USTA Ratings and How the System Works


 DC Area Tennis Links

USTA Ratings Q&A




                                       USTA Ratings

     Someone told me they didn't want to play with someone because  they were worried about losing and it impacting their rating.  I can relate to that because I used to think like that too.  Most people really don't need to worry about their rating.  It's like a college degree, if people don't know you then its the information that gets you a job or for tennis it gets you on a team. Once you start playing USTA tennis you create a playing record that becomes public on TennisLink and your performance is more important than yoCompetitive USTA League tennis playerur rating.  The one place where your rating becomes worth worrying about is when it forces you to move up to the next rating level when you would rather not leave the team that you currently playing on.  Moving down a level isn't a problem because you can always play up.
     Improvement is what you should be focused on and your rating will reflect that.  Understanding how the rating system works is interesting and if your goal is to "game" the system and keep your rating down then that's a lot easier than trying to increase your rating up past your true playing level.
     What I just learned that I found really interesting is that the USTA rating system used to be a skills based system.  The first time I got a rating (years ago) I paid $20 for a pro to watch me play with other players attempting to get rated to the same level.  Back then I asked for a 4.0 rating and based on how I looked playing on a court with some other guys wanting the same rating he decided that I could fit in with that group. Our area was always losing at the national level league championships so since then they have lowered most people's ratings to help our area win more (it has worked).  A visual rating system looking at your skills always helps those
people with good looking strokes. 
    The USTA a few years ago switched over to a performance based system using TennisLink as their database.  Now a computer adjusts your rating every time you play a tennis match. You have two kinds of ratings: Year End Rating and Dynamic Rating.  The USTA publishes
your YER once a year sometime before January.  They only tell you your rating to the nearest 1USTA rating system/2 of a rating point (3.0, 3.5, 4.0, etc.).   That tells you what level you can play at.  The USTA also keeps track of a dynamic rating for you that goes to the hundreds decimal place.  They keep dynamic ratings a secret because they worry if you could see that much detail and using your match results you could figure out exactly how they calculate ratings.  Knowing that people could then find it easier to "game the system".  There are a lot of people (I'm one) that would rather play down and play on a strong 3.0 team and get to play in national championship matches than to move up and play as a weak 3.5 player. 
     The USTA wants stable leagues.  If ratings changed too often it would make it hard on both players and team captains to plan ahead.  The USTA wants ratings to change slowly and they don't want a system that has players moving back and forth between ratings. So as far as how
fast your rating will move up or down think of two kinds of players.  New self-rated players and everyone else who's been playing for over a year and already have a TennisLink record. Self-rated players need to find their true rating and so their ratings are allowed to change
much faster than the normal computer rated player.
     One thing that most players don't know is that the USTA rating system doesn't care if you win or lose.  The system only wants to know how well you performed so it looks at your game win/lost ratio.  You can lose a match and have your rating go up by winning more games
than you lost.  Example: you lose the first set in a tiebreaker 6-7, then you win the second set 6-0, and loose the 3rd set in another 6-7 tiebreaker.  You won 18 games and your opponents only won 14 games.  Your team captain isn't happy, but your rating goes up!  A lost match in this case is really a big win as far as your rating goes.
     The rating change is a zero sum calculation.  Let say the winning players get .05 rating points added to their ratings.  The losing team then has to lost those .05 points so that the rating system stays in balance.  In doubles both players get or losUSTA rated tennis league playere the same number of points.  Even when one player is much stronger than his partner they share equally in the win or lost.  
     Another really important thing that you should know about is that the system doesn't want to change your rating if the outcome is what would normally be expected.  If you're a 4.0 player and you kill a 3.0 player 6-0, 6-0. Then your rating doesn't change because you only
performed as expected.  If you have a dynamic rating of 3.35 and you beat a 3.12 player 6-4, 6-4 then again even though you won the match and won more games, ratings are not changed because the result was expected.  You have to perform better than expected to improve your
rating. There are two ways to do this.  Either beat people with the nearly the same rating by a big difference in score.  Or beat players that you shouldn't beat because they have ratings that are much higher than yours. 
      So now you can see why a person with a 10-0 record may not move up to next rating level.  Let's say I play on court 1.  I have very close matches against players with the same rating and I kill really weak players I win all 10 of my matches.  Some are so close they are really ties.  In the matches where I kill weak players I only do what was expected.  My playing record looks great, but my playing performance isn't good enough to change my rating.
     So the quickest way to increase your rating is both to win more games than you lose and to do it against players rated higher than you are. 
     Again the only way anyone increases their rating is to play better than expected.  In doubles lets say the other team's players play right at the level expected for their dynamic ratings. It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, or whether your partner is the strongest player on the
court or the weakest.  For your rating to move up what matters is that you or your partner has to play better than your expected playing level.
     If you want to win matches then just alway pick the strongest partner you can find, but if yNow has a correct USTA ratingou want to increase your rating then a weaker partner will help you do that faster.
     If you lose a match with a weaker partner it's not good for the ego or for the team record, but don't assume that your rating will be impacted. 
     Let's say you play with a partner who's rating is not correct, either too high or too low.  Then you can bet that he's not going to play at his dynamic rating level and your match will reflect a result that will help correct his rating up or down (affecting your rating too.)
     Most people's games are not changing very much so very few players should expect their ratings to change.  When I think about the people I know that had their ratings increased it was because they came into the system at the wrong level and they were moved up to the correct level.
     You should also know that they don't have different ratings for singles and doubles.  So one way to "game" the system is if you are a poor singles player then you can play that for a season to hold back your rating if you are a much better doubles player.
     If you play same gender tennis (men's or women's) then the USTA uses those results only in your rating so your mixed doubles results  don't count.   If you ONLY play mixed then the mixed results will be used for your rating.
     Also note that even though a default is listed as a 6-0, 6-0 win, it  doesn't count in rating calculations (notice that they don't list any opponent names for you to take rating points from).
Last Updated: 12/7/09   Site Map

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