaking Back
  • [4:10] What James wants readers to get out of reading Ways of Grace
  • [6:04] The incredible athletes that James discusses in his book
  • [7:26] Why famous individuals should speak out about what they believe in, and the possible repercussions of doing so
  • [10:11] One of James’s favorite athletes and what she did to advance society
  • [12:05] Times when James experienced discrimination on the ATP Tour
  • [14:15] James’s toughest moment in his career and how he persevered through that adversity

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Links Mentioned in the Show

Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity, and How Sports Can Bring Us Together – James’s new book

Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life – James’s first book

James’s Facebook Page

James’s Twitter Page

GetCharly App 

Tennis Technique Summit

Tennis Files Youtube Channel – Subscribe!  You know you want to 😉

Note: Some of the links above are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase after clicking them, I make one-hundred-billion dollars a small commission that helps support the podcast. Thanks either way! 🙂

If you enjoyed my interview with James, subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app!

For more tips on how to improve your game, download a free copy of my eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success below! Thanks for listening!

TFP 054: How to Become Champion Minded with Allistair McCaw

TFP 054: How to Become Champion Minded with Allistair McCaw

On today’s show, I spoke with sports performance specialist Allistair McCaw about how we can become Champion Minded.  Allistair was a guest on the podcast on Episode 11 of TFP, when we chatted about developing world class athletes. Allistair recently published his newest book, Champion Minded: An Athlete’s Guide to Achieving Excellence in Sports and Life with Jenny W. Robb.

Allistair is also the owner of The McCaw Method, a former professional athlete, and trains many world class athletes, including US Open Finalist Kevin Anderson (ranked as high as #10 in the world).  Allistair walks the walk, with multiple top 5 finishes in the World Duathlon Championships, completing 12 marathons in 12 months, and winning South Africa’s fittest man competition among his many accomplishments.

We speak about the importance of vision, why your morning routine can set up the rest of your day for success, how Kevin Anderson exhibits the traits of being Champion Minded, why you need resilience and grit to achieve your goals, and much more on Episode 54 of The Tennis Files Podcast.

I hope you enjoy my interview with Allistair, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Time-Stamped Show Notes

  • [2:25] Did it get any easier for Allistair to write his second book, Champion Minded, after his first book (7 Keys to Being a Great Coach)?
  • [4:16] Allistair’s inspiration for writing Champion Minded
  • [6:06] The importance of vision, and how Allistair guides his athletes to developing the right vision that will help them achieve their goals
  • [8:04] Why Allistair stuck a sign above his bed as a young kid that said “Allistair McCaw – World Champion” and other encouraging signs
  • [9:54] How to overcome laziness and the feeling of wanting to be comfortable so you can make the right decision
  • [12:14] Allistair’s morning routine
  • [15:24] Why Allistair has kept a training journal since he was 11, and the type of information to record in it
  • [18:14] Why Athletes digest information best in short doses and how that influenced the structure of Champion Minded
  • [20:55] Why competing is what athletes have trouble with the most
  • [22:35] How Kevin Anderson exhibits the traits of being Champion Minded?
  • [24:16] Allistair’s most memorable moments with Kevin and the team during the US Open finals against Rafael Nadal
  • [26:43] The importance of grit and resilience and how to develop it to help you achieve your goals
  • [29:14] Why reading Champion Minded will help you perform better on the court and in life


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Links Mentioned in the Show

Champion Minded: An Athlete’s Guide to Achieving Excellence in Sports and Life – Allistair’s new book

Allistair’s Website

McCaw Method Facebook Page

Allistair’s Email Address

Allistair’s Twitter Page

McCaw Method Performance Products

TFP 011: How Allistair McCaw Develops World Class Athletes

Tennis Technique Summit

Tennis Files Youtube Channel – Subscribe!  You know you want to 😉

Note: Some of the links above are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase after clicking them, I make one-hundred-billion dollars a small commission that helps support the podcast. Thanks either way! 🙂

If you enjoyed my interview with Allistair, subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app!

For more tips on how to improve your game, download a free copy of my eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success below! Thanks for listening!

FPWR Doubles Invitational Pro-Am

Chiu/Beck Win Doubles Invitational for Prader-Willi Syndrome Research

Over the weekend, I had the honor of playing in a doubles invitational tournament to benefit the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research (FPWR). The invitational was held at Chantilly National Country Club and had a star-studded field, including former top collegiate players and ranked ATP-tour players.  More importantly though, the event’s purpose was deeper than lifting a trophy or collecting prize money: it was held to raise money for those in need of help.

I had only heard of Prader-Willi syndrome a couple times, but didn’t know much about the condition.  Prader-Willi syndrome is a genetic disorder that occurs in about one out of every 15,000 births.  It is recognized as the most common genetic cause of life-threatening childhood obesity.  Those born with the syndrome generally have small hands and feet, abnormal growth and body composition (small stature, very low lean body mass, and early-onset childhood obesity), weak muscles at birth, insatiable hunger, extreme obesity and intellectual disability.

The tournament was hosted by my friend and former assistant coach at UMBC, Matt Bilger, who I interviewed on Episode 43 of The Tennis Files Podcast.  Matt is the Director of Tennis at Chantilly National Country Club. There were 10 solid teams in the draw, and prize money to play for as well: $200 for the quarterfinals, $600 for the semis, $900 for the finalists, and $1.5k for the champions.

FPWR Doubles Invitational Bracket

FPWR Doubles Invitational Bracket

My friend Victor, who I played college tennis with at UMBC back in the day, teamed up with me for the event. We had to play a match on Friday evening to determine who would reach the quarterfinals and secure a couple Benjamin Franklins ($200).  Funny enough, Victor and I drew Matt and his friend Nathan Crick, who won 86 singles matches and 103 doubles match while playing under former UVA coach Brian Boland at Indiana State University.

We played the match at Country Club of Fairfax, on indoor red clay, which I had never played (and never expected to play on) in my life. Matt and Nathan took it to us in the first set, winning it 6-1.  They were playing aggressively, and we couldn’t get much of a rhythm going. Fortunately, in the second set we made a couple adjustments (staying two back when Victor was returning), I started hitting my forehand much more aggressively and deeper, and Victor was a stud at the net.  We won the second set 6-1.  The third was a seesaw battle and we were fortunate to win a couple more points in the end, winning the third 7-5.

Indoor Red Clay

My topspin forehand didn’t mind this court 🙂

Nobuyoshi Tanaka, who used to play at the same club Victor and I did many years back, and his partner Austin Brawley defeated Erik-Jan de Heide and Eu Han Lee.  We finished around 9pm on Friday and headed back home (after a quick stop at a random Beer Garden (Biertgarden?) in Fairfax of course!).

The quarterfinals began at 9am with some fantastic matchups.  Chris Chiu, a former player at the University of Maryland and top junior in the area, teamed up with former Virginia Tech Hokie Will Beck (#55 D1 doubles ranking) to defeat Tanaka/Lee in straight sets.  Alex Seleznev, another top ranked collegiate doubles player who played for Old Dominion, got the best of Kenyon College player Henry Barrett and current ATP pro Xander Centenari.  Centenari’s career high rankings are 1200 in singles and 535 in doubles.

On the bottom-half of the draw, Paul Burgin, another Kenyon College standout, and former UVA Ace Justin Shane defeated Boris Fetbroyt and Brendan Kincaid 6-4 6-4.   Burgin played #1 at Kenyon, was a 2-time All-American, and reached #4 in singles and #19 in doubles in the DIII collegiate rankings. Shane was ranked as high as #37 nationally in singles and #9 in doubles in college, and achieved ATP rankings of #806 in singles and #577 in doubles.  Fetbroyt played D1 tennis at the University of Maryland and was ranked top 10 nationally as a junior in the 18s division.  We actually played a match against each other at a national tournament in New York as 14 year-olds.  Kincaid is the head tennis coach at Goucher College, was awarded the ITA National Assistant Coach of the Year after the 2009-2010 season, and is a very impressive player as well.

Victor and I had a tough match on our hands.  Our opponents were Andrew Carlson and John Mook.  Carlson played college tennis at Ohio State before playing on the ATP Tour.  Carlson reached career highs of 833 in singles and 475 in doubles. He qualified for the Citi Open (formerly Legg Mason Tennis Classic) several times, and once lost a close 6-4 6-4 match against Andy Roddick and Brian Vahaly with his partner Chris Groer.  Mook is one of the best players that Christopher Newport University has ever had and was inducted into its hall of fame in 2015.

I had played against both Mook and Carlson numerous times in USTA 5.0 leagues, and knew Victor and I needed to play extremely well to have a chance.  Unfortunately for us, that didn’t happen.  Carlson was blasting serves at 120+ as usual, and Mook played very solid doubles.  We did have a 15-40 break chance on Carlson in the first set, and on Mook in the second set, but they came up with some great plays to block out our efforts.  We lost 6-2 6-1, but really enjoyed the high-level of play and the great atmosphere.

FPWR Quarterfinalist Prize Money

Prize money for reaching the quarterfinals

After the match, all the participants gathered to snack on a continental breakfast-style spread and relax a bit.  Then Matt and Alex Lerner, a friendly teaching pro, held a clinic for the event attendees. The tournament players, including yours truly, had a lot of fun on court and played a bunch of games with the attendees.

FPWR Clinic

The clinic participants had game!

We headed back to the covered seating area (I know there’s a term for this but can’t remember it!) after the clinic and had some lunch and drinks.

After lunch, we watched some fantastic semifinal action.  Chiu/Beck won a tight 6-2 7-6 battle against Seleznev/Kemp, who caught fire in the second set and came up just short. Burgin/Shane notched a tough 6-4 6-3 victory against Mook/Carlson.

Doubles Invitational Semifinals - Beck/Chiu vs Kemp/Seleznev

Semifinals Action – Beck/Chiu vs Kemp/Seleznev

Once the semis ended, most of the pros and the crowd participated in the Pro-Am.  A pro-am is short for pro-amateur, where a pro will team up with an amateur and play several rounds of matches.  My partner was Felix, who used to be a professional badminton player, and supplied the fantastic signs for the event.

We had a lot of fun, and I enjoyed giving him a few tips.  He improved his play as the pro-am went on, which was really cool to see. Interesting enough I learned from Felix that the majority of badminton shots are like volleys, which is why he wasn’t use to following through on his shots.  We agreed that him rushing the net would be a good strategy given his badminton pedigree.


FPWR Pro-Am Participants

The pro-am was a blast, and afterwards everyone ate dinner and had a drink or three (you know who you are 🙂 ).

Alcohol Doubles Invitational

Did I mention they had alcohol?


Around 5:30pm, Matt and Jason Waldrop, an FPWR representative, spoke about the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research and that they raise between 3-5 million dollars a year to help those with the syndrome, which is an incredible effort.

Chiu/Beck proved their placement as the first line in the draw to be the right one, as they won against Burgin/Shane in the final.


FPWR Doubles Invitational Championship Match

The Championship Match – Shane/Burgin and Beck/Chiu with Bilger

The event was just about everything anyone could ask for.  High-level tennis with great people, all-you-can eat food and drinks (my dream scenario), all for a great cause.

Thanks to Matt and FPWR for putting on the event, the Mook family for all their contributions, the awesome shirts from Reston Shirt and Graphics Company, all the sponsors, the club members from Chantilly National, the players, and the crowd that came out to watch.  I’m definitely looking forward to next year, and highly encourage you to donate to FPWR to help them combat Prader-Willi syndrome.

Until then, I’ll be working hard on my serve and volleys so we can get a little deeper in the draw next time 🙂

TFP 053: Citi Open Recap with Ben Rothenberg

TFP 053: Citi Open Recap with Ben Rothenberg

On today’s episode, Ben Rothenberg, New York Times Writer and host of the No Challenges Remaining Podcast, recapped the 2017 Citi Open with me on championship Sunday. Ben travels the globe to cover tennis tournaments, and he is one of the most knowledgeable journalists in the world about the ATP and WTA tours.  One thing I didn’t know about Ben is how excellent of a spelling bee contest host he is when it rains at tennis tournaments 🙂

Ben and I discussed the most impressive players of the tournament, the championship matches featuring Alexander Zverev, Kevin Anderson, Ekaterina Makerova and Julia Goerges, controversies at the Citi Open (Jack Sock “worst court on the tour” cough cough), and other interesting factoids about the men’s and women’s tours.  I definitely had a blast hearing the opinions and insights from Ben, and I know you will enjoy the interview, especially if you like hearing the latest about the ATP and WTA.

I hope you enjoy my interview with Ben, and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Time-Stamped Show Notes

  • [2:48] General thoughts about the 2017 Citi Open
  • [3:55] Biggest surprise of the tournament
  • [5:03] Most impressive players on the women’s side
  • [6:37] Effect of the long schedule on the seeded players’ poor performances
  • [7:22] Dimitrov’s early upset and Medvedev’s confrontation with Johnson
  • [10:05] Jack Sock calls Citi Open’s stadium court the worst court on tour
  • [12:21] Assessing Sock’s mental toughness and future potential
  • [13:59] An impressive run to the finals for Kevin Anderson
  • [15:37] Hardest working pros on tour
  • [16:48] When do players get paid appearances fees to play in tournaments?
  • [21:00] The Kontinen/Peers vs Melo/Kubot championship match and Melo coaching Zverev
  • [22:30] The future of the Bryan Brothers
  • [24:03] Thoughts on Julia Goerges and her solid run to the finals
  • [24:34] Ben’s crazy travel schedule to cover pro tournaments
  • [26:30] No Challenges Remaining podcast
  • [27:46] Where we can find Ben on social media

Subscribe to automatically download new episodes!

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Links Mentioned in the Show

Tennis Files Youtube Channel – Check out the vlogs and interview I did at the Citi Open!

No Challenges Remaining Podcast

Ben’s Twitter Page

Citi Open Tournament

If you enjoyed my interview with Ben, subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app!

And be sure to check out my vlogs and player interviews at the 2017 Citi Open on my Youtube Channel!

For more tips on how to improve your game, download a free copy of my eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success below! Thanks for listening!

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