Commentary

Short list of candidates being considered for the ATP's top spot

The ATP appears closer to naming a replacement for outgoing president and executive chairman Etienne de Villiers. And after a tumultuous last 2½ years, the tour knows this time it must get it right.

Originally Published: November 26, 2008
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

Justin Gimelstob was a tad bemused as he discussed the search for the most powerful official in men's tennis.

Gimelstob has been inundated with requests to divulge info relating to Etienne de Villiers' replacement when the South African ends his tumultuous 2½-year reign as head of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) next month. Depending on who you listen to, there could be more than a half-dozen serious candidates.

"Well, I'm glad the sports world has this kind of an interest in tennis," Gimelstob said in a phone interview. The flamboyant former serve-and-volleyer is a player representative on the ATP's board of directors.

De Villiers spent 15 years in a variety of senior executive roles at The Walt Disney Company prior to his appointment as the ATP's executive chairman and president; harsh critics may suggest he ran the tour like Mickey Mouse.

The mighty Roger Federer and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal pounced on De Villiers for restructuring the game, which included downgrading Germany's Hamburg Masters. Federer, Nadal and a majority of top-20 players reportedly signed a letter in the spring demanding his contract not be renewed until others were interviewed, and De Villiers announced he'd be leaving in August, about two weeks after a court in Delaware cleared the ATP of wrongdoing in demoting the Hamburg tournament.

[+] EnlargeVillers
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesEtienne de Villiers' reign as the ATP's executive chairman and president has been heavily criticized.
According to a story published in the SportsBusiness Journal on Nov. 24, citing unidentified sources, the ATP this month narrowed the field to six. One, it said, was Andy Anson, the ATP's CEO of Europe who has since resigned to lead England's bid to host soccer's World Cup in 2018.

The leading insider candidates are Brad Drewett, head of the international group, and Mark Young, head of the Americas, while a top external possibility is former French Open head Patrice Clerc, the article added.

A source within the ATP told ESPN.com that, to the best of his knowledge, the three were indeed being considered.

Gimelstob didn't name names, so he didn't comment, either, when asked if Larry Scott, WTA chairman and formerly the ATP's COO, was in contention. Others have been linked with the post, including: John McEnroe Sr.; Arlen Kantarian, the USTA's outgoing CEO of professional tennis; and Butch Buchholz, chairman of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.

Scott reportedly said during the U.S. Open that he wouldn't consider the job unless he had a position allowing him to oversee both bodies. Under his stewardship, the WTA Tour has flourished financially, aided by a six-year deal worth $88 million with title sponsor Sony Ericsson. Scott couldn't be reached for comment.

The ATP's official line?

"The intention now is for the board to progress the recruitment process with a short list of candidates over the next few weeks," spokesman Kris Dent said. "The board will announce further details in due course."

In an e-mail, Nick Bollettieri, arguably the most successful tennis coach in history, said De Villiers' successor has to be a "great businessperson" and "great promoter."

"There are a lot of great candidates out there, internally and externally," Gimelstob said. "It's not an easy search to find someone who satisfies the numerous criteria we're looking for. I think we've put in a yeoman's effort in trying to do it. There are going to be people disappointed, which is understandable."

Gimelstob, incoming player rep David Egdes and Iggy Jovanovic, gone as a rep when the year ends, discussed the issue in detail at the recently completed Masters Cup in Shanghai, China.

Gimelstob met with Federer and world No. 3 Novak Djokovic, but was quick to point out other subjects were on the agenda.

Wanting more of a say, Federer, Djokovic and Nadal ran for (and were elected to) the player council in the summer. They pass on ideas to the player reps.

"I think it's one of those things where you want to move quickly but not hurry," Gimelstob said. "The important thing is to get the decision right as opposed to get it done. I think that's the sentiment. It's a great time in the sport, that we have the players engaged and supportive of the process and involved in it. This is a job that can be done and will be done successfully."

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.