Column: Rating players, for better or worse
Originally Published: August 13, 2008 3:49 p.m.
Life isn't always fair and in many ways it's the perception that you want to see it as.Tennis is a healthy game featuring a variety of interesting people of all ages and abilities, whether it's something simple like meeting someone at the courts to hit with or national tournaments.Let's look at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) League team aspect. In this league you play against other teams of similar ability, with the winners from one area going to sectionals and then the winner of that going to a national competition. But trying to keep the ability levels of hundreds of players in the same caliber range can be daunting, no matter what criteria you use be it computer ratings, self ratings, professional ratings, etc.The USTA's answer to keeping the levels of play fairly consistent has been to enter each player's completed match scores into a computer that has been programmed to calculate and compare wins and losses with other players. Based on what it's fed, it will pretty much tell you after four or more match scores if you're a beginner (2.5), intermediate (3.0-3.5) or advanced player (4.0 or better).If you're new to this system, you're asked to self-rate what level you believe you are. It trusts that decision until it has enough data to verify that information. The USTA uses a three-strike approach. If you win three matches against players it believes are better than the level of play you indicated, you're disqualified and now have to move up to the next higher level of play. Makes sense, right?This computer program has worked well for them and is now used exclusively in the countrywide USTA League system that encompasses juniors, adults, seniors and super-seniors.Unfortunately, the Northern Arizona Community Tennis Association has had three players disqualified in four years of league play. That has made many local team members feel as if something must be wrong with this system, warranted or unwarranted.The USTA Southwest Section office in Phoenix stated they are just going by the rules of the league. Executive Director Julie Pek stated, "The last thing we want to do is disqualify a player, especially if it's going to affect the results of a team at sectionals. Yet we are obliged to follow the current rules."There is one rule that could be changed, not by this office, but by the SW committee officers vote, where no disqualifications will take place at sectionals until after all play has completed."On the other hand, they would like any players who are moved to a higher level to view it as a promotion.In rural areas, it's sometimes tough to get many teams involved in this type of league format, and for many of the players it's the first time they've entered into a formal tennis arrangement. You become a USTA member, pay league fees, and obtain home courts to host matches and practice together. It's a good time, yet a solid time and financial commitment.You play as well as you can and know if your team wins your local region you'll advance to the sectionals. You may or may not know the rules of the league over and beyond keeping score and having fun tennis with your teammates.Your team does go to sectionals. Travel reservations follow, from taking time off at work to arranging care for kids and pets. You win your first match, then your second and then a team member is disqualified. A match you won now goes to your opponents and the team camaraderie is now is disrepair for the rest of the competition.I really hope they change that rule for this next year. It will certainly make a difference to teams in Northern Arizona deciding to join or pass on future USTA league participation.(Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 30 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 445-1331 or email@example.com)