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Tuesday, November 4, 2008
New executive must earn trust with the players

By Bonnie D. Ford
ESPN.com

Four Points

In honor of Election Week, Chip and Charge turns its attention to one of the most prominent job vacancies in tennis.

The position of ATP executive chairman and president that will open up with the departure of Etienne de Villiers at the end of the calendar year isn't an elective office, of course. The organization's board of directors will start sorting out a short list of candidates (exact number unspecified) from both inside and outside the sport this month at the year-end championships in Shanghai. Optimistically, this means a new CEO might be in place early next year.

It has been a year of turmoil in the administrative ranks, even as the players' on-court business continued relatively unaffected. Whoever is selected to succeed de Villiers will inherit an organization that could use a period of smoother sailing.

This week's Four Points reviews the issues the new CEO will have to contend with from the start.

Player relations
The players made their wishes known in unequivocal fashion. They felt they weren't being heard or properly represented when the ATP brass considered changes that would affect their sporting lives, and they were ready to put their money (or at least their time) where their mouths were. Nearly every player in the top 20 signed a letter last spring expressing discontent with de Villiers' leadership, and the tour's top three players -- Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic -- all ran for and won spots on the ATP player council. It's clear they will expect and demand an open door and a receptive ear from the new top executive, whose first task will be to establish trust and an effective means of communication with the men who are the face of the sport.

Federer

AP Photo/Peter Kramer

Unprecedented in tennis, the world's top three players, including Roger Federer, occupy the ATP player council.

Economic conditions
Who knows when the runaway truck that is the global economy will get back on track? That scenario is beyond the control of a mere sports executive, but one equation is already written on the blackboard: ATP prize money is scheduled to go up next season (from $69.8 million to $82 million, plus a $7 million bonus pool) while tournaments may struggle with sponsorships and attendance. Several of the ATP's key tour-wide sponsors are locked in, but the incoming chief will probably need to do some negotiating and reassuring to keep the tour's financial situation stable.

Gambling vigilance
After 13 long months, the match-fixing inquiry that targeted oddities in the August 2007 encounter between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello was closed this fall, with no wrongdoing found on the players' part. Tennis' major organizations, including the ATP, worked jointly to put new structures and policies in place to try to guard against this potentially image-damaging scourge. But that doesn't mean the new ATP leader can relax. All of tennis was caught off-guard when the scope of online gambling was revealed. The new tour chief will need to stay proactively informed and abreast of trends in gambling and threats to the game's integrity.

Hamburg fallout
The next ATP chief should be thankful that a lawsuit brought by the Hamburg, Germany, tournament organizers, which challenged the tour's relegation of the Masters Series event to second-tier status and thus brought into question the tour's right to set its own schedule, was (A) resolved and (B) resolved in the ATP's favor last summer. However, the maneuvering isn't over yet. The tournament has appealed, citing witness tampering, among other grounds. Sports Business Journal reported this week that the ATP filed a motion seeking to recoup all or part of $17.7 million in legal fees and related costs. Putting this conflict in the rearview mirror could be difficult in any number of ways.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Short list

Buchholz

Butch Buchholz (U.S.): A former player and ATP executive director (1980-83), Buchholz, 68, is chairman of the Sony Ericsson tournament in Key Biscayne, often referred to as the "Fifth Slam'' because of its scope and prestige.

Drewett

Brad Drewett (Australia): Currently CEO of the ATP's International Group and tournament director of the Tennis Masters Cup (the tour's year-end championships), the 50-year-old Drewett was an accomplished doubles and singles player in the 1970s.

Kantarian

Arlen Kantarian (U.S.): Kantarian, 55, announced last week he was stepping down as the U.S. Tennis Association's CEO for professional tennis after nine years that saw spectacular revenue growth in its signature event, the U.S. Open.

McEnroe Sr.

John P. McEnroe Sr. (U.S.): The 73-year-old patriarch of this tennis family, who sent a letter to top players and agents this summer declaring his candidacy, is a semiretired lawyer who has negotiated sports and television contracts for a number of players.

McNamee

Paul McNamee (Australia): A four-time Grand Slam doubles champion, McNamee, 53, was the CEO of the Australian Open and founder and tournament director of the Hopman Cup. He also has held executive positions in golf and Australian rules football organizations.

Scott

Larry Scott (U.S.): WTA chairman and chief executive officer since 2003, Scott, a 44-year-old former Harvard University tennis captain, spent more than 10 years in executive and management positions at the ATP after a modest playing career.

Young

Mark Young (U.S.): The 50-year-old Young, who doubles as ATP general counsel and CEO/Americas, oversees the tour's operations in North and South America and is one of the longest-tenured executives in the organization, having come on board in 1990.