These are valid questions, and definitely worth understanding. In this post, we will examine more closely how the USTA system works. Because it is usually easier to learn though examples, we will use Kayla Lebster as a case study. Kayla is a talented, hard working player who is beginning to experience USTA success, so she is a great person to learn from. If this topic is of interest to you, then read on, because here we go...
How do you earn USTA points? Every time you win a match in a USTA event, you earn points. The number of points you earn depends on the following two factors:
- How far you advance in the tournament, and...
- What level of tournament you are entered into.
USTA tournaments are labelled Level One through Level Five, with Level One being the highest level. The most common level for players to compete in are Level 5 Tournaments.
Let's do an example.
Step 1: How to earn points. Last summer Kayla competed in a level 5 tournament at the Dewitt Tennis Center. Click Here to view her results. You will notice that Kayla advanced to the finals of this tournament.
Now that we know how she did, let's see how many points we expect her to earn. Each year the USTA puts out a points table where they state how many points you earn for a given finish in a tournament. She was the the finalist of a Level 5 tournament, so CLICK HERE and see what we she ought to have earned. If you concluded that she should earn 38 points, then you are using the chart correctly.
Step 2: How your West Michigan Ranking is determined. The USTA system takes the total points you earn from your 6 best tournaments over the last 12 months. So, if you play in three tournaments, it will obviously just add up all of the points from those three tournaments. If you played in ten tournaments over the past year, then it would drop the worst four, and keep the six highest point totals.
Let's get back to Kayla to see what that looks like in real life. Click Here to see the West Michigan Rankings for the Girls 14 division. You will notice that Kayla is currently the 12th ranked player in West Michigan in the Girls 14's division with 162 total points. Wow, great job Kayla, you are awesome!
Now let's dig a little deeper. Click on Kayla's name on the ranking list you just went to in the other tab. This will list every USTA match that Kayla has played in over the last 12 months. It lists who she beat/lost to, what the score was, and how many points Kayla earned for each tournament.
Do you notice that there is a girl who Kayla has played twice and beaten 6-1, 6-1, and 6-2, 6-0, yet that girl is ranked quite a bit higher than Kayla...what gives!?!?!
Well, let's use what we have learned so far to figure out why that is the case.
- Kayla played in fewer than six tournaments over that 12 month period. The other girl, however, played in 10, and she gets to take her best six.
- You will also notice that the other girl played in two elevated tournaments (levels 1-4), whereas Kayla played in one elevated tournament. As we recall, elevated tournaments = greater point potential.
Why should I even care about my USTA Ranking? Depending on your individual situation, the honest answer is that you may or may not care. For those who do care, here are some reasons why:
- You want to be seeded in tournaments - Seeds reduce unlucky draws by protecting you from playing the best players early in the tournament. If you are unseeded, you can get "unlucky" and have to play the #1 seed in your first match. Seeded players never face the other seeds until later in the tournament. Isn't it interesting how life often allows us to create our own luck?
- You want to play in Elevated Tournaments (Levels 1-4) - Elevated tournaments generally accept a set number of competitors, often many players want those spots. Suppose a Level 4 tournament is offered and has 32 spots available, but 50 players enter. The tournament will simply select the 32 individuals with the most points who signed up. The other 18 players are out of luck. So, players who have six quality results on their record stand a greater chance of playing in elevated tournaments. You can imagine how this creates a snowball effect for a player. Points allow you to get into bigger tournaments, which lets you rack up points even faster.
- You are interested in playing tennis in college - I want to start off by saying that you DO NOT NEED a high USTA ranking to play college tennis. If you are a solid tennis player and are flexible about what school you attend, there is a college tennis team for you. West Ottawa has a former 3 doubles player starting for a college team, and a former 4 doubles player serving as a team captain for another. But let's make no mistake, a strong USTA ranking can do a lot for you. If you are interested in playing at any Division 1 and most Division 2 schools, USTA success is a virtual pre-requisite. Those coaches are looking for your USTA results against the top players in the Midwest. To get those results, you need to be in those elevated tournaments where all the top players are battling it out regularly.
What are some notable USTA benchmarks? The most important benchmark is simply improvement. Any time you are moving up, you should be really excited about that. And honestly, just playing USTA tournaments means you are one of the more dedicated, and likely better players in our area. But in an attempt to come up with something more concrete, on this website I recognize players who meet the following two benchmarks. I think they are notable and deserve recognition.
Benchmark #1: West Michigan Top 15 Ranking - If a player gets ranked in the top 15 of any of the age division lists, it is a pretty safe bet that this player is or will shortly be one of the best players on their varsity team. These players will often get admitted into elevated tournaments when they enter.
Benchmark #2: Midwest Top 150 - When a player starts earning rankings in the Midwest Top 150, they will typically start getting looks by larger colleges. The chance of scholarships definitely increase for these individuals.
Click Here to to see the players who have met these benchmarks. Note: Kayla will be added to this page soon, since she has recently cracked the Top 15! It is a short list right now, but I hope it will grow with the large increase in USTA participation from our players.
Hopefully this helps those who want to understand the USTA process a bit more fully. If you are one of the many families who have participated in the USTA events over the past year, thank you so much. I'm tremendously appreciative and excited about the commitment level of our players right now. And a special thanks to Kayla for allowing me to use her as an example in this post.
Ok, enough of this reading business. Get out to the tennis courts / weight room and keep improving!!!