Thursday, April 28, 2011

The USTA NTRP rating system

I guess that as far as USTA’s NTRP rating system goes, it’s as good as any other, but it certainly leaves much to be desired.

I started to play USTA League tennis in 2005; at that time, I had to be verified by a coordinator and was rated at the 3.0 level.  I thought I was better, but there you go.  However, I didn’t play that season and instead opted to play K-Swiss (now Ultimate) Tennis singles.  I worked my way up from my self-rated 3.0 level to the 3.5- and even the 3.5 level before I regressed to the 3.5- level and had fallen to the 3.0 level by the time I stopped playing singles.  My opponents were increasingly 20+ years younger than me and – their fitness vs. mine – I was usually finished by the third set.  The levels were determined by my success (or lack thereof) in the league, which is the way it’s supposed to work.

A couple of years ago, I was going to let my USTA membership expire; the only reason that I continued paying annual dues was to get Tennis Magazine.  After moving to Marietta from Woodstock, I was so desperate to meet other tennis players in ‘this’ area that I put my name on bulletin boards at Cobb County tennis facilities and sent the local USTA coordinator my name to be on a list that tennis captains could peruse for new ‘talent’.  So I jumped at the chance to play on a 7.0 mixed doubles team that called even though they needed me because I’d stated that I was 3.0 to 3.5 player and they really needed a 3.0 man to play with their 4.0 ladies.  By this time my verified rating had long since expired; the only option available was to self-rate.  Over three seasons, my lady partners and I compiled a fairly impressive win-loss record and I was bumped to 3.5 at the end of 2010.  Though I had the option of appealing my rating, I knew that 3.5 more adequately reflected my abilities.

With some exceptions – I played against some other ‘3.0’ rated men that cleaned my clock, but they too were bumped – eventually, the USTA self-rating system seemed to work, at least locally.  However, disparities can crop up at sectionals and nationals, and this is the main problem due to the self-rating vs. the coordinator verified rating system that used to exist.  A state champion team from one region in the country can find themselves completely overmatched at sectionals because the ratings aren’t consistent everywhere.  Some of the differences in rules between regions are the culprit.  For example, some areas allow players to compete on two different level teams (7.0 and 8.0) simultaneously while others do not.

But my main reason for writing this particular article stems from an injustice that I uncovered locally.  I played my first mixed doubles match as a 3.5 player a couple of weeks ago; despite my reservations and fear that I wasn't really a 3.5 player by Atlanta standards, my partner and I won the match easily.  I came to believe that my opponents must not have been of the same level but, through USTA’s website, found that they were equally matched – both of them were also 3.5 level players.  While I believed the woman was probably rated fairly, I couldn’t believe the man was.  A little further research revealed that he was also a 3.0 rated player through the end of 2010, had played at that level since 2005, but was bumped to 3.5 even though his record of wins was not even 50%.  So why was he bumped?  I mean, we bageled he and his partner in the first set and should have won the second similarly if not for some sloppiness on our part (it can be hard to maintain one’s concentration when winning so easily).  I definitely think that he should appeal his rating.

In any case, USTA’s NTRP rating system has its flaws, but they’re not nearly as bad as ALTA’s, which can hardly be called a system at all when you think about it.  I’ll have to write more about that in a future article.

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