Imagine the NFL, NBA or any major sports organization going a full year without a commissioner, a leader.
That scenario is now effectively unfolding in men’s tennis. With the ATP board of directors declining last week to choose either of two front-runners for the executive chairman/president position that has essentially been vacant since January, a replacement is now unlikely before the end of the year.
“The situation is quite absurd,” said a senior tournament executive on the ATP Tour, in an email. “This process should have started right from the beginning, and not give false expectation to these two guys. We lost a lot of time. There is a [management] vacuum now for weeks, and this will go on.”
The ATP last week would not place a timetable on making a choice.
“The ATP has a very experienced management team that is operating efficiently and successfully during the process to appoint a new Executive Chairman and President,” said tour spokesman Simon Higson, via email. “The Board is committed to a thorough process in its bid to find the best possible candidate and has not set itself a deadline in terms of making an appointment.”
When former president Brad Drewett disclosed in early January that he was suffering from ALS, Drewett said he would stay on until the board appointed a replacement. With Drewett hampered by his illness, the board quickly tabbed two internal candidates to be his successor: American Mark Young, the tour’s CEO of the Americas and general counsel, and European Laurent Delanney, head of ATP Europe.
Drewett died in May, and the board signaled it would chose either Young or Delanney at its pre-Wimbledon board meetings. One board member, speaking in the week before those meetings, reiterated that plan for one of the two to be chosen at the London gathering. But that did not happen, with Delanney seen as not ready for the job, and Young considered not close enough to the center of power of the sport in Europe.
The ATP’s president position is particularly crucial in men’s tennis because the board is made up of three player representatives and three tournament representatives, effectively giving the leadership position a critical, tie-breaking vote. While that vote is not typically used, the executive can use the potential of the vote to cajole change from the board.
Now, player demands for more prize money from top tournaments, player commitments to smaller events, and other issues will likely reside on the back burner until the board makes its decision.
Harvey Schiller, who ran the U.S. Olympic Committee, Turner Sports and YankeeNets, said the ATP should appoint an interim leader, as happened after he departed the Olympic group in 1994.
“The board has to provide someone at the top,” Schiller said. “[Having an interim leader] happens in corporate America.”
Schiller also disagrees with the intent of the ATP board of directors to choose someone only within tennis.
“Look at Larry Scott,” he said. “He left tennis [as head of the WTA Tour] and runs the Pac-12.
“I was a pilot,” Schiller added, “and we used to say you don’t have to know how to change the tires to fly an airplane.”
However, Drewett’s two predecessors, Adam Helfant and Etienne de Villiers, both came from outside the tennis world, and both left on poor terms.
Since the London meetings, reports have begun to emerge of other possible candidates for the ATP position, including Craig Tiley, who runs the Australian Open and is a favorite of ATP players for his early receptiveness to dramatically increasing prize money at the four Grand Slams. ATP sources were consistent in saying that the process is now only beginning, and Tiley is just one name at this point.
Insiders say it is largely unrealistic to expect a selection at the board meetings before the U.S. Open, which begins in late August.
The ATP tournament executive wrote, “First of all, candidates have to be put forward, interviewed, until there are left just a few who will be interviewed again, etc. My prediction is minimum 6 months.”