MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Brad Drewett has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, and the ATP World Tour executive chairman and president is planning to step down once a successor is found.
Drewett's speech was noticeably slurred when he attended a news conference Saturday to announce a new racket sponsor for the ATP Tour. Remarks on behalf of the ATP were made by a member of the group's marketing department.
Drewett has held the top ATP position since Jan. 1 last year, but had previously led operations in the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific regions since 2006.
The 54-year-old Australian was a top-40 singles and top-20 doubles player before he retired in 1990.
``It has been a privilege to serve as executive chairman and president of the ATP, an organization that I've been a part of for more than 35 years since I became a professional tennis player,'' Drewett said Tuesday in a statement. ``I hold the ATP very close to my heart, and it's with sadness that I make the decision to enter this transition period due to my ill health.''
Lou Gehrig's disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), affects voluntary muscle activity, including speaking, walking, breathing, swallowing and general movement of the body. It usually causes progressive disability.
``Brad has become a good friend of mine over the years and this is very sad news for all of us at the ATP and the entire tennis community,'' Roger Federer, president of the ATP Player Council, said in a statement. ``He is well-liked and respected by everyone and has done a tremendous job in leading the ATP over the past 12 months, overseeing some major initiatives and a record-breaking year in 2012.
``His dedication and service to the sport over the years has been truly admirable and he has been a central figure in helping to grow the ATP product across the globe.''
WTA chairman Stacey Allaster said the thoughts and prayers of the tour's family are with Drewett, his family and the ATP.
``We know he will fight this terrible disease every step of the way, and have our full support for whatever he needs,'' she said.
Drewett's one year in the job was not an easy one. Within days of taking the job, he was forced to reduce tensions after rumors of a potential player strike surfaced at Melbourne Park.
Most of the complaints were about compensation for the lower-ranked players, and for increased prize money for the earlier rounds of Grand Slams, both of which have been addressed and improved at this year's Australian Open.
And beginning this year, the ATP decided to more strictly enforce the 25-second rule between points in an effort to speed up play.
On Saturday, Drewett said he planned to meet with the players to discuss the rule tightening.
``It's only been two weeks, and like anything else, change takes time and for the players to adjust,'' Drewett said. ``So I'll have a better idea of how they feel after that. I've heard some reports, but it will be good to get the players' feedback directly.''