Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why do players lie about their NTRP ratings?

My mixed doubles match got canceled over the weekend due to inclement weather. To be honest, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was not looking forward to playing against the 8.5 combined team who were masquerading as 7.0s.

It’s a disgusting habit in tennis – this business of pretending that you are rated lower then you really are, just so you can beat up on the little people and win a pointless trophy. In fact, for a sport that rides on its reputation for decency and courtesy, tennis can be as dirty as gambling in an unlit back alley.

The tournament in question is a 7.0 event, meaning that the combined NTRP ratings of both partners must add up to 7.0. For the uninformed, NTRP ratings refers to the National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) which is the official system for determining the levels of competition for USTA-registered leagues. NTRP ratings vary dynamically by age and tennis ability, and range from 2.5 (beginners) to 7.5 (Rafael Nadal). In mixed doubles matches, the combined NTRP ratings of both players will determine which level of tournament they can enter.

My partner and I enrolled in this 7.0 non-USTA event because we are both solid 3.5s. We know this because we share a highly ethical coach who said so. We also play singles against each other and generally take turns winning although he always has the power edge. But against him I hold my own. And yes I used to be a 4.0 for a minute back in the day, but that was years ago and besides the wench has since gained weight.

Our opponents however are flat out lying. The man in their partnership says that he is a 4.0 and the woman claims to be a 3.0. Both lies. For the record, despite supposedly being rated higher than her, I have never beaten her in singles. Not once. In fact, I’m lucky to win a few games. She is quick, plays well on both sides, is consistent, has all the shots, has a monster of a kickserve that sails over my head, and has strategy to burn. In other words, she is easily a 4.0 player. I know – I used to be one.

Her partner says that he is a 4.0. But he is the best player in our group and beats up on every one. He is at least a 4.5 player, perhaps even stronger. So what’s with the slumming?

It’s actually a disgustingly commonplace practice in club tennis. Players deliberately register for matches or leagues that are lower than their actual ratings, this way guaranteeing a win. Winning is more important than being honest. (Where's John Lovitz when you need him?)

This is inconsistent with the popular notion of tennis as a genteel well-behaved sport in which people start out at love. It’s also inconsistent with tennis’ governing body’s official regulations. According to the USTA guidelines on ratings, “in an effort to avoid disqualification when players are rating themselves and they question which level they should play, they should place themselves in the higher level of play.”

I have news for the USTA. This is so not happening. And to be fair, there is little that they can do to regulate the thousands of leagues that exist all over the country. Because for every player registered in a USTA league, there are probably 10 others who are not. One estimate I recently read claimed that only 3% of tennis players in the US play on USTA leagues. The remaining 97% are on private or public courts doing their own thing.

It comes down therefore to a question of self-regulation, a feature that some say used to exist in the old days when tennis was the sport of nobility, and supposedly based on well-entrenched protocols of courtesy and fair play. Today, not so much.

(Part 1 of 2)