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ATP searching for new leader following de Villiers’ resignation

For the second time in four years, the ATP World Tour is looking for a new leader. Embattled Executive Chairman Etienne de Villiers, fresh off a resounding court victory for the men’s circuit, announced last week he would step down at the end of the year.

“We will be working very, very quickly to bring somebody on board,” said David Egdes, a Tennis Channel executive who is on the ATP board of directors.

The development emerges just as the ATP hopes to announce this week or next a new lead tour sponsor to replace outgoing Mercedes-Benz. The leading contender is insurance carrier Aviva, but talks with at least two other companies were occurring last week.

De Villiers

De Villiers’ plan to remake the 2009 tour calendar — including demoting the Hamburg, Germany, event and having the top players compete in all of the elite tournaments — drew fire upon its disclosure. The Hamburg stop sued under U.S. antitrust law, and the case could have ripped the ATP apart, a prospect that led to criticisms of de Villiers for taking the situation so far.

But a jury earlier this month ruled in the ATP’s favor, leaving the tour calendar for 2009 intact and de Villiers vindicated. Nonetheless, players have voiced opposition to his reign, and earlier this year, they voted off their three representatives on the board for, in part, going along with the new calendar.

Writing before the de Villiers announcement, Carlos Costa, the agent for Rafael Nadal, perhaps de Villiers’ most outspoken player critic, said presciently in an e-mail, “Hopefully with a new management soon things will be better and easier.”

In a statement, de Villiers, a former Walt Disney executive, explained his decision to leave the tennis scene in December. “I was tasked by the ATP Board, three years ago, to create a vision that would involve bold changes for our sport,” he said. “I believe that has now been achieved. I believe we have delivered the biggest modernization of the ATP Tour since its inception, have attracted unprecedented levels of investment into men’s tennis and have begun to feed the growing appetite for men’s tennis globally, both in established and emerging markets.”

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