The USTA rating system (United States Tennis Association) is used to rate recreational tennis players from a scale of 2.0 to 5.5. There is a 6.0 and higher tennis rating system, but at that level, you’re basically semi-pro not a recreational tennis player.
I’ve been playing USTA tennis since 2009. I started off as a self-rated 4.0 player, played 4.5 from 2010 through 2014, and got bumped up to 5.0 in 2015.
It felt great to get bumped up to 5.0 as a 38-year-old with a bum knee and shoulder, at least for the first year. After going 3-3 in the first year at 5.0, I went 1-7 in the second year. That was no fun at all given I was consistently going up against a good 5.0 with a great 5.0 double’s partner. In comparison, I was always playing with a 4.5 player or a weak 5.0 like myself.
In 2018, I went 2-5. And in 1-1 in 2019 at 42 years old. I probably shouldn’t play 5.0 tennis anymore given I didn’t play in college and I have injuries. Yet, when I tried to appeal after the 2016 season and got denied. I appealed again to get down to 4.5 in 2018 and in 2019 and got denied again. Therefore, I gave up and let my USTA membership lapse.
The USTA Rating System Does Not Promote Inclusivity
Let me share why the USTA rating system promotes exclusivity not inclusivity.
Example #1: Can’t Play For My Own Private Club
After getting fully vaccinated, I decided to battle it out at the 5.0 level one last time instead of appeal. However, there were no spots for me at my very own club. The club already has 13 players on the team. Further, almost all the players are either new recruits or old recruits. Whereas I’m just a regular full-paying member with no special benefits. Kind of ironic. But that’s just the way things are with USTA tennis.
In order to win, captains need to recruit players better than their USTA rating. At the 5.0 level, the goal is to recruit recent college graduate tennis players and get them to play as a 5.0, instead of as a 5.5 as the rating system would dictate. Captains can get these choice recruits by getting them to self-rate at 5.0 and offer reduced membership dues and special privileges.
For example, my club has a $12,000 membership due and a 2-year waitlist. If you are deemed a choice recruit, the membership dues might get reduced to $3,000 and you can immediately join the club after three months. The system is very similar to how colleges give preferential admission treatment to athletes.
Yes, even post the college admissions scandal, this type of stuff is prevalent. After all, private institutions can do whatever they want. I have seen the USTA rating system gamed since I first started playing in 2009.
Example #2: Can’t Join A Public Park Team
Given I’m shut out of my own private club’s 5.0 team as a paying-member, I checked to see if I could join a public park team for 2021. I found a team called Goldman TC 18AM5.0 (Golden Gate Park), captained by Tim Xue, a new 5.0 player.
He only has eight players on his team, including himself. Therefore, I figured he could use another player. Yet, when I emailed if I could join, he responded, “Thanks for reaching out. I think we’re actually full, sorry!” In comparison, other 5.0 teams in 2021 have 10+ players. It’s hard to always fill one singles and two doubles teams with less than 10 players due to scheduling conflicts
I’ve played on multiple Golden Gate Park teams before (public), and not once have I ever been denied a spot to play. Public park teams have always been inclusive of everybody. I’m not sure why Tim is trying to be so exclusive in a recreational league.
If only the USTA would let everybody have an opportunity to join a team if he or she has the appropriate rating. Funny enough, after going winless at 5.0 in 2022, Tim got bumped down to 4.5 for 2023. It will be ironic if he reached out to join a 4.5 team I’m on. I’ll still welcome him. But I will remind him of how he was exclusionary.
Example #3: Tried To Appeal My USTA Rating Again
Given I couldn’t play for my private club or a public club, the only thing left was to appeal my rating for a fourth time to see if I could play for my club’s 4.5 team. Of course, I got denied.
I even called the USTA to inquire. The woman said despite my losing record, my injuries, and my age (44 this year), I could not get moved down to 4.5. Therefore, of course I’m not going to renew my USTA membership for $44.
The USTA Is Hurting Its Own Business
By not being inclusive, the USTA is hurting its bottom line. I’m a prime example of someone who won’t be renewing my USTA membership and paying the fee simply because I don’t get to play. This is recreational tennis here folks. Anybody who wants to play USTA league tennis should get to play if they want.
But due to the overly competitive nature of USTA league tennis, certain bad apples, and a USTA that does not promote inclusion, the USTA will never live up to its full potential.