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Verkerk’s ugly 1-point agenda

Paris: Martin Verkerk’s facial contortions sometimes bear a resemblance to Edvard Munch’s painting “the scream.”

With a wide-eyed, gaping-mouth expression, Verkerk has provided a unique subject for photographers during his surprise run to the French Open semi-finals.

French newspapers carried a sampling Thursday of the facial elasticity Verkerk demonstrated during his quarter final upset of 1998 champion Carlos Moya. There were pictures of Verkerk’s wide-open elongated mouth, and another of a fist pump accented with arched eyebrows and a scrunched-up nose.

“It’s ugly,” said the unseeded Verkerk, who faces No. 7 seed Guillermo Coria. “But I’m not here to be beautiful. I mean, I’m here to win.”

Verkerk has an animated personality to go with his booming serve and sudden knack for pulling upsets. He described his performance at Roland Garros as “one big crazy thing.”

Marketing ideas

Officials from the Grand Slam tournaments are meeting with players’ representatives during the French Open, and one of the topics is how to improve the marketing of tennis.

“We’ve got to take the sport more mainstream. The sport still has the perception of being a niche, country club sport,” Arlen Kantarian, the US Tennis Association chief executive for pro tennis, said.

“Attendance is relatively okay, but the TV ratings need improvement,” Kantarian said, referring to ratings in the United States.

He thinks one way to get more attention is through more “combined tournaments,” seven- or eight-day events with men and women playing at the same site. The long-term aim is to put such tournaments in Los Angeles, Cincinnati and possibly elsewhere.

Kantarian envisions a late-summer series of combined events leading up to the US Open. “We would like to use the US Open as a lynchpin to secure more interest for these other tournaments,” he said, acknowledging that the current state of the economy “makes it more challenging.”

Word of advice

Vitamins might be good for your health, but they could devastate your tennis career, says Guillermo Coria. And he should know.

The 21-year-old Argentine was banned seven months from the men’s tour and fined heavily after testing positive in 2001 for the banned steroid nandrolone, which he said was the result of a contaminated nutritional supplement.

“Be very, very careful about the vitamin supplements you take,” Coria told a French TV channel. “It’s extremely dangerous.”

Coria’s career is on the rebound. He reached the Monte Carlo final and won his second career title in Hamburg, then upset Andre Agassi Tuesday.

Coria said he suffered cramps against Agassi but decided not to take medication.

“Even when I’m sick with a fever now, I don’t take anything,” he said.

Shifting rank

Justine Henin-Hardenne’s progress to the semis ensures that she’ll overtake Venus Williams and rise to a career-high ranking of No. 3 next week.

Williams lost in the fourth round and drops to No. 4 for the first time since November 2001. Semi-finalists Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters will remain 1 and 2.

Spaniard Conchita Martinez will return to the top-20 for the first time since August 2001. The 1994 Wimbledon champion reached the quarter finals at Roland Garros. (AP)

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