Brad Drewett: Tennis player who became a leading official in the game

As a player he had been a deft serve-and-volleyer who climbed as high as No 34 in the world
  • @PaulN54

When Brad Drewett was chosen to run men's tennis at the end of 2011, some outsiders wondered whether the Association of Tennis Professionals had simply taken the easy option. A former player who had worked his way up through the ATP's executive ranks, Drewett was said by some to lack the intellect and the business know-how to do the job.

The Australian was executive chairman and president of the ATP for only 16 months before his death, but in his tragically short tenure he quickly dispelled any doubts about his suitability for the post. Having taken over at a time of rising dissatisfaction over levels of prize money, Drewett proved the most astute of negotiators and soon rebuilt bridges between the players and the four Grand Slam tournaments. The regret for everyone within the ATP was that his time at the top was so short. He died aged 54, having revealed at the start of this year that he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

Tennis dominated Drewett's life, though he was also devoted to his four children and to Joanne, his wife of 30 years. He grew up admiring a remarkable generation of Australian tennis players and for a while there were hopes that he might emulate the on-court feats of men like Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and John Newcombe. His own playing talent was quickly recognised and he was soon given the nickname “Rookie”. He won two junior Grand Slam titles and at 17 reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

Although that was the furthest he ever went in a Grand Slam singles tournament (his next best run was to the fourth round at Wimbledon in 1979), Drewett enjoyed a good career. A serve-and-volley player with a deft touch, he reached No 34 in the world rankings in singles, winning two titles, and No 18 in doubles, in which he won seven tournaments.

Unassuming and diligent, Drewett also talked a good game and went on to work as a commentator for Australian television. Several other opportunities opened up for him as he established and ran some successful businesses, including fitness and tennis centres.

However, it was as an ATP administrator that Drewett made his greatest mark. During his playing career he had represented his fellow professionals on the ATP's player council and he later became their board representative.

Drewett helped to popularise the year-end championships, of which he was tournament director for 10 years from 2001, and was the driving force in the ATP's International Group, which is responsible for the Middle East, Asia and Pacific regions. He became the group's chief executive officer in 2006.

China has been the biggest growth market for tennis in the last 15 years and Drewett played a huge part in the development of the sport there. Taking the year-end championships to Shanghai from 2005 to 2008 was a landmark achievement for him. Today the Masters tournament in Shanghai is the climax of a thriving Asia swing that dominates the men's circuit from mid-September to mid-October.

When Adam Helfant's departure as the head of the ATP was announced in 2011, Drewett's name was not high on most observers' initial lists of possible replacements. Once into the job, however, he quickly made his mark. Players had become increasingly dissatisfied with their share of the booming revenues from Grand Slam events and there was even talk of a boycott. Drewett led the way in subsequent negotiations with the tournaments, arguing that lower-ranked players in particular should be paid more given the high costs of competing around the world.

The four Grand Slam tournaments subsequently made big increases in their 2012 prize money, weighted towards the lower end. The trend continued this year, with Wimbledon, for example, announcing another 40 per cent increase. First-round losers at Wimbledon this year will earn £23,500.

Drewett also made progress in rationalising the tournament calendar, which is a perennial problem, impressing with his cool and level-headed approach. He understood better than anyone the needs and concerns of both players and tournaments.

“Brad was one of those rare individuals who earned the respect and admiration of his peers as a player and then kept it as he rose to the top of the ladder in the administration of the sport,” a colleague said. “He was a warm and friendly man by nature, though that belied a very competitive but fair undercurrent. To me his most admirable and inspirational asset was his ability to work tirelessly towards his goals. Once he set himself a target he worked relentlessly towards it. You also cannot underestimate his massive role in opening up the Middle East and China. He was on first-name terms with many of the key political leaders in the region.”

Having reached the pinnacle of his sport, Drewett was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, which is incurable, 12 months later. Typically, he carried on working during the search for his replacement. As recently as February he flew to Dubai to launch a celebration of 40 years of the ATP's world rankings system.

Players were united in their sorrow at his death. Roger Federer said he was “an amazing friend to all of us” and Novak Djokovic said he was “a very calm, composed and intelligent man”. Carlos Moya, a former world No 1, described Drewett as “probably the best ATP president, the closest to the players and the one who has achieved the most for the players in the past 30 years.”

Bradley Dara Drewett, tennis player and sports executive: born Maclean, New South Wales 19 July 1958; married Joanne (one daughter, three sons); died Sydney 3 May 2013.