London: Spanish star Rafael Nadal led the tributes to ATP boss and Gulf News columnist Brad Drewett, who died on Friday after a short battle with motor neurone disease. He was 54.
The executive chairman and president of the men’s players’ body died at his home in Sydney. He had said in January that he was stepping down from his role with the ATP after being diagnosed with the incurable disease.
Eleven-time Grand Slam champion Nadal said on his Facebook page: “A very sad day for the world of sports and tennis in particular. Our president Brad has passed away. Rest in peace.”
A period of silence was observed at the draw for the Madrid Masters, which starts on Saturday. Drewett won two singles titles in the early 1980s during his playing career. He also rose to number 34 in the world rankings.
Since becoming ATP chief last year, he was instrumental in helping to secure a larger share of prize money for the journeymen of the sport who more often than not fall at the first hurdle of the four Grand Slams.
Stacey Allaster, the head of the WTA, described Drewett as a “great” administrator.
“Brad’s contributions as a player and visionary leader make him one of the greatest in making tennis the popular, worldwide sport it is today,” she said.
“The recent prize money increases with the Grand Slams are perfect examples of Brad’s brilliant strategic management, and another example of how much he cared about our athletes and the sport’s long-term growth.”
International Tennis Federation (ITF) president Francesco Ricci Bitti also praised the Australian.
“The ITF family is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Brad Drewett,” said the ITF chief.
“Brad was a valued friend and colleague to many of us here at the ITF, and we were very happy to support him during his various roles at the ATP, most recently as Chairman.
“His knowledge, experience and enthusiasm will be a great loss to the whole sport. We send our deepest sympathies to Brad’s family and to everyone at the ATP during this very sad time.”
Tennis Australia (TA) said Drewett was an “inspirational leader” for tennis.
“Brad has always been a much-loved friend and colleague to the Australian tennis family as well as an inspirational leader of our sport on the world stage. He will be sorely missed,” TA said in a statement.
Motor neurone disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is incurable. The life expectancy after diagnosis is normally three to five years.
The disease affects voluntary muscle activity, including speaking, walking, breathing and swallowing. It usually causes progressive disability.
Drewett’s speech was noticeably slurred when he attended a news conference on the opening day of the Australian Open to announce a new sponsor. He had planned to step down once a successor was found.
Drewett also developed and managed a number of successful businesses in the sport and fitness industry. He had worked as a commentator for two Australian television broadcasters.
Australian media said Saturday that Drewett is survived by his wife Joanne and four children: Jack, Ally, Joe and Tom.