As the ATP gears up for a Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid, players and officials took a moment today to commemorate the contributions of former CEO Brad Drewett. A former professional player from Australia, Drewett succumbed on May 3 to Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), which recently had forced him to step down from the CEO position. In that role, he had calmed much of the turmoil that arose during the tenure of his predecessor, Adam Helfant. While this plain-spoken Aussie never hesitated to advocate his views, he also respected the interests and opinions of the players in building a productive albeit tragically short-lived relationship with them.
Among Drewett’s most notable initiatives was expanding player prize money at majors, especially for those who lose early in the tournament. Players who lost in the first or second round often struggled to support themselves even as the ATP elite enjoyed luxurious lifestyles. Thanks to Drewett and a key group of players who supported his view, journeymen now can carve out a career in tennis without feeling the pressure to reach the highest pinnacles of the sport. These egalitarian changes will have left an impact on the ATP disproportionate to the single year of Drewett’s tenure.
Before assuming his management role, the Australian enjoyed some notable successes as a player. Briefly a top-50 player in singles, Drewett climbed into the top 20 in doubles and reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in singles at the age of just 17 in 1976. He remains the third-youngest men’s quarterfinalist in Australian Open history and the youngest man to win the junior title there (in the same year) since John Newcombe. Later in his career, Drewett reached consecutive doubles semifinals at his home major in 1988-89, and a mixed doubles quarterfinal there in 1988. Together with seven doubles titles, he claimed two ATP singles titles and represented Australia with pride in Davis Cup.
While still an active player, Drewett served on the ATP player council and ATP board, experience that surely facilitated his interactions with the current player council as the CEO. Cut short at the premature age of 54, his life centered around tennis nearly from start to finish more than most of the sport’s celebrated stars. Drewett put it best himself in a statement from when he stepped down in January.
"It has been a privilege to serve as executive chairman and president of the ATP, an organization that I've been a part of for more than 35 years since I became a professional tennis player. I hold the ATP very close to my heart."
The ATP, its players, its tournaments, and its fans can only hope that his successors approach that level of dedication.